Jennifer McLeggan felt she was all out of options. The 39-year-old single mother and registered nurse had been racially harassed by her neighbor for the three years since she first moved into her Long Island house just outside of Queens, New York. And while the means of intimidation grew more menacing — she says her neighbor brandished a blowtorch and pellet gun, as well as throwing dead squirrels and human feces onto her property — the local police refused to intervene since no physical assault had occurred. Nevermind the fact that her neighbor allegedly said McLeggan, a Black woman, should go back where she came from and that she could be “erased.”
Scared for her life and the safety of her two-year-old daughter, McLeggan posted a large note on her front door in July, a rundown of the harassment she’d experienced and a cry for help from the community. The internet did its thing: An image of her note quickly went viral on social media, resonating deeply in the aftermath of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s tragic deaths earlier this year.
While many reposted the image in symbolic support, Anthony Herron Jr. took things one step further. A big step. The 30-year-old Queens native (a recording artist who raps under the moniker F.L.O.W.) connected with McLeggan — a complete stranger — and offered to post up outside of her house on watch overnight, in the hours when her harassment had usually taken place. There he sat, whether inside his car or on a foldout chair, for 90 consecutive nights, until her legal case against the neighbor went to trial.
Herron’s selfless heroism inspired others to join him in person to ensure the security of McLeggan and her daughter. His action serves as a shining example of how Black men can show up and stand up for Black women unconditionally, and take the forever-relevant phrase “protect Black women” literally. Here, the vigilant son of a preacher shares his story.
— As told to John Kennedy
This whole thing started with me not understanding the hashtag, #StandWithJennifer. I said, “All right, where are we standing?” I don’t need symbolism. Be literal. Do exactly what you say you’re going to do. What’s a tweet going to do for her if they come kick her door down right now? Not a damn thing. Don’t make the hashtag if you’re not going to physically stand.
Awareness works both ways — you’re telling like-minded people and people who agree with the neighbors. Neighbors who are physically trying to do something. So I’m going to physically be here. Two thousand people came to march — there should’ve been 2,000 people in front of her house. You made your sermon, made some noise in the street, and went home. How did that protect her? That probably made it worse, putting a target on this woman’s back.
Initially, my friend tagged me in the post with a picture of Jennifer’s sign, like, “This is near the crib.” I DMed her, got her contact information, and started doing my watch the next day. I knew I was going to do it instantly; I always try to stand on certain morals and principles. People found the address really fast and started to send me pictures of themselves in front of the house. I was like, “Dang, I posted about this — did I just let people know the address? Now I really have to be there because if something happens, it’s my fault.”
The Breonna Taylor situation inspired me to get on the good foot. You don’t usually have a scenario like Jennifer’s, where people are telling you what they’re going to do to you. Racists usually just do it and we hear about it on the news. They kept bugging her for so long. Breonna Taylor would’ve had another outcome if somehow the police would’ve tipped them off that they were coming.
I don’t think I slept the first 40 nights. Maybe it was adrenaline, being on guard, ready for something to happen. I’m pacing back and forth, jogging, doing jumping jacks. Anything to keep my heart pumping.
The first day, I had work — I’m a supervisor at a transit company. I went on my 45-minute lunch break; I ended up being there for four hours. I went back to work, clocked out, and went right back. I just started doing it every day, from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., then work from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. I probably damn near lost my job. Certain individuals at my job knew, and they were able to keep it on the hush and make excuses for when I’d come in late.
I don’t think I slept the first 40 nights. Maybe it was adrenaline, being on guard, ready for something to happen. I’m pacing back and forth, jogging, doing jumping jacks. Anything to keep my heart pumping. I know I looked crazy, but I wasn’t nervous at any point, just cautious, prepared, ready. As the days went by, I realized everybody knows we’re going to be sitting here, and no one’s going to do anything about it.
