"Out in the Night"

“Attack Of The Killer Lesbians,” was an actual headline in 2007 featured in the New York Post. The “journalist,” who penned the piece, had the audacity to declare that “seven bloodthirsty young lesbians,” were out to get blood—herself decidedly concluding that there was nothing wrong with adding fuel to a dirty case, that engendering the sexual orientation of the assumed assailants was a necessary means to determine what actually happened that night. The film, “Out In The Night,” playing at the Human Rights Film Festival this week, is a documentary about what actually happened, getting the perspective from the seven accused, and the horrifying aftermath of that night for them, and the effect of it on their families.

According to several media outlets, the attack of a young man in front of the IFC Centre on 6th Ave in the West Village in 2006, was entirely “unprovoked.” That the man, identified as Dwayne Buckle, was merely saying “hello,” an obviously harmless act, but was then barraged against by a group of supposed irrationally angry “dykes” that would earnestly stab a man, just because he thought that one of them was “slightly pretty.” The film goes onto clear the ludicrousness of the justice system, interviewing several of the those involved, three of which served jail time (Terrain Dandridge served 2 years, Renata Hill served 3 years, Patreese Johnson served 8 years) for acts of self defense.

The film shows footage from two of the security cameras outside of the IFC Centre, on that muggy night in the bright lights of the West Village. In the footage, you can see Buckle sitting outside of the theatre, and, as the group walks by, he starts talking to the smallest member of the group, Patreese. 

In an interview, Patreese states that Buckle began talking to her with, “Can I get a piece of that,” to which she responded, “Mister, I’m gay,” sincerely walking away with disinterest. But, he didn’t get the hint, and instead he began to follow her and the group. 

The footage, which has no sound, shows that, after a few moments, suddenly, a fight breaks out between the group and Buckle. Within another few moments, Buckle has already swung at Renata and ripped out a handful of dreadlocks from Venus’ head. Several more moments go by—passers-by begin to help the group against the man, and eventually, Patreese pulls out a knife, visibly afraid, and stabs Buckle through the back of his backpack. In an interview in jail, she insisted that she only wanted to scare Buckle. At one point she realized that the fight had become way too aggressive, and she wanted to end it by wounding Buckle “a little bit,” so he’d stop, and leave them alone—which was completely the opposite of what happened.

The police failed to conclude a proper investigation, never thinking to include a police radio conversation between two officers, during which the police on duty stated that there was nothing to worry about, and that the “victim” was cut by a “tiny pen knife.” Additionally, the hospital reports stated that the injury was one quarter of an inch deep, and that it was never fatal. But, of course, in the court battle, Buckle played the part of a wounded casualty of a depraved “lesbian wolf pack,” aggrandizing their role in his savage beating.

As a viewer, it seems that the facts, according to the case, are erroneous, and that nothing in the court proceedings ever remotely insinuated that this was a gay bashing—even though Buckle slurred at Renata, stating that because she was “a man,” he would “beat him up like a man.” He even went so far as to call them, “dyke bitches,” adding “I’ll fuck you straight.” And in court he declared: “Women should welcome your advances because that’s how the race should propagate itself.” 

The inflammatory language used by Buckle was never seen as disturbing, or threatening. The judge never seemed to take into account the everyday assaults that women, namely African American women, face, and the measures that some need to take in order to protect themselves, and their bodies, from the injustices that can, and so readily, do occur.

What is the most confusing element of this case is that the group was seen as the threat, because they were categorized as “a gang;” but it’s hard not to focus on the lack of leniency, or commiseration, by the justice system. Everything pointed towards their sexualities as being the reason for why they were seen as the vindictive parties in a crime against a supposed innocent bystander. 

In “Stride Toward Freedom,” Martin Luther King. Jr noted: “fear and mistrust the white man’s justice.” But thankfully, failure in the courts did not stop this group from speaking out. 

Renata, a rape victim of their mother’s ex-husband since the age of nine, was sentenced to jail for 8 years for defending herself (although she only ended up serving three), whereas her rapist went to jail for only five years, for sexually violating and assaulting a minor. It’s hard not to ruminate on the acts of injustice pertaining to this case, as it is filled, sadly and unfortunately, with vast and insidious holes. Only by highlighting and bringing light to the other injustices of women—such as Cece McDonald and Marissa Alexander, it’s clear that the American judicial system has no time for the justice of black women, because, seemingly, you don’t have the right to defend yourself if you are black. It reminds me of the Village Voice piece on R Kelly last year, where Chicago-Sun Times writer, Jim DeRogatis, stated “nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.”

This film is necessary—it adds to a larger dialogue to the injustices of black men and women around the world, where retribution seems miles away; or designed for others who are seen as more deserving in the eyes of the law. I walked away from this film feeling jolted by the fierceness of those who choose to harm others, for no good reason, but also grateful for the world of Renatas, Terrains and Patreeses—knowing that the “law” serves only some, and that they fight for their own justice, no matter at what cost.

Fariha Roisin is a freelance film and culture writer. Follow her on Twitter: @fariharoisin