CeCe McDonald Released from Prison, Sparks Much-Needed Dialogue
January 13, 2014 by Noël Gordon, Senior Specialist for HIV Prevention and Health Equity
CeCe McDonald – the black transgender woman sentenced to 41 months in prison after defending herself during a violent attack in June 2011 – was released today following months of activism and community organizing on her behalf.
According to multiple reports, McDonald and a group of friends were walking near a grocery store when they were accosted by Dean Schmaltz, a white cisgender man, and two women. Schmaltz and his friends began hurling racist and transphobic slurs until Schmaltz’s ex-girlfriend eventually smashed a bottle against McDonald’s face.
Witnesses say a fight quickly ensued during which McDonald stabbed Schmaltz in self-defense. “When the police arrived it wasn’t hard to for them to assume who the aggressors were–surely, for them, it had to have been the group of black kids who started all this drama,” McDonald later said on her blog.
Minneapolis prosecutors charged McDonald with two charges of second-degree murder. Faced with few other options, CeCe accepted a plea bargain, pleading guilty to one charge of second-degree manslaughter in exchange for a shortened prison sentence.
Unfortunately, McDonald’s story is part of a much larger system of violence facing transgender women in the United States, particularly transgender women of color. According to a 2011 report entitled Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transgender people, and particularly transgender women of color, almost universally report experiences of violence and harassment because of their gender identity or gender presentation. In one study, over 80% of transgender people reported experiences of verbal abuse. Over 30% reported physical abuse. Getting help from the police, even when possible, does not always feel like a safe option. 38% of black transgender and gender non-conforming people report harassment in interactions with the police. 51% report discomfort with seeking police assistance.
HRC works to educate the public on issues that transgender people face, from widespread discrimination and hate violence, to the complex process of getting appropriate identity documents, to finding culturally competent healthcare providers, and family and parenting issues, and to advocate for their full inclusion and equality. For more on HRC’s work on transgender advocacy work, visit http://www.hrc.org/issues/transgender.
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