Following the horrendous attack on 22-year-old transgender woman Chrissy Lee Polis at a suburban Baltimore McDonald’s restaurant on April 18, two teenage women have this week been indicted on hate crimes charges.
The grand jury indicted Teonna Brown, 18, on first and second-degree assault and classified the offenses as hate crimes. Sources familiar with the case say a 15-year-old girl charged as a juvenile, whose identity has been withheld by authorities, faces the same charges in juvenile court.
The assault charges normally carry a maximum penalty of 25 years in jail for an adult. Under Maryland’s hate crimes law, which covers victims based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, a judge has the authority to “enhance” the penalty for an underlying charge by adding up to 10 additional years of incarceration to the sentence.
Brown has been charged as an adult.
Law enforcement observers say grand juries almost always follow the recommendation of prosecutors in deciding on charges for an indictment. In this case, the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s office handled the prosecution.
The attack, recorded on a cellphone by a restaurant employee and posted on the Internet, saw Ms. Polis kicked and punched by two young women while she lay on the ground. She was then dragged across the floor under a barrage of blows and eventually began to convulse.
The video provoked a international outcry, not least in part because of the inaction of the majority of the McDonald’s restaurant staff who simply stood by while the attack was taking place.
Governor Martin O’Malley issued the following statement on the charges (via Equality Maryland):
“I want to commend Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger for using every available means to prosecute the heinous beating of Chrissy Lee Polis last month.
“Even with Maryland’s ‘hate crimes’ law, it is clear that more must be done to protect the rights and dignity of transgendered people. In the struggle for justice and equality for all, I’m committed to working with the Maryland General Assembly during the next legislative session to increase awareness and provide even greater protections for transgendered people.
“As some have noted, out of this awful beating has come a moment to foster a deeper understanding and respect for the dignity of all persons. We should not allow the moment to pass without greater action.”
The attack on Chrissy Lee Polis moved Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-District 21) to call on fellow lawmakers, asking that they take up a bill to specifically protect trans-identifying individuals from discrimination in the workplace, the credit sector and public accommodations, so as to send a strong message that anti-trans hate and discrimination is not acceptable. The Legislature failed to pass a watered down bill of this ilk earlier this year. Read more on that here.
While such a bill certainly would not have helped to protect Polis from the violence she faced, it is hoped that legislation like this would make a firm statement against anti-trans prejudice and discrimination and therein feed into changing hearts and minds about the way in which trans people are both viewed and treated.
To read more background on the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, please click here.
TAKE ACTION: SUPPORT A FULLY INCLUSIVE TRANS ANTI-DISCRIMINATION ACT!