A girl such as is never seen on HBO’s Girls absently cracked the knuckles of her right hand as she stood in Brooklyn Criminal Court, charged with gang assault and robbery.
“There was a video taken of the incident,” the prosecutor said. “She lost her shirt during the fight and is seen on the video fighting only in her bra.”
The video in question had been taken with a cell phone and does indeed show 16-year-old Aniah Ferguson stripped down to a purple bra as she and a group of friends assault a 15-year-old girl on March 9 in a McDonalds near Brooklyn’s famed Erasmus Hall High School.
“The defendant with several unapprehended others, punched, kicked and struck the complaining witness about the body and stole her property,” said the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Leila Rosini.
The prosecutor then got to the really bad part: “This particular defendant, as the victim was lying lifeless on the ground went over and proceeded to kick her in the head multiple times.”
The prosecutor added, “She also went and took the victim’s property, including her bag, her makeup, her coat and cell phone and then left.”
The victim, Ariana Taylor, somehow survived without serious injuries. She had been posting on Facebook about her particular kind of celebrity after the cell phone video went viral.
“According to social media, she is enjoying her new status as famous,” said defense attorney Sarah O’Leary.
The alleged assailant, Ferguson, gave no sign that she either enjoyed or disliked her own celebrity as she was brought into the courtroom late Friday morning. She was wearing what she had on when she was arrested the day before: light grey sweatpants and a turquoise sweatshirt bearing the Rolling Stones logo.
“Aniah Ferguson,” a court officer called out.
She walked loose-limbed over to the taped-off square that designates where defendants are supposed to stand before the judge.
Four other young women had stood in the square that morning. One was charged with trespass after she was found sleeping in a housing project hallway. Two were arrested after domestic disputes. The fourth had been arrested for repeatedly punching a woman who had accidentally bumped into her on the subway. Her defense attorney explained that her client had been stressed because she already has four kids at home and now is two months pregnant.
All of the young women, Ferguson prominently included, were from a Brooklyn never even glimpsed in the Brooklyn of Lena Dunham’s show. The Brooklyn of these other girls had been made safer by the NYPD, but smaller by gentrification. It remains beset by poverty and bad schools and other social ills.
The episodes of the lives of these other girls are too often marked by appearances on this taped rectangle. This was not Ferguson’s first time there. She had previously been arrested for stabbing her 18-year-old brother in the arm just last month and for punching her 64-year-old grandmother in the face. She had then been charged with violating an order of protection by allegedly cutting her grandmother’s cable TV line.
She now faced her most serious charges yet. Judge Joy Campinelli began by saying that news organizations had applied for permission to film and photograph the proceeding. The judge asked the defense attorney for her thoughts.
“She is 16 years old,” O’Leary noted. “There is already ample media footage out there for the people to see.”
The judge barred any cameras. The prosecutor then summarized the charges, saying that Ferguson had made statements to the detectives after her arrest.
“She admitted to beating up the complaining witness, taking the complaining witness’s property and throwing them in the trash,” the prosecutor reported.
The prosecutor had told the detectives that she and her friend had long been hunting for the victim for two long months.
“The complaining witnesses had done something to the defendant's close friend and they had been looking for her since January,” the prosecutor said.
The prosecutor added that Ferguson was a member of the Young Savages gang.
“It is a gang under the Folk Nation gang and they are known to be involved in patterns of violence as well as credit card scams,” the prosecutor said.
The Folk Nation being one of the two major gang conglomerations established in Chicago three decades before Ferguson was born, the other being the People Nation. Brooklyn gangs are indeed involved in credit card scams. Cops increasingly recover skimming machines and blank cards from crooks that might have been out mugging people in an earlier era.
But the crime in this present case was an old fashioned Brooklyn beatdown, made only a touch unusual by the participants being female and reaching public attention only because of the video.
Police had responded to calls at that same McDonalds at least 10 times in 14 months and teenage girls are said to have been the worst troublemakers. An unrelated fight involving other girls erupted just outside the McDonald’s shortly after the incident that now had Ferguson standing before the judge.
Ferguson now listened to the proceedings with her head slightly tilted, her face impassive, her right leg slightly flexed. Her hands were clasped behind her, looking improbably delicate. She took her right hand in the left and that was when she cracked her knuckles.
