Why we should be fighting for Cece McDonald

// 20 June 2012

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This is a guest post by Max Brophy. Max is a queer revolutionary socialist living in Sheffield, who blogs here.

Trigger warning: Violence, transphobia, racism, incarceration

A smiling Cece McDonald, with curly shoulder length hair, wearing a blue t-shirtMany of us now know about African-American trans woman, Cece McDonald, who was sentenced to 41 months in a men’s prison for surviving an attack by racist transphobes in Minneapolis, MN, USA. As activists in the US, and more recently in the UK, have been organising, we have seen how Cece’s case is just one of many attacks on trans women of colour. Her case highlights the transphobia and racism in wider society, and more pertinently, economic and state sanctioned oppression of trans women of colour.

Though the state and the police department claim they do not discriminate against trans women of colour, their treatment of Cece McDonald at every stage of the process has suggested otherwise.

The police have ignored all of the facts that point to Cece’s attack as a hate crime. She was the only one arrested at the scene, reinforcing the oppressive notion that violence against trans women of colour is insignificant. Despite all the evidence in her favour, and evidence pointing to the fact that her attackers were fascists, Cece now faces 41 months in a men’s prison, again re-enforcing another oppressive notion – that if you defend yourself against hate crime, despite having no choice in when/how it happens, you will face the full force of the law.

Marc Lamont Hill’s article in Ebony Magazine quotes studies showing that despite only comprising 8% of the LGBTQ community in the US, nearly half of all LGBTQ hate crime murders are of trans women. Trans women of colour are also nearly twice as likely to be subjected to violence as their white counterparts. Half of the trans women of colour interviewed by the National Trans Discrimination Survey faced harassment at school, and 15% have been physically assaulted in their workplaces.

Despite living with the continual threat of attack from wider society, trans women are regularly harassed by the police. Accounts of trans women who have been arrested for soliciting sex when they were just walking down the street, arrested for using “false identification” and using the “wrong” bathroom, are very common. As the Sylvia Riveria Law Project shows [PDF], the criminalisation of trans people (on low income) means that arrest and incarceration are everyday risks in transgender lives.

The US police force and the judicial/prison system continues to attack incarcerated trans people and people of colour – refusing to acknowledge the gender of trans prisoners and housing them in the wrong prison, which completely ignores the violence committed against trans people in prisons. Trans people are 13 times more likely to be abused by prisoners and prison officials, and 59% of trans inmates are sexually assaulted whilst serving time in prison. The transphobia and racism behind Cece’s attack are now being continued by the US state and the prison system.

LGBTQ activists and their allies have joined the campaign for freedom and justice for Cece McDonald, who joins a long list of high profile cases of injustice against trans women. As Mara Keisling points out at Advocate.com: “this Spring, there’s been so much hate violence against us: Coko Williams in Detroit, Brandy Martell in Oakland, Deoni Jones in Washington, D.C., and Paige Clay in Chicago–all transgender women of color killed because of who they were.”

This month holds particular significance for sexual/gender liberation and anti-racist activists, as trans activist and writer Leslie Feinberg pointed out when ze* was arrested at a solidarity demonstration for Cece [*ETA 25/06: an incorrect pronoun was unintentionally used in the original version of this post, for which we apologise]:

CeCe McDonald is being sent to prison during the month of Juneteeth: celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation–the formal Abolition of “legal” enslavement of peoples of African descent. The Emancipation Proclamation specifically spelled out the right of Black people to self-defence against racist violence.

June is also the month of the Stonewall Riots, where LGBTQ people in New York, led by trans women of colour, fought back against police violence. Stonewall is often claimed as a victory for gay men and lesbians, often forgetting that it was trans women of colour that lead the resistance. Marsha P. Johnson was one of those leaders, who went on to set up the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with Sylvia Riviera – a ‘house’ that was set up to provide poor trans women with food, health care and shelter. Johnson was found dead in the Hudson river in 1995, and despite a huge amount of evidence suggesting it was not a suicide, a police investigation was never launched. Susan Stryker’s documentary film Screaming Queens: The Riot at Comptons Cafeteria attempts to bring together interviews and footage of trans women, in order to show how trans people were at the forefront of the struggle.

Our history shows that transphobic, homophobic, sexist and racist violence needs to stop. Cece’s website calls upon all of us to support her campaign and protest in solidarity with her struggle against her transphobic and racist incarceration. In the UK activists in London have protested outside the US embassy, and solidarity groups are coming together to organise actions and benefits for Cece in London, Birmingham and Leeds.

