NLG Demands Justice for CeCe McDonald

Communications Coordinator

On June 5, 2011, CeCe McDonald, an African American transgender woman, was assaulted by Dean Schmitz, a white heterosexual man, and his friends in a violent, racist, and transphobic attack.  In the face of extreme violence causing her serious physical injury, Ms. McDonald defended herself.  The Hennepin County Attorneys’ Office refuses to recognize her right to self-defense, and instead is prosecuting her for two counts of second degree murder for the death of Schmitz.  If Ms. McDonald is found guilty of either count, she could be imprisoned for up to 40 years.

The night of the attack, Schmitz and his crowd began yelling racist, homophobic, and transphobic slurs at Ms. McDonald and four of her friends, calling them “niggers,” “fags,” “chicks with dicks,” and rapists wearing women’s clothes as they walked past Schooner Tavern in south Minneapolis.  An altercation ensued when one of the white women with Schmitz smashed a liquor glass in Ms. Mc Donald’s face, causing serious injury.  Witnesses reported that Ms. McDonald had turned away and was leaving the altercation when Schmitz followed her in an aggressive, hostile fashion.  Schmitz was subsequently stabbed with a pair of scissors in the chest and bled to death at the scene.  Although Ms. McDonald claims she acted in self-defense and despite criminal conduct on the part of many in the crowd, including the white woman who struck Ms. McDonald in the face, Ms. McDonald was the only person arrested and criminally charged.

This is not the first time Schmitz has expressed racist and transphobic sentiments or engaged in violence.  He was a proud racist who had a swastika tattooed on his chest and had previously been convicted of assaulting his fourteen year old daughter, his ex-girlfriend, and his ex-girlfriend’s father.

Ms. McDonald’s fear for her life was more than reasonable and stems in part from the severe and deadly violence transgender women of color face at alarming rates across the United States.  The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reported in 2010 that people who identified as transgender or of color experienced assault or discrimination two times more often than non-transgender, white individuals, and transgender women made up 44% of the hate-motivated murders reported that year (a disproportionately high percentage in comparison to the percentage of transgender women in the overall population).  In the past month alone, three transgender women of color have been murdered in Chicago, Detroit and Miami.

The criminal legal system has been unable to deter this deadly violence plaguing transgender women of color, but it continues to further criminalize and punish those who are the targets of such violence.  LGBTQ people, particularly those of color, consistently report that law enforcement officials punish them, rather than their assailants, when they are victims of violence.  This dynamic guided the case of the New Jersey 7, where seven African American lesbians were prosecuted, charged and ultimately convicted after they were assaulted by a heterosexual man in the West Village, who claimed he was the victim of a “heterosexual hate crime.”  The police and prosecutors failed to properly investigate the incident and the women were presumed to be guilty based on their race, sexual orientation and gender non-conforming appearance.  They were framed in the media as “killer lesbians,” “a seething Sapphic septet,” and a “lesbian wolf pack” who engaged in “gang violence.”  (See http://www.incite-national.org/media/docs/9908_toolkitrev-nj7.pdf and http://www.amyewinter.net/nj4/).

Notably, in the past year the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has used its discretion to decline to prosecute in no less than three cases where victims killed their assailants while engaging in self-defense, yet it continues its campaign against Ms. McDonald.

The NLG Queer Caucus, Anti-Racism Committee, Anti-Sexism Committee and the United People of Color Caucus (TUPOCC) question the legitimacy and fairness of Ms. McDonald’s criminal investigation and prosecution in light of endemic racism and bias against gender non-conforming people in the criminal legal system.

We demand that Michael Freeman, the Hennepin County Attorney, dismiss the charges against CeCe McDonald in the interest of justice.  The NLG Queer Caucus, Anti-Racism Committee, Anti-Sexism Committee and the United People of Color Caucus (TUPOCC) call on those who support Ms. McDonald to contact Michael Freeman and urge him to drop the charges by calling him at 612-348-5540, faxing him at 612-348-2042 or emailing him at citizeninfo@co.hennepin.mn.us.

For more information on the case, visit http://supportcece.wordpress.com/

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) was founded in 1937 and is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has members in every state.