The resulting sound was loud enough to reach the spectator benches but Ferguson did not even seem aware she had done it. Her attorney proceeded to say that Ferguson lives with her grandmother and mother along with four siblings, the youngest of which is four.
“She also lives in the house with her one year-old daughter,” O’Leary added.
That meant Ferguson very well could have become pregnant when she was just 14, but O’Leary did not offer the math. O’Leary also did not say that Ferguson’s mother had told the New York Daily News that she had not raised her to commit such a crime and was not going to defend her actions. O’Leary did say that Ferguson’s mother had been unable to come to court because she had to take care of the kids.
Finally, O’Leary told the court she was not going to address the incident itself in any detail.
“There is a video that exists and the video speaks for itself,” O'Leary said.
The judge began by saying that Ferguson was not to contact the grandmother.
“In person, by phone, e-mail, text, instant message, card, letter, Twitter. Facebook, or any other manner of social media or any way that you can imagine,” the judge said. “Do you understand that?”
“Yes,” Ferguson said, her voice clear, her head raised.
The judge then addressed the felony charges arising from the beatdown gone viral.
“I’m setting bail in the amount of $500,000 bond over $250,000 cash,” the judge said.
She noted that the prosecution had requested a bail source hearing, meaning that even if Ferguson were somehow able to raise that amount she would have to prove it was from a legitimate source. Ferguson would otherwise remain locked up.
“She can step in,” the judge said.
The judge meant that Ferguson should be returned to the holding cells. Ferguson’s hands fell to her sides and she ambled back through the door from whence she had appeared.
In the meantime, detectives were arresting the three girls who had allegedly joined Ferguson in the assault, some of them having announced themselves in Facebook postings.
One girl was brought into the 70th Precinct stationhouse by her mother. Another was arrested while in the company of a lawyer she had for anther case. The third was traced to a flight that was about to take off from Atlanta to Jamaica. The plane had begun taxing to the runway for take-off when it was called back to the gate.
“She was on the plane with her mother,” a police official later reported.
The police official said detectives had learned that before the assault, the girls had been tipped off by phone that their long-hunted target was in a McDonald’s.
“But they didn’t know which one,” the official added.
The official said the girls had gone to three before locating their target and committing the assault.
”A new definition to ‘Mac Attack,’” the official joked.
Since the assault, victim Ariana Taylor, had announced online that she was doing fine.
“I’m Gucc,” she proclaimed, that being short for “I’m Gucci,” which is slang for “I’m good.”
Taylor had left Erasmus Hall High School on the afternoon of the assault happy enough.
“School Was Too Entertaining Today,” she had posted.
Not a half hour later, she had been set upon by Ferguson and the others. She had still managed to post again not two hours later, despite the forcible theft of her cell phone.
“Ah Man Got jumped.”
Taylor had apparently been accompanied by a friend who had failed to come to her aid.
“EVERYBODY KEEP ASKING WHERE WAS [the friend]? DID SHE JUMP IN? NO SHE DIDNT JUMP IN WTF LEAVE ME ALONE WITH THAT QUESTION!!”
Taylor heard that something had happened near her school that had people buzzing. But she still had no inkling that she was about to become the latest product of Erasmus Hall High School to achieve fame, though not in the way Barbara Streisand, Barbara Stanwyck, Susan Hayward, Eli Wallach, Clive Davis, Beverly Sills, Orville “Shaggy” Burrell and many others.
“What By Ehall Besides Me Getting Jumped?” she asked on Facebook.
Then the video erupted on the Internet.
“Wow. I'm On The News How Great Smt,” she posted.
She added, “Everyone Like Im Famous Now.”
Taylor was said to be less than fully cooperative with the police. She had not joined those who wondered online why nobody had come to her aid.
In the meantime, youngsters at the nursery school next to Brooklyn Criminal Court were singing that song about the little ducks who wandered out one day, and mother duck calls out, “quack, quack, quack.”
And you had to wonder what happens when mother is behind bars. And you had to think of Ferguson’s 1-year-old daughter, who is among the littlest of girls in a Brooklyn such as you never see on “Girls.”