Category Archives: Press coverage
23-year-old Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, was the victim of a racist and transphobic assault. Now she’s going to prison.
Imagine that you’re taking a late-night walk to the grocery store. As you’re passing a dive bar, a group of White men and women standing outside call you and your friends n@#gers, f@#*ots, chicks with d@#s and suggest that by wearing what you have on, you’re out to rape one of the White men yelling the slurs.
Now, when you inform the bullies that you won’t tolerate their abuse, picture a White woman smashing a glass in your face, which cuts through your cheek and lacerates your salivary gland.
If one of the bullies pulls you toward him in the resulting melee and then receives a fatal stab in the chest with the scissors you’ve taken out of your bag to defend yourself, should you be the only person arrested?
Should you face two counts of second-degree murder and 80 years in prison? Spend a month in solitary confinement? Have your cheek swell to the size of a golf ball due to delayed medical care?
Should it require a national and international advocacy campaign to make it clear to the local prosecutor that a murder charge makes no sense in this case?
And, even with all of this support, should you feel so pressured by this prosecutor who maintains that “gender, race, sexual orientation and class are not part of the decision-making process” that you plead guilty to second-degree manslaughter, a change that carries 41 months in prison?
This week CeCe McDonald, the young black transgender woman on trial for murdering a white man who’d attacked her and a group of friends, shocked many of her supporters. Many thought she’d plead innocent to the second-degree murder charges, since the weapon was never found, and the case against her is largely circumstantial. But instead of pleading her innocence at the beginning of her trail, McDonald accepted a deal and pled guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter.
This case, more than any other of the numerous cases of black LGBT people accused of crimes after getting the better of an attacker, seemed to galvanize not only the transgender community and allies, but the attention of national press outlets, including MSNBC, Democracy Now!, The Advocate, Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and many others. While many of us were hoping to see McDonald fight the charges and hopefully win an acquittal, I certainly hope that the transgender activists, the LGBT community and other allies don’t abandon McDonald, as is so often the case when the question of being “innocent” becomes the framework for the investment of sympathizers.
It is true that McDonald was not out looking for a fight. On the night of June 5, 2011, McDonald walked past a bar with four other black friends in Minneapolis. She and her friends were attacked by two white women and a white man, first with words, “niggers,” “faggots,” and “chicks with dicks.”
But the words, while enough to incite a response, were not the end of it. McDonald was struck in the face with a cocktail glass by one of the women, slicing all the way through her cheek. A fight ensued as more people joined in to attack the group of black folks, and eventually Dean Schmitz, the white man who was among the first to start harassing them, was stabbed and died later in the hospital.
Even if there is not physical evidence in place to secure the conviction the prosecutor originally sought, it doesn’t really matter. 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 transphobic 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. In fact, McDonald’s judge ruled that the swastika tattooed on Schmitz’s body was inadmissible by her defense as evidence of his racist assault.
If McDonald in fact did respond to the verbal or physical assault, I certainly could not blame her, but too often this becomes the fault line that’s drawn for victims of racialized and/or gender-based violence. When a straight black man in New York City was wounded after assaulting seven young black lesbians one night in 2006, even the white gay newspaper the now-defunct New York Blade offered an editorial, calling the women a “gang” and questioning their right to defend themselves. I often wonder if Matthew Shepherd had gotten the better of his attackers, would the New York Blade and others have opined on the question of violence in the case of self-defense.
Last summer, when black queer punk performance artist (and a close friend) Brontez Purnell and bandmate Adal Kahlo were assaulted by some black Caribbean men in Oakland, a few people questioned whether Purnell had properly conducted himself in the moment.
In Indiana just yesterday, a black gay high school student is facing expulsion because he brought a stun gun to school to protect himself from bullies. People will undoubtedly argue that his actions were “improper,” even though his mother reportedly gave him the weapon to protect himself. I am more twice his age, and my mother, often worried about my safety as a black gay man (and one of her best Black gay friends was murdered in 1986) has done the same.
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.
For example, it was reportedly said to McDonald that she was dressed in women’s clothing to “rape” Schmitz that night. But I would imagine McDonald, like many trans and cis-gendered women, live with the fear — and too often the painful memories — of sexual violence. As a gay man who has been threatened with abduction by men of varying races on the street or in passing vehicles, I wonder if that was one of the fears Trayvon Martin felt, when he first heard the heavy footsteps of Zimmerman treading behind him in cagey pursuit.
The black person’s fear of our own safety from violence (and certainly black mens’ fear of sexual assault as one potential kind of violent encounter by police or someone else, as in the case of Abner Louima, a black immigrant who was sexually assaulted with a broomstick by NYPD officers in a local precinct bathroom) is just not what Americans care to imagine. It’s as if all the work done to re-frame racialized notions of public safety and self-defense by Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party have been lost to history.
But the need for that framework is as necessary now as ever, considering the dozens (if not hundreds) of murders by police and white citizens of black people in recent years. 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.
CeCe McDonald broke down in tears as her lawyer grilled her on the witness stand. “Is it true that Molly Flaherty and Dean Schmitz started making racist remarks and slurs including ‘niggers’ and ‘faggots,’ and did Dean Schmitz say, ‘Look at that boy dressed as a girl and tucking her dick in?’”
