Tuesday, 5 June 2012

CeCe McDonald

CeCe McDonald is an American trans woman of colour who was yesterday sentenced to three years and five months in a male prison in Minneapolis for manslaughter by negligence. CeCe was arrested after her and her friends were subject to a brutal attack by a group of white people outside a bar. They began by hurling racist and transphobic slurs at CeCe and her friends and when CeCe objected, one of the group smashed their glass into CeCe's face, which punctured her cheek all the way through to the salivary gland. CeCe tried to run away and was pursued by her attackers. A fight ensued and in this fight one of her attackers was fatally stabbed with a pair of scissors CeCe carried in her handbag. CeCe was originally charged with second-degree murder, but accepted a plea bargain by admitting to manslaughter, because she didn't want to run the risk of a 40-year jail sentence.

I've set up a Google group to start two letter writing campaigns - one to send letters to CeCe to remind her she's not alone, and one to write to other groups/individuals to campaign for her release. If you'd like to join, it can be found here.

Here's some other links to details of CeCe's case and other projects to get involved with. I'm doing this very quickly because I'm quite busy, so if you have any other good resources, please feel free to put the links in the comments: 
UPDATE: A Change.org petition has been created to urge the state to transfer CeCe to a women's prison. I know how people feel about the effectiveness of online petitions, but here's the link anyway. It only takes two minutes to sign and might be worth a punt.

UPDATE 2: The Change.org petition has been stopped at the request of CeCe's official campaign team, so I've removed the link above (thanks Daz for reminding me). However, if you go to the official Support CeCe website, on the left hand bar are instructions for sending letters to CeCe and a link to donate to the campaign.


  1. Here's another one, if that's okay.

    Bei Bei Shuai, an Indiana woman who attempted suicide by drinking rat poison whilst pregnant, and is being prosecuted for feticide and murder.


  2. Yes, I've been following Bei Bei's case for a while. She was let out on bail last month (after around 400 days on remand), and I'm unaware that there's been an announcement for trial yet. If the worst happens, I'm sure we'll be able to start things for her too. It is sad that I even have to contemplate this idea :(

  3. Sorry for the late reply. I've been a tad busy myself.

    There's a link to a petition for Bei Bei on the linked article in my earlier comment and a link to my source. I'd have linked them here, but wasn't sure how many links would get me spam-blocked.

    Talking of petitions, the one you linked for CeCe is closed, btw.

    I also copy-pasted a chunk of your article here and used it as a way to make a quick post on CeCe, as I didn't have time to write owt. Hope that's okay?

    1. That's fine. Thanks for reminding me about the petition, I got an email about it yesterday but trying to do thirty things at once and having come down with a nasty ear infection meant it quickly slipped my mind.

      I'm not sure how many links would put someone in spam, but since I've turned comment moderation on (thanks MRAs!), I'd be able to see it and publish it pretty quickly.

  4. If the objective is to move McDonald to a woman's prison, than you can have my signature, as for releasing her though...well you'll forgive me for being incredulous about the way the crime is being described. It seems to me that if it had been as clear cut as is described by web pundits ("Violent nazi skinhead persues, ultimately, accidentally killed in self-defence") then why did a trial or a judge not see it that way? To accept the reported version of events, I have to presume some kind of negligence on the court's part - which I'm not willing to do without more details.

    1. Hi maninahat,

      As I said in the OP, I've been really busy recently, and just come down with a nasty ear infection, so my blogging's not been on top form. Really this post was intended so I could let people know about the letter-writing group and so on, so I didn't really include much of the finer detail of the case, presuming people who were reading it would already have a fairly good grounding of it. That's my bad, and something I've castigated myself for in the past. *slaps own wrists*

      So, this is what CeCe admits to, and what the courts have accepted as the facts of the event. Now, to the legal parts:

      This is the relevant point in the case, and what her conviction hinges on: "McDonald handled the scissors in a way that created an unreasonable risk to Schmitz. She understands that she introduced a weapon into the fight and that doing so always has the potential of causing a death. She further understands that she has the legal duty to handle a weapon in a way that no one is harmed."

      We need to go back a bit to explain this, and you'll have to forgive me while I go all 'law nerd' on you. When arrested, CeCe was charged with second-degree murder, which is roughly equivalent to what's known as 'unlawful act manslaughter' in England and Wales. This means that person A did not set out to kill person B, but person A committed a crime which led to person B's death.

      There are two important notes from this: 1) Self defence is a full defence to the crime she was originally charged with. That is to say, if the unlawful act she committed was as a result of self-defence, it would become lawful, and therefore there would be no unlawful act for the manslaughter charge to rest on. 2) The maximum sentence for second degree murder in Minnesota is 40 years.

      So, CeCe had a very strong case for getting the whole charge dropped - self-defence is usually defined as an action proportionate to the danger you're in - she had been stabbed with a glass, the attacker was stabbed with scissors. HOWEVER, this is not the charge that went to court.

      What you must remember is that a jury would have to find that CeCe acted in self-defence. Now, without wishing to cast aspersions on the fine people of the USA, while they may have made some progresses in the past 50 years, the jury that tried her would have mainly been made up of people like her attacker - that is to say, white, straight, cis-gendered men. If they decided (for whatever reason, jury deliberations are private after all) that what she did wasn't self-defence, bye-bye next 40 years of her life.

      The state offered her a plea bargain. If she pled guilty to unnecessary endangerment causing death, and thus admitted a degree of blame in what happened, this carries a maximum four year charge, and that would be all she'd get. Pleading gulity to a charge means that there's no need for a jury trial or even proper examination of the evidence, there's just sentencing.

      So, when given a chance of going away for over half her life v a maximum of four years, she took the latter. Even if there was only a 5% chance that the jury would be so prejudiced as to ignore a self-defence plea, I'd definitely have taken the four years too.


    2. To continue...

      This is not to even begin to contemplate the fact that the judge was willing to take tiny things into consideration to prejudice CeCe's character evidence (i.e. evidence that she once wrote a cheque that bounced) but nothing to say anything about the character of the attackers.

      There is strong evidence of (at least) racial discrimination in the US justice system - I could link you to reams of cases - and remember that cases don't necessarily have to be prosecuted. Contrast this case with the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case, which took over a month and a national campaign for a known paranoid and racist man who admittedly ignored police advice and shot an unarmed teenager on his way back from the shop to even be charged with an offence. Incredibly, he was granted bail and has widespread support - including someone who put up his surety which IIRC was >$150,000. He's just been recalled to remand though, for deceiving the court during his bail hearing.

      TL;DR - Yes, I do think this is a miscarriage of justice, because the US justice system is pretty bloody laughable, and I'm sorry for not being clearer in the original post.

  5. Thanks for the information, and I hope the ear is better soon. It was the first I've heard of this case, and I like to give judges the benefit of the doubt before I've seen all the details. I've seen enough shoddy articles about "cowardly PC judges" to be tentative in regards to these kinds of issues.

  6. Oh, in other news, I saw this and thought you might like it