Dear Mr. Freeman:
OutFront Minnesota has been following with interest and concern the legal proceedings against Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald following an incident in Minneapolis in June 2011.
Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald is a 23 year-old African-American transgender woman charged with second-degree murder after an incident that began when she was violently attacked because of her gender and race.
As we understand it, that incident unfolded as follows:
CeCe and several of her friends, who are all African-American, were walking by a bar in South Minneapolis early on the morning of June 5, 2011 when the incident occurred. A group of much older bar patrons standing outside the bar verbally assaulted CeCe and her friends with transphobic and racist slurs. That group, led by Dean Schmitz of Richfield, remarked that Cece was dressed “like a woman” in order to rape him. Another member of the group removed CeCe’s jacket and hit CeCe in the face with a glass bottle which shattered on impact and tore a hole through CeCe’s cheek. In the ensuing melee Schmitz was stabbed and killed. Although CeCe was the victim of a hate crime that involved many people, only she was arrested. Many of the specifics as to what occurred still remain unclear. We do however know that CeCe was the only person held by the police.
CeCe is a creative, energetic person who was a student at MCTC studying fashion. She had a stable home where she lived with and helped support four other African American youth—her family. CeCe’s family describes her as a leader, a role model and a loyal friend. She is known as a wise, out-spoken and welcoming person with a cheerful disposition and a history of handling prejudice with amazing grace.
We continue our deep commitment to stand in solidarity with CeCe, her family and those within the community who are working to ensure that she is treated with dignity and respect.
In Minnesota and throughout the country, transgender women of color continue to be disproportionally targeted for hate- and bias-related violence. Without strong and vocal support, cases with hate and bias elements (like CeCe’s) are too often dismissed by systems and communities unable or unwilling to recognize the unique and complex disparities often experienced by people , especially in the areas of racism and transphobia. To do that, we must challenge ourselves and each other to identify and dismantle the myriad oppressions currently operating in the criminal justice system AND in society as a whole.
Ms. McDonald is arguing that any actions she took that evening were in self-defense. It has become well-known in the LGBT community that there have been at least three other recent incidents occurring in Hennepin County in which your office has declined to charge and prosecute people who have taken lives while purportedly defending themselves or others.
Many people in the LGBT community see Ms. McDonald’s circumstances in a similar light, and are frustrated that your office has chosen to charge and prosecute her when others have not faced such measures. While we know and appreciate that you, personally, have been sensitive to the needs and concerns of the LGBT community for many years, the perception held by many community members is that Ms. McDonald continues to be singled out by your office.
We would respectfully ask that you clarify why this case is being prosecuted when seemingly similar situations involving others have not. If there are no meaningful distinctions between this case and those, we would urge your office to re-examine whether charges are appropriate here.