Minneapolis Trans Woman On Trial For Self-Defense From Hate Crime

Chances are, you haven’t heard about Crishaun “CeCe” McDonald before today. McDonald is currently being held in Minneapolis, awaiting trial for charges of second degree murder. She is young, African American and transgender, and was arrested after defending herself from a physical assault based on her race and gender identity. Unsurprisingly, this case isn’t getting a lot of mainstream press, and when it is being covered, she’s being incorrectly referred to as a man, with many of the important details of the hate crime against her being left out.

While some of the specific details of her case are unclear, here is what is known: on June 5, 2011 at 12:30, McDonald and her friends were walking to a grocery store. All of them were young, black and LBGT. When they passed the Schooner Tavern, a local bar, a group of older, white men and women began to harass them, hurling racist and transphobic slurs at them, even going so far as to suggest that McDonald was “dressed as a woman” in order to “rape” one of the attackers.

McDonald approached them and informed the group that she and her friends wouldn’t tolerate hate speech – that’s when one of the women in the group attacked her, smashing a glass into McDonald’s face and all the way through one cheek. McDonald’s group fought back, and at some point during the scuffle Dean Schmitz, one of the attackers, was fatally stabbed.

Only CeCe McDonald was arrested at the scene. After a brief trip to the hospital to stitch up her lacerated cheek, she was interrogated and then placed in solitary confinement, ostensibly for her own protection. She stayed in jail, unable to receive follow-up care for her injury for two months – all while her cheek swelled into a large, painful lump which caused headaches and difficulty eating.

Finally, in October, McDonald was released on bail, but was then returned to jail for allegedly violating the conditions of her release. Her electronic monitoring device failed for 12 hours, which her lawyers argued was a mechanical glitch and not willful tampering. She also tested positive for THC on a random drug test. Her new bail was set at $500,000.

Since the arrest, McDonald’s friends report experiencing harassment by their attackers back in June. They’ve been assaulted with racial and homophobic slurs, and even told to “go back to Africa.” The police have refused to help in these instances.

On the Support CeCe McDonald website, friends and family have posted a few reflections on the incident, written by McDonald herself. In her blog, she expresses regret over the loss of life on June 5, but also asks a few pointed questions about the motivations of the police:

I felt that I’ve worked very hard from where I started, to where I’m at now in my life, just to have it all taken away from me. It’s hard enough for gays and trans people to find stability in this society, and I’ve worked to hard to let anyone just take it from me. I’m so blessed to have such wonderful, supportive people who are here to help and make sure that all that is done from this point forward will be fair and just. I am truly sorry for the loss of a person who also was involved in the incident, but how would my mom and family feel if she heard that I was killed by a group of racist, homophobic/transphobic people only for walking to the store and being at the wrong place at the wrong time, which luckily I wasn’t by myself. Or even looking at it in different aspects, would the situation have been the same. Would they have taken the same lengths to prosecute him if he had killed me? Or would they have even cared if it were a black on black crime. But once again not to many people care if it doesn’t involve them or is of their concern. But think if it were your child, your sister or brother, a friend or family member. How would you feel? And now I have to deal with the repercussions of other people’s hateful actions. To deal with the nightmares, the stress, and the PTSD. To feeling paranoid that someone might try to kill me, or my family. To be unsure of where my future lies.  I feel like the person I used to be, who didn’t know what life was about, or how to handle it. But I know with the support of my family, which is everyone who has been with m through this tedious journey, I will be better in time. I wont let the actions of hateful people detour or distract me. I will continue on my path to loving myself, and others. But most importantly, to continue in my pursuit of happiness.

McDonald’s trial is not scheduled until April 30 – a very long time to spend in solitary confinement. Supporters are demanding that the charges against CeCe be dropped, as the situation seems to be a clear-cut case of self-defense. Those wishing to offer support can write to CeCe in jail and donate to a support fund that’s been set up on her behalf.

Supporters can also contact Michael Freeman, the Hennepin County Attorney, to urge him to drop the charges against Chrishaun McDonald.


Related Stories:

Bill Would Make Illinois Hate Crimes Law Trans-Inclusive

Hate Crimes Charges in Maryland Anti-Trans Attack

Philippines Urged to Investigate Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes

Photo credit: jgurbisz

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Christina Carlson

Amazing how local news like this missed the locals... I live in the Twin Cities as well and this was the first I've seen or heard of it. Sad how it makes this place seem so intolerant when I don't believe that's the predominant feeling here. Police are as fallible as anyone else and I don't believe that it was right to only arrest CeCe when there were two groups of people involved and the information so murky. CeCe had every right to verbally defend herself when harrassed although I question the wisdom of doing so. Of course, 23 years old is rarely any height of wisdom. When you dig past what's posted on Care2, which highlights the unjust criminalization of a victim, it becomes a bit more evident how CeCe finds herself in her current situation. Her story changes and inconsistencies will of course work against her. A person who is solely a victim with no culpability has no reason to alter the bare facts around the incident. My heart goes out to CeCe for what she has been through and what she is going through but I can't say she bears no accountability either. Hopefully this case will be impetus for change to some of our arresting processes and harrassment laws to be more inclusive of LBGT identifying people.

Molly A.
Molly A.3 years ago

She has been sentenced to 41 months in prison: http://www.autostraddle.com/cece-mcdonald-sentenced-to-41-months-in-jail-for-surviving-transphobic-and-racist-attack-139479/

Unacceptable -- what a failure of the system. Poor girl.

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin3 years ago

Are there any update to the case? It says the trial would start April 30. It's now June 4. What has happened?

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe3 years ago

Why was McDonald the only one arrested? It sounds like everybody got involved.

Jay Williamson
Jay w3 years ago

stacey d are you serious its unfortunate this man was a homophobic racist but he didnt deserve to end up dead because of an opinion he held.

Diane Keller
Diane Keller3 years ago

@Stacey D......that was just a plain stupid thing to say.

Patrick F.
Patrick f.3 years ago

Despite the events that night, the cops/jailers should be ashamed for denying her medical treatment which caused her cheek to fester.

David Anderson
David Anderson3 years ago

Stacey D.
11:49am PST on Feb 27, 2012
Thank the gods for dead homophobic racists! If more LGBT people defended themselves there's be a lot fewer lynchings like Matthew Shepard.

I see. It is acceptable one way but not the other. You are appreciative of those who disagree with your position becoming dead. You apparently consider killing a man who is guilty of running his mouth (as opposed to the person who hit the defendant with a glass) defense. It seems that you think that if more who oppose homosexuality are killed, then fewer homosexuals will be killed. What are you hoping for, a winner-take-all killing contest in the hopes of your preferred participants winning?