Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, a black, transgendered college student from Minnesota, has pled guilty to charges of second degree manslaughter after defending herself against a violent attack by three men and women shouting racist and transphobic slurs.
When one of the women smashed a glass into McDonald’s face, lacerating a salivary gland and cutting through her cheek, she tried to flee the scene to seek medical attention. McDonald was followed by one of the men, Dean Schmitz. Injured and afraid, she pulled a pair of scissors from her purse to try to scare him away, and in the ensuing fight says that Schmitz grabbed her and pulled her toward him, resulting in the scissors stabbing him in the chest. Schmitz died as a result of the wounds.
What is clear is that McDonald was acting in self-defense. Would she have been arrested if she were white? Cisgendered? It’s impossible to say, but it’s hard to read about cases like the Trayvon Martin murder and not reach the conclusion that African Americans are denied the benefit of the doubt in self-defense cases.
Kenyon Farrow of Colorlines argues that, “innocent” or not, McDonald needs and deserves the support of the LGBT and black communities – and goes on to detail other cases of systemic bias against people of color defending themselves against violence.
Jamilah King agrees, writing, “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.”
Mara Keisling of The Advocate goes even further, stating: “CeCe McDonald is being punished for surviving.”
McDonald’s plea is a reduced charge which will entail a 41-month prison sentence (with credit for time already served) – if she’d plead innocent, the case would have gone ahead, and she could have potentially been convicted of the more serious charges of felony murder in the second degree in a jury trial. Considering that there was some question whether or not the judge would allow an expert to educate the jury on the level of violence faced by trans women (they make up a disproportionate amount of anti-LGBT hate crime victims), this might have been the wisest course of action.
Dean Spade, a legal scholar and the founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, discussed the case with Pretty Queer, explaining more about the plea deal and what it will entail for McDonald. Pretty Queer also has suggestions on how to correspond with someone in jail, for supporters who are interested in writing to CeCe as she serves her sentence. Supporters can also send CeCe books and magazines.
Image credit: Support CeCe McDonald