I probably should’ve had something to protect myself, but I started to realize there’s too much of a spotlight on everything I’m doing. I tried to be open and transparent. You’d either have to be the bravest person in the world or a complete idiot to try something because there’s cameras, I’m recording on Periscope as well, and I was posting the time that I’d be there every single day, so everybody knew where I was and for how long.
Some people thought I was lying for clout. They started to drive up like, “I’ve seen you on Twitter. It’s 4:00 a.m. and you’re really here!” They’d come back in a month and say, “Yo, you’re still here!” Other people would ride by, like, “That’s the neighbor’s house right there? Say less.” I said, “No, it’s an open case, there are lawyers involved, I’m involved — don’t do anything stupid.” Out of respect for our mission and respect for me, people didn’t do anything, but please believe, they wanted to. I came to the realization that as long as I was there, both of these houses were safe, and I hated it so much.
The first four days I was by myself. Then a kid named Andrew started to come out. An older Black dude named Lawrence DMed me like, “I want to help.” He probably did about 83 days. A dude we call Flag Man — he has a Pan-African flag — did 70-something days. My godsister, Sable. That was pretty much the team. It was the same people. I didn’t send the address to anybody — people just figured it out and started coming.
I don’t talk about the negatives — the “die nigger die” messages and whatnot. I had to change my number.
The Crips came one night. They exchanged information with Jennifer and let it be known that if I need help, they could be there in a couple of minutes. Everybody wasn’t outside, but everybody played a role.
I was surprised by the audacity of the Nassau PD to tell Jennifer they can’t do anything because nothing physical had happened. She’d been complaining about this for three years! But the minute I show up, now you want to show up as well, trying to catch me doing something. Ever since I’ve done this, my DMs are full with women saying the same thing: “The cops are telling me they can’t do anything because nothing physical has happened.” I can’t praise [the police]; they haven’t done anything in this situation to help. Why do these things have to go viral for you to give some kind of assistance?
My parents had questions. Yeah, this is honorable and courageous, but nobody wants their son to be literally in harm’s way. I don’t talk about the negatives — the “die nigger die” messages and whatnot. I had to change my number. Every time the Shade Room posts a story about a woman being harassed or hurt, I’m tagged. No complaints because I’m not personally dealing with it. But I’m like, damn, this is a lot. I’m about to go to therapy because to hear these stories every day really fucks with you.
Realistically, we couldn’t do this forever. So I kept telling people there’s eventually going to be some charges — we’re going to stay there up until the start of the case. On day 50, we found out that it was going to be October 9–40 more days. We kept being optimistic like, “Well, it’s going to fly by.” And it did.
I don’t want any gain from this. If I could’ve found a way not to get social media followers, I would’ve done that. You’ve got a woman who’s been clearly going through something. Every time people asked for my Cash App, I’d just send them her GoFundMe. I didn’t announce my Cash App until it was done, ’til I was gone. I don’t care — God will bless me in some other way. People keep calling me Batman but it really wasn’t about me.
Everybody’s been asking what’s next. People don’t know I have this going on in three different states right now. It was five at one point. But every situation doesn’t require the same amount of awareness. In other states, you don’t really want to make it known to certain people that you’re doing certain things because it can get really hot right now. And in some of these other states — these open-carry states — I let people know, “Yes, this requires arms.” People send me stories all day. If I can’t physically be there, I put the word out and see if I know anybody in the area. It’s like a group chat buddy system. They don’t have to physically stand outside, but they’ll circle the block at certain hours.
Unfortunately, this won’t just be a moment in time because women are still going through things. My DMs are filled with stories. I enjoy being rogue because the minute that you attach an official name to things, then you’re forced to move a certain way. People say we need to tap more people in each state and make a whole coalition, a Protect Black Women protection agency — but how do I vet these people?
I don’t know the next step, and honestly, I like not knowing. If need be, especially if it’s somewhere close, then we got to get the chairs back out. Or something else. We’ll figure it out.