McDonald replied, “Yes.”
McDonald was in the process of pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the stabbing death of Schmitz. It’s a case that has enraged transgender advocates, who say McDonald was defending herself from a racist and transphobic attack.
McDonald is a person of color– she’s black – and she’s also transgender, two facts that her attorneys argued motivated Dean Alvin Schmitz and his friends to initiate a confrontation with her, resulting in an altercation that would leave Schmitz dead and McDonald in custody charged with murder.
McDonald’s attorney, Hersch Izek, asked her, “Is it a fact that Molly Flaherty yelled out, ‘I can take on all of you bitches’ and smashed a glass of alcohol in your face and a fight broke out with Ms. Flaherty?”
McDonald replied, “Yes.”
Izek continued, “Is it a fact that eventually the fight broke up and you attempted to leave the scene, attempted to get out of harm’s way, and got as far as the intersection, and Schmitz followed you? And you reached into your purse and pulled out a pair of scissors and held them in a way that posed an unreasonable risk to Schmitz?”
Yes, said McDonald.
“And are you giving up your claim that you legally attacked him in self-defense?”
“Yes, I am.”
Within hours of CeCe McDoanld’s plea bargain with Minneapolis prosecutors to second degree manslaughter, members of her local support committee were gearing up for another round of media and an evening visit at the local jail. McDonald is a black transgender woman who was charged with second degree murder after a fight in June of 2011 at an area bar left one man, Dean Schmitz, dead. She and her supporters have argued that the case is one of self defense after Schwartz and his friends began attacking McDonald with racist and homophobic slurs. Sentencing is set to take place next month, but the plea deal stipulates that McDonald will spend 41 months — about three and a half years — in prison.
McDonald’s case has sparked a national outcry in part because it’s so familiar. For many, the case is eerily familiar to that of the New Jersey 4, in which four black lesbians were charged with attempted murder and sent to prison after protecting themselves from a a group of white men who’d threatened to “fuck them straight.” Time and again, people of color whose gender identities fall outside of societal norms fall prey to a deeply flawed criminal justice system. When they’re feared, they become victims. When they fight back, they become criminals. Read the rest of this entry
When I reached the courthouse the morning Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald was supposed to have her pre-trial hearing on a charge of second-degree murder, I saw news trucks lined up at the curb.
Wow, I said to myself. Someone is finally paying attention to CeCe McDonald. I was so naive.
They were there for the Amy Senser trial, which started that day. They were continuing their endless coverage of a rich white woman who allegedly struck and killed an innocent pedestrian and drove away. Read the rest of this entry
Watch Katie Burgess’ and Rai’vyn Cross’ interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now!:
From Democracy Now’s website:
A transgender African-American woman is set to go on trial next week on charges of second-degree murder for an altercation after she was reportedly physically attacked and called racist and homophobic slurs outside a Minneapolis bar last year. Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald received 11 stitches to her cheek and was reportedly interrogated without counsel and placed in solitary confinement following her arrest. There were reports that the dead victim, Dean Schmitz, had a swastika tattooed on his chest. McDonald’s supporters say the case is symptomatic of the bias against transgender people and African Americans in the criminal justice system. “People were very enraged about what had happened to her and the refusal of Hennepin County to recognize her right to self-defense,” says Katie Burgess, executive director of Trans Youth Support Network, who has helped draw attention to the case and notes transgender people of color are twice as likely to experience discrimination as their white peers. We also speak with Rai’vyn Cross, one of McDonald’s best friends.
It has been almost a year since Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, a young Black transgender woman, was violently attacked in Minneapolis. But CeCe hasn’t been able to return to her life as a college student and begin to heal from the trauma of this assault. Instead, she’s in the Hennepin County Jail, facing two charges of second-degree murder. Read the rest of this entry
A transgender African-American woman is facing trial for murder after an incident outside a Minneapolis bar where she was reportedly harassed and then physically attacked. CeCe McDonald, who is 23 years old, is scheduled to stand trial later this month for second-degree murder. But supporters say McDonald was the victim on June 5, 2011, after two women and a man, all of them Caucasian, began harassing her and her friends outside a bar, calling them racial and homophobic slurs. One woman then allegedly hit McDonald in the side of the face with a glass beer mug. While the events remain unclear, a fight then ensued that left 47-year-old Dean Schmitz dead after he was apparently stabbed by a pair of fabric scissors that had been in McDonald’s purse. Police arrested McDonald, but did not arrest anyone else at the scene. McDonald received 11 stitches after her salivary gland was lacerated and the side of cheek sliced open by the beer mug. She was reportedly interrogated without counsel and placed in solitary confinement. There were reports the dead man, Dean Schmitz, had a swastika tattooed on his chest and was known for making hateful remarks. McDonald supporters have compared the case to Trayvon Martin and said it highlights bias against transgender people and African Americans in the criminal justice system. She could face up to 80 years in prison.
This week I have spent my days reading news articles and blog posts about Raymond Taavel, crying, and selling Pride flags to solemn customers.
I work at Venus Envy, the queer feminist sex shop and bookstore on Barrington Street. Since Tuesday, all of the customers who have come in to look at the many rainbow flags, bracelets and buttons we sell have only expressed kindness and solidarity.
This is not true all of the time. Read the rest of this entry