by Guest Contributor Jessica Annabelle
CeCe and several friends, all black, were walking to the grocery store on June 5th, 2011 when white adults standing in the patio area of a South Minneapolis bar started screaming racist and transphobic slurs at the youth. CeCe, who is only 23 years old, approached the group and replied that she and her friends would not tolerate hate speech. In response, one of the white women said “I’ll take you bitches on” and smashed her glass into CeCe’s face. The broken glass sliced all the way through CeCe’s cheek. A fight ensued between the adults and the young people after this initial attack and one of the attackers, Dean Schmitz, was fatally stabbed.
As if it were not sufficiently tragic that a group of young people were subjected to such severe violence and that Dean Schmitz lost his life, police arriving at the scene arrested CeCe, denied her adequate medical treatment, interrogated her for hours, and placed her in solitary confinement. In the aftermath of being attacked, she was not treated with care, but launched into another nightmare. The only person arrested that night, she has since been charged with two counts of 2nd degree murder. Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman has the power to drop these charges, a choice he made in multiple other clear instances of self-defense this year, but he has not yet done so.
CeCe’s story is a portrait of the United States Criminal Justice System. Her story is what is meant when we are told that transgender people, especially transgender women of color, experience disproportionate rates of police harassment, profiling, and abuse. She is living one of the stories rolled into statistics like: trans people are ten to fifteen times more likely to be incarcerated than cisgender (not transