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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What CAN You Do Today? How The Terrible Case of Cece McDonald Can Change The Way We Think

What would you do if it happened to you? What if you were out for a walk with friends and wound up fighting for your life in a jail cell? You're a good person with a good life, but it still could happen to you. And what on earth would you do? How would you feel if it happened to you?

On June 4th of this year CeCe Mcdonald was a pretty, 23 year old college student. She took care of some other young people, had fun with friends, and was making the most of her working-class, African-American upbringing that wasn't always kind to her as she had been born biologically male. Still, in the eyes of her friends and the Minneapolis youth crowd, she was an awesome example of hard work done right.

However, it's when we cue to the next day that her life truly changed  forever. CeCe was walking with some of her mates to score some food when they walked past a bar. Three white folks began using racial epithets, as well as homophobic and transphobic slurs, many of which I would feel incredibly uncomfortable even typing. One even involved a reference to rape, one of humanity's most heinous of crimes. It was then when one of the folks then broke a glass of liquor on Mcdonald's face, resulting in a complete-thickness cheek laceration which went so far as to damage her salivary glands, among other injuries.

More people joined in, resulting in a dangerous brawl, in which Mr. Dean Schmitz, 47, died from a stab wound. It was stated in witness reports that he had began the verbal barrage and, along with his friends, caused the initial assault and that it's not certain who caused the fatal blow to Dean Schmitz.

CeCe Mcdonald was arrested the same night on a most serious charge of Murder in the Second Degree.  Initially, Ms. Mcdonald claimed to an interrogator that Schmitz lunged into her scissors, but has since said in a letter that someone else must have done the stabbing. Ms Mcdonald has since additionally stated that the liquor within the weapon was of a strong enough concentration to seriously alter her vision and that she was incapacitated by the blow to the head and doesn't know what actually occurred.  Despite the fact that a knife was also recovered from the scene, nobody else has been charged in connection with the death.

She was held on a hefty bond for months in solitary confinement and denied medical treatment for what, after 2 months of no intervention, had become a massive facial abscess. She spent some time in a men's criminal psych unit to be returned to solitary and has been returned only recently to the psych unit for her safety.

As it stands right now, she's reasonably safe, yet still in a psychiatric cell in a men's jail on $75, 000 bail and her trial date is January 9th of next year. The judge who lowered her bail a few days back deems her to not be a threat to anyone, yet she lingers, enduring harassment and intense isolation. Still, she keeps her head up for the time being, knowing that her kids are indeed paying attention. The media has portrayed this fine lady as a man, the courts have done so, and even the prison has. And in my humble opinion, it ain't a game, it's a crying shame.

I cannot even claim to know what it is like to a transgender African-American woman living in Bachmann's Minnesota. While I know that every time I step outside, I could be taken out, it's vastly more terrifying to be CeCe Mcdonald or anyone like her. In recent years, up to half of all murders of American LGBT people have been of transgender women. Throw in the obvious racism and initial physical attack and you have a situation in which Ms. Mcdonald had reason to believe her life was in danger.  If she stabbed him by accident, or if she did  in self-defense, or a friend did, or even a bystander did it, it doesn't warrant a hold for second-degree murder, and certainly not for CeCe Mcdonald.

The fact of the matter is that neither African-American, nor the gender-nonconforming are treated with fairness in the American legal system. Whether it comes to policing, incarceration, or prosecution, transfolk and people of colour are not treated the same as a middle-aged white fellow. We know these things.

CeCe Mcdonald was making a difference in her community, and was looked to to lead young people, and as she hopes for release, still inspires others. There are bigots and she knows it, and on June 5, she was physically attacked by such people, and one of the assailants wound up dead. It's a tragedy that anyone should have perished, and CeCe Mcdonald is highly aware of this, but the thing is, nobody knows who killed Dean Schmitz or even how. The State's case is all resting on DNA evidence that won't even be processed until at least December.

