Original Plumbing: Justice for CeCe McDonald!

by Heidi Barton Stink, 02/05/12, Original Plumbing (click for original article)

On the night of June 5th 2011, an African American Transgender woman named CeCe McDonald was walking with a group of her friends to the grocery store. Everyone in her group was young, black and queer. In the immediate proximity to the grocery store there’s the Schooner Tavern. Some Schooner patrons (without being provoked) began hurling racist, homophobic and transphobic slurs at her group. When CeCe bravely approached them, she was attacked with a glass beer mug. Her cheek was punctured all the way through to her salivary gland which was lacerated in an assault that one could easily describe as a hate crime. Dean Schmitz, who instigated this attack, was stabbed and died in the resulting fight.

The only person arrested that night was CeCe. She was picked up out of a pool of her own blood, given 11 stitches and taken to an interrogation room. Sleep deprived, reeling from the traumatic events of the night, and manipulated by the detectives interrogation techniques, she waived her right to an attorney and was taken to jail. CeCe would spend the next several months incarcerated, where she was denied adequate medical attention. The wound she obtained from the assault abscessed to a golf-ball sized lump, she experienced extreme pain and pressure in her eye and ear even after it was finally drained.

If her treatment so far is any example, CeCe McDonald will not receive a fair trial in Hennipen County. This is why ever increasing pressure must be put on district attorney Michael Freeman to drop the charges. The American legal system is a constant source of injustice for many people, transgender women of color among them. While cis-men of color are the predominant target of the ever-expanding prison industrial complex, transgender women (particularly trans women of color) are also disproportionately targeted: By police*, are more often incarcerated** and face drastically higher incidents of sexual assault*** while incarcerated. Transgender women in prison are routinely denied hormones and other vital healthcare****. Personally, I can attest that hormones alleviate suicidal tendencies and other self destructive behavior.

More injustice

A defendant who is a trans woman of color will not a face a jury of her peers. As a trans woman, the vast majority of the people I encounter on daily basis are completely transphobic in the most literal sense and tend to have vastly more issues with trans women. They are uncomfortable around us; think we are weird, crazy and perhaps even deceptive sexual predators. And while most people probably don’t think of themselves as racist, many white people either think that institutional racism is a far less prevalent problem than it really is or outright deny its existence. This is ironically, is a major way institutional racism, transphobia, cis and white supremacy is perpetuated.

The jury selection process in this country is designed to weed out those with distrust for the legal system or oppose any unjust laws or charges. The result is jurors tend to come from a somewhat privileged background. They haven’t experienced the brunt of prejudice and because of this they assume that everyone gets a fair trial and that bad people go to jail where they belong. They are also likely to believe that police don’t arrest innocent people, and that it if someone is charged with murder they are probably a murderer. This tends to cancel out any notions of innocent until proven guilty.

In our culture the idea of finding justice through law & order is far more prevalent than the reality: At its best, the legal system could be seen as a morally ambiguous bureaucracy with a failure rate of around 100%. Anyone who has knowledge of “criminal justice” knows that prison doesn’t deter crime or violence, nor does it serve to “rehabilitate” prisoners. At its worst prison is just the capitalist solution to bodies that are not economically viable and an extension of American slavery.

CeCe’s is a cut and dry case of self defense but as a survival method I’ve learned not to underestimate peoples’ prejudice. Justice cannot be found in a courtroom. CeCe’s fate should not be left in the hands of people who don’t know or care about her or her community.

What can you do?

  1. Please sign this petition!
  2. Call, e-mail and fax District Attorney Michael Freeman and Assistant Attorney Marlene Senechal and demand he drop the charges against CeCe.
    Call Michael Freeman at 612-348-5540, fax at 612-348-2042, and email at citizeninfo@co.hennepin.mn.us
    Call Marlene Senechal at 612-348-5561, fax at 612-348-3061, and email at citizeninfo@co.hennepin.mn.us
  3. Encourage your community and organizations to publicly support CeCe!
  4. Stay up to date at her website!


* “Twenty-two percent (22%) of respondents interacting with police reported harassment by officers. Higher rates of harassment were reported by Black (38%). multiracial (36%) and Asian (29%) respondents.”
pg 160. Grant, Jaime M., Lisa A. Mottet, Justin Tanis, Jack Harrison, Jody L. Herman, and Mara Keisling. Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Washington: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2011.
** “ Black and Latino/a incidences of being incarcerated due only to gender identity/expression were much higher than the overall sample’s experience, at 41% and 21% respectively.
– pg. 163 National Transgender Discrimination Survey 2011
*** “Thirty-eight percent (38%) of Black MTF respondents reported being sexually assaulted by either another inmate or a staff member in jail/prison”
– Pg. 168 National Transgender Discrimination Survey 2011
**** “Black and multiracial respondents, those with low household incomes, and transgender women all reported higher incidences of hormone and routine health care denial than the full sample.”
-Pg. 169 National Transgender Discrimination Survey 2011

Heidi Barton Stink is a transgender community organizer, activist and hip hop artist based in Minneapolis.

Posted on February 6, 2012, in Press coverage. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Original Plumbing: Justice for CeCe McDonald!.

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