by: Jamie Anne Royce
McDonald, a black transgender woman, was walking with a group of friends past Schooner Tavern in Minneapolis on June 5, 2011. Words were exchanged, including racist and transphobic slurs, between the group and Dean Schmitz, a white cisgender man, and other white bar patrons who were outside smoking, according to court documents filed at the time.
Schmitz and his friends called CeCe and her friends “faggots,” “niggers,” and “chicks with dicks,” and suggested that CeCe was “dressed as a woman” in order to “rape” Schmitz, according to SupportCeCe.com. A fight ensued, and someone threw a glass and cut McDonald’s face, and Dean Schmitz was fatally stabbed.
Schmitz died at the scene from a stab wound to the chest. The only person arrested in connection with the incident was McDonald. She received 11 stitches to her cheek, was reportedly interrogated without counsel and placed in solitary confinement following her arrest.
In a videotaped interview with police after the fight, McDonald allegedly admitted that she took out a pair of scissors to scare Schmitz, and that Schmitz ran into them during the fight, according to Minneapolis StarTribune.
McDonald later denied stabbing Schmitz and filed the self-defense claim against second-degree murder charges April 30. After negotiations with prosecutors, she plead down to second-degree manslaughter.
McDonald will be sentenced to 41 months in prison on June 4, at 1:30 p.m., by Hennepin County Judge Daniel Moreno. The executed sentence will be reduced by one third to credit the time McDonald has served pending this resolution, according to a statement released by the Trans Youth Support Network.
There are reports that Schmitz had a swastika tattooed on his chest. McDonald’s supporters say the case is symptomatic of the bias against transgender people and people of color in the criminal justice system.
McDonald visits with Leslie Feinberg in jail before her trial begins. | Leslie Feinberg
“Freeman’s aggressive prosecution of CeCe was a continuation of the racist, transphobic assault that led to her being charged and resulted in the tragic death of one of the assailants,” said Kris Gebhard of the CeCe McDonald Support Committee. “We’ve been proud to stand with CeCe as she fought this unjust prosecution and will continue to stand with her as she fights for justice as a trans woman of color within the prison system.”
This incident is indicative of the culture of violence transgender women, particularly those of color, experience. In 2010, 44 percent of LGBT murder victims were transgender women, and 70 percent of LGBT murder victims were people of color, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Transgender people as a whole are only about 1 percent of the LGBT population.
“We know that this system is not designed to deliver justice to young trans women of color,” said Katie Burgess, executive director of TYSN. ”We are going to continue to support CeCe as she goes through this process and continue to stand for justice for all trans people and people of color so that this is the last time a young trans woman of color has to go through this.”
“It is unfortunate that this case, as in so many, the hate crime itself is overlooked entirely,” said Kylar Broadus, executive director of the Trans People of Color Coalition. “We must continue to rally for fair and equal treatment for our black trans sisters who are disproportionally targeted and killed because of who they are.”
Prosecuting attorney Mike Freeman has repeatedly insisted that “gender, race, sexual orientation and class [were] not part of the decision-making process,” when deciding to charge McDonald, but many people in Minneapolis and around the world disagree.
“It appears that CeCe was the victim of a hate crime that involved many people but she was the only person held by the police,” Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon wrote on his blog. “Here is another example transgender women of color being targeted for hate- and bias-related violence. It is unfortunate that in this case, as in so many, the hate crime itself appears to have been ignored.”
Melanie Williams, columnist for the Minnesota Daily, felt similarly. “[Schmitz's] attack, therefore, was not just a random attack on one person’s body, but an attack on an entire race and entire gender. An entire population of living, breathing, feeling people are hurting with McDonald, perhaps not physically but in the core of who they are.”
One way you can support McDonald during her imprisonment is by writing her letters of support. Please send her letters to:
Public Safety Facility
Chrishaun Reed McDonald #2012000296
401 South 4th Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55415
Inmates are not allowed to receive packages, including photographs. All letters sent to the jail are opened, read and inspected by jail staff.
McDonald can also receive books, newspaper and magazine subscriptions. All books need to be new paperback copies sent directly from a publisher or an online bookstore. Please keep her interests in mind when sending her reading materials, which include drawing, music, fashion, dance and pop culture. Please email email@example.com if you send her a book or magazine to avoid sending duplicates.
UPDATE: Dean Spade, founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, lent some analysis to McDonald’s trial on PrettyQueer.com. The highlights are below:
My understanding is that from the perspective of her attorneys this was a legal victory even though it is unjust because this is one of the lowest possible plea deals she could get. It is obviously not a victory for justice, but one of the better legal options.
Honestly, it was so disgusting watching [CeCe] have to go through the whole scene again, in the questioning from the lawyers. They went through the whole scene–the racist and transphobic slurs being yelled at CeCe and her friends, the woman breaking the beer glass over CeCe’s face, CeCe running away and being chased by the person who later died.
And the worst was when the judge told her something like, “You realize, that when you introduced a weapon into this, you endangered other lives.” But, what would anyone do, much less, anyone who part of a group so often targeted by violence?
The judge was speaking to her in a very patronizing way, asking, “Do you freely take this plea deal, do you freely and voluntarily take it?” What does freely and voluntary mean in this system? What options does CeCe have in this system where she’s being caged for being a target of a racist and transphobic attack?
She’s been in a men’s facility so far. I don’t think anyone is expecting that she wouldn’t be in a men’s prison in the future. I didn’t get the sense that people have much hope for her to be in a women’s facility, and I have never worked with any trans woman locked up who is in a women’s facility. Trans women are in men’s facilities all across the U.S. facing enormous violence.
A black person who fights with white people, even when self-defense is clear, is going to likely be arrested. This is often true also in transphoic and homophobic contexts, even when the violence is between people of the same race. The burden to prove one didn’t deserve to die or be brutalized often falls on black, queer and/or trans bodies.
But it’s not just black queers who have to deal with the question of innocence, or what is the so-called “proper” way for black people to respond to incessant threats. In the case of Trayvon Martin, in all of the media that came in the wake of his murder, very little was discussed about the constant levels at which black people, particularly black young people, feel unsafe in the world, despite the fact that they are always portrayed as the thing creating the possibility of violence for others.
McDonald may claim self-defense in the case of her manslaughter trial, but the legal strategy is not what interests me. She may have many reasons for pleading to the manslaughter charge, one of which, may be to just get this behind her, or feeling the inevitability of a “guilty of anything we choose” verdict. But what I hope is that whatever the reasons, and whatever her sentence will be, that LGBTQ activists and allies do not back away from supporting her over the question of innocence. She has the right to be free from violence, she has a right to defend herself, and we should continue to defend her too.
Note: This post was originally featured on Stuff Queer People Need to Know. You can find the original here.
Jamie Royce is a fierce fancy femme and mobile media machine, working as a freelance writer, reporter, editor and photojournalist. She also blogs at Stuff Queer People Need To Know.