In this case, we are not simply speaking of evidenciary burden, but the conditions to which Ms. Mcdonald continues to be subjected to. Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity prior to and during trial. To begin with, trans women should not be housed in facilities designed for macho men. Some states have special yards for trans and/or gay folks or house them with women, which alleviates the some of the fear associated with detention. Either of these would be appropriate, and accepted by Ms Mcdonald, but all she's received is solitude and medical care that would make the guys at Gitmo bitch.

I have no idea why the entire LGBT community isn't losing their minds over a the plight of a bright young American citizen such as CeCe. I'm absolutely perplexed by the overall lack of media attention this is getting, and as much as I am sometimes bemused by the causes the major activist groups take on, I thought this would be one of them. In reality, all she's got are a Wordpress site and a hundred or so Minnesota college kids. That's right- no ACLU, no Advocate, nor screaming Jane Velez-Mitchell. Just a surprising and creepy quiet when it comes to the plight of CeCe Mcdonald, save for a few intensely transphobic blog posts.

 I hold no doubt in my mind that CeCe Mcdonald will eventually see justice. Either the case will be dropped for lack of evidence or she'll get her day in court in front of a judge and jury that are hopefully not as blind as the overzealous police and prosecutors. Hopefully they'll see a scared young lady and her friends who were fighting for their lives after being attacked on a summer night in South Minneapolis; they'll see someone who didn't choose to be involved with bigots; a human being in search of a snack and who wound up in solitary.  If they don't, they'll see a white man killed by what Dean Schmitz called a freaky 'nigger' and 'faggot' and she'll get 15 to life upstate.

Gentle readers, I do encourage you to further research CeCe's case, and if you'd like to support her, you can drop her a line HERE. Please keep in mind that her facility does not accept parcels. Just put 60 cents on an envelope containing some posi-thoughts to give one misunderstood human hope for a new and brighter day.

On what Ms. Mcdonald would call a most serious note, she was also supporting 4 youths who have since become displaced and they do need toiletries as well as larger items like beds. If you can help these kids, email HERE for more information. If you'd like to skip the fuss and provide a cash donation to help the kids, secure a bondsman, help with legal costs or medical expenses, you can wander over to Paypal and donate.

Empathy should be a part of the human experience, and just as CeCe Mcdonald has given support to so many young people, we should offer her a hand up in her time of need. Even if one cannot afford a monetary donation to every person who suffers from undue harassment or even incarceration, you can assist in reducing the problem by not engaging in bias against those you encounter.  CeCe Mcdonald never set out to cause an issue, nor would ever wish death upon the most jaded; for when one is still alive, they can still be redeemed.

When we treat those we do not know, or may not even understand, with the same degree of respect that we would a neighbour, we epitomize humanity at its finest. It is within us that the human condition does not have to become a disfiguring disease.

"Everybody should just be treated like human beings, no matter who they are." : Chrishaun "CeCe" Mcdonald


  1. I took this to show CeCe when I visited her in jail on Thursday. It brought tears to her eyes, and she said that (along with the OutFront post and the Star Tribune article published within a day or two of this post) it helped her spirit reblossom.

    I asked her if I could let you know, and she said yes enthusiastically, and says hi!

  2. I am a white respected in my community 59 yo transwoman in southern Indiana, I have just learned of this. I am having a surgery that will keep me home bound for the next two months or I would be traveling to Minnesota to see if I could help. I appreciate this well written report and would encourage you to do an update. If up to date, this would be the page that I would want to share on facebook.

  3. Hi there, and I shall. Her FB page is, however, kept up.

    Thank you for your interest

  4. !!FIGHT RACISM & TRANSPHOBIA BY THE CLICK OF A MOUSE!! Please post far & wide, invite all yr contacts, send it out on yr listserves, post it to yr blogs, tweet it, fax it out to folks. Let's fill this petition to drop the charges against CeCe with thousands of signatures!


Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think