Imani Henry: Support grows for CeCe McDonald as trial date nears
Tens of thousands of people across the U.S. and around the world have mobilized to demand the arrest of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. Because Zimmerman maintains that he acted in self-defense, he has not been arrested by the Sanford, Fla., police department or charged by the prosecutor.
The legal justification of self-defense in the U.S has not worked in the same way for most people of color, women and lesbian/gay/bi/trans people, many of whom survive brutal bigoted attacks and then are arrested and convicted for defending themselves. John White, an African-American father living in Long Island, N.Y., was convicted of murder for protecting his son from an angry white mob in 2006. The New Jersey 7, young Black lesbians who defended themselves against a vicious anti-lesbian attack, were arrested and four of them sentenced to from three-and-a-half to 11 years in prison.
This holds true in the case of Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, a 23-year-old African-American trans woman who was attacked by patrons of a Minneapolis tavern on June 5 of last year. While McDonald and her friends were on their way to a nearby grocery store, the patrons assaulted them with racist and anti-LGBT slurs. Many of the vicious remarks were directed at McDonald, as a Black trans woman. All of McDonald’s friends were people of color and youths, while those who attacked them were all white and older.
Desperate for help and covered in blood from having a glass mug smashed in her face, it was McDonald who first approached police arriving on the scene. The police arrested her and to this day have made no arrests against her attackers. And while there is no physical evidence tying her to the stabbing of Dean Schmitz, one of the men who attacked her, McDonald now faces second-degree murder charges.
As McDonald’s April 30 trial date approaches, national outrage has strengthened the political campaign to have the charges dropped.
“Our goal is to deliver a petition with 10,000 signatures on April 24 to Michael Freeman, the Hennepin County attorney, demanding he drop the charges against CeCe,” Billy Navarro Jr., an organizer with the CeCe McDonald Support Committee based in Minneapols, told Workers World. On April 24, McDonald must appear in court for a pre-trial hearing. “Young people from the Trans Youth Support Network have planned a ‘dance party’ protest right in front of Freeman’s office on April 26. [McDonald] is a valued community member, and we want to show that there is support for her not only here but also around the country.”
CeCe ‘a leader and role model’
“CeCe in many ways is a leader and role model. Back when this happened, the newspapers called her a man and only used her birth name. We all know her as CeCe, so it took a few days before the community sprang into action. It has been hard on our community not having her with us,” said Navarro.
McDonald was born in Chicago in 1989 and came out as a trans person at the age of 14. After moving to Minneapolis, she became active in the community, often participating in panels against racism and trans oppression. Talented in fashion design, CeCe had been pursuing her associate’s degree in fashion at a local college for the last two years. She supported herself through a part-time job at a café.
One of McDonald’s most important contributions was taking care of younger LGBT youth. According to Navarro: “She was the one with stable housing and finances, so she took in people younger than her so they wouldn’t end up on the streets. She created a sense of family for them. … Some of those young people were forced to go back to living in hostile, anti-gay family situations or are now surfing from couch to couch.”
Another thing that has been hard for McDonald is that her birth family lives far away. “CeCe is a fighter and is generally so strong, but this is one thing she really gets emotional about,” said Navarro. “She misses her mother and siblings in Chicago so much, and they are really supportive of her. But it is so expensive for them to travel here for her court dates. We are trying to raise money or have miles donated to bring her family here for the trial on April 30.”
Growing national campaign
“Since this whole thing started, we have packed the courtroom, the hallway and rallied outside at every court date,” said Navarro. “The biggest one drew over 100 supporters. We want to have people from all over the Midwest come out for both the pre-trial hearing on April 24 and the first day of trial on April 30.”
The committee is seeking endorsements as well as letters of solidarity to be sent to Freeman from individuals, unions and political groups. Midwest groups such as OutFront Minnesota, the African-American and African Studies Department of the University of Minnesota, the Trans Youth Support Network, the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department of Macalester College, the Women’s Prison Book Project and the Wisconsin Bail Out the People Movement have joined the effort.
Nationally, groups like the Transgender Gender Variance Intersex Justice Project, the Transgender Law Center in California and Queers for Economic Justice in New York have called for the charges to be dropped. Trans historian and author Leslie Feinberg has begun a call within the labor movement for labor union activists and unions to send solidarity statements. Support committees and activist groups are raising funds and holding events in Brooklyn and Buffalo, N.Y.; Bloomington, Ind.; Chicago; San Francisco and Oakland, Calif.; and Boston.
“We have gotten pictures from the International Women’s Day march on March 31 in New York City that carried signs about CeCe, and we have even been in touch with activists in Paris who are building support around CeCe’s case,” said Navarro. “Between now and April 30, we need events, fundraisers and to get CeCe’s name out all over the press. We not only want to free CeCe but we want to take a stand against racist transphobic attacks happening all over the country.”
To sign the petition, endorse and organize to free CeCe McDonald, see supportcece.wordpress.com.
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