Cece’s case should serve as a rallying cry for the LGBTQ community. Whilst we allow these injustices to continue, we allow our trans sisters to be targeted. Whether it is a section on your local pride march dedicated to Cece, a meeting on her case, or a benefit for her campaign – join the fightback!

Comments From You

Caroline39 // Posted 20 June 2012 at 6:05 pm

Why we should not be fighting for CeCe McDonald:

Someone was stabbed to death in a fight after a group shouted highly offensive remarks across the street at some passers-by. McDonald pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter. A sentence of 3 years and 5 months is quite lenient by US standards and suggests that the guilty plea and mitigation were taken into account.

Please don’t cast me as supporting the bullies. But there are others ways to handle them.

Laura // Posted 21 June 2012 at 8:06 am

From what I’ve read, it sounded like a kill or be killed situation. But regardless of whether it was right to incarcerate her, the fact that she’s being placed in a men’s prison and that none of the other people involved have been prosecuted backs up Max’s assertions.

Caroline39 // Posted 21 June 2012 at 11:57 am

Thanks for posting my comment. I just want to correct one thing, according to the LA Times: “The woman accused of attacking McDonald, Molly Flaherty, has been charged with second-degree assault with a deadly weapon and third-degree assault causing substantial bodily harm”, which sound like serious charges. Obviously the man hasn’t been charged on account of his being dead.

Alasdair // Posted 21 June 2012 at 1:43 pm

Even if she was rightly convicted – which is open to doubt – that doesn’t justify sending her to a men’s prison instead of a women’s one. There’s no good reason for that, only ignorance and prejudice.

Max // Posted 22 June 2012 at 9:58 pm

Id like to raise a few points in response to your comment Caroline.

I think that when a person is subject to a violent racist and transphobic attack, it is unfair to blame the victim for their response. As a trans woman of colour, Cece had no choice about being attacked, it was because of her very presence in the vicinity of her attackers, who were fascists (or at least the man that was killed, who was tattoed with a swatistika). Cece was faced with a situation in which she could fairly presume that her life was in danger – I think in that situation anyone has the right to defend themself. If we moralise about what a survivor should or shouldn’t have done when faced with violence we tread a very dubious victim-blaming line, that helps neither the survivor, nor anti-racist/anti-transphobic struggle.

To suggest that in accepting the plea in the US courts that Cece thought herself guilty of any crime, or that 3 years and 5 months is somehow a ‘lenient’ decision (or even a just one!), I believe seriously undermines what it is like to be incarcerated, and also what it is like to be incarcerated when you are a trans woman of colour housed in a mens prison. The article from Ebony magazine explains just how traumatic incarceration is for trans women of colour, who are statistically more likely to face assault, abuse and rape – and then all of the possible effects that may have – including PTSD, anxiety/depression, etc. Incarceration in itself is often both traumatic and extremely oppressive – I really would suggest reading Angela Davis’s book “Are Prison’s Obselete?”, which even if you don’t agree with the narrative, includes an invaluable insight to the creation of the US prison industrial complex, and how it has been structured around outdated, racist ideas, often with the pursuit of profit at its core.

Max // Posted 22 June 2012 at 10:03 pm

P.s. You are correct in saying that one of the attackers is facing prosecution, though she was not presumed guilty at the scene (despite attacking Cece with a glass and cutting through her cheek, into her salivary gland) and therefore not arrested. I think again this shows how much prejudice was leveled at Cece by the police department because of her race and gender identity, which is indicative of much of the treatment of trans women of colour by the police.

Liz // Posted 23 June 2012 at 3:22 am

Caroline, it wasn’t just the man who died that hasn’t been charged – it’s the entire group of attackers, who began by shouting transphobic and racist slurs at CeCe. There hasn’t been sufficient investigation into/recognition of what actually happened by the police – this is a major part of the issue, which feeds into CeCe’s sentencing and the management of her punishment. I don’t think that the “leniency” of her sentence is what any of us should be focussing on right now.

Max, this article is superb! I hope it inspires more people to get involved in supporting CeCe. I wanted to point out, though, that Leslie Feinberg actually uses ze/hir pronouns, not she/her ones.

Laura // Posted 25 June 2012 at 12:10 pm

Thanks for pointing that out, Liz. I’ve updated the post to change the pronoun.

Max // Posted 25 June 2012 at 2:00 pm

Thank you Liz, sloppy on my part! x

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