Today I went to the sentencing hearing and press conference for CeCe McDonald. Despite the rather somber occasion, I was uplifted by the large number of community supporters who had shown up in solidarity. By now, many people know the story. CeCe McDonald is a young, black, transwoman who while walking with her friends, was attacked by a group of racist and transphobic White people. According to the Support CeCe Website:
Around 12:30 am, CeCe was walking to the grocery store with some friends, all of them young, African American, and either queer or allied. As they passed a local bar, the Schooner Tavern, a group of older, white people who were standing outside the bar’s side door began hurling racist and transphobic slurs at them, without provocation. They called CeCe and her friends ‘faggots,’ ‘niggers,’ and ‘chicks with dicks,’ and suggested that CeCe was ‘dressed as a woman’ in order to ‘rape’ Dean Schmitz, one of the attackers. When CeCe approached the group and told them that her crew would not tolerate hate speech, one of the women said, “I’ll take you bitches on,” and then smashed her glass into CeCe’s face. She punctured CeCe’s cheek all the way through, lacerating her salivary gland. A fight ensued, during which one of the attackers, Dean Schmitz, was fatally stabbed.
It was later learned that the deceased attacker even had a Swastika tatooed on his chest, had recently used meth and cocaine (a combination of drugs known to cause sudden violence), and had faced two dozen criminal cases (including numerous convictions for violent crimes). While these factors could not be introduced as evidence, they certainly should have gone into the prosecutor’s decision to charge CeCe in the first place. Despite much of the evidence that demonstrated that CeCe was not the aggressor, and was acting against a credible fascist threat to her safety, CeCe was charged with murder. After many months in custody, CeCe accepted a plea deal. Again from the Support CeCe website:
This afternoon, Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald was sentenced to a 41 month prison sentence by Judge Daniel Moreno. Although McDonald initially faced two charges of second degree murder, earlier this month she accepted a plea agreement to a reduced charge of second degree manslaughter due to negligence. The sentencing proceedings included statements from community leaders, clergy, and McDonald’s family, testifying to McDonald’s loving character and expressing concern for her safety if she is sentenced to serve time in a men’s prison, given the high rates of physical and sexual violence against transgender women in men’s prisons. Around 80 Twin Cities residents arrived to show their support for McDonald, overflowing the courtroom where sentencing proceedings were held.
Additionally, CeCe could not get full credit for the 366 days she has served in custody, and only received a reduction of 275 days on her prison sentence. Reflecting the severe anti-trans bias present in the MN criminal justice system, it was reported that the “Sentencing Investigator” who recommends which prison CeCe will be located in, including whether it will be a male or female prison, continually referred to CeCe by male pronouns at the hearing. While Judge Daniel Moreno will write a letter in support of CeCe’s safety while in custody (as if prisons are safe…), he will not recommend that she be incarcerated in a female prison and is leaving that decision entirely in the hands of the Department of Corrections. Ironically, CeCe will be sent to the very same St. Cloud prison that once housed the deceased, Swastika-tatooed, Dean Schmitz.
As I first reported, personally, the most encouraging part of the day was the large level of community support for CeCe and the struggles her story represents. As a testimony to the type of broad community solidarity for this case, Bobby Hull, one of the first people to successfully defend their home from foreclosure with “Occupy Our Homes MN” was in attendance. That’s solidarity in practice. As many have noted, this struggle is not over, and much of the work is rooted in solidarity and community-building, which was on display today at CeCe’s hearing.
Finally, as a bit of an aside, I would like to point out that CeCe’s case is but one example of the kind of violence that queer people face on a daily basis. One thing that this case demonstrates is that we need a movement to end this kind of egregious, systemic violence against queer people, and particularly against transgender people of color. A marriage amendment will not stop the violence. So, let’s keep working towards solidarity in practice and leave the empty political gestures to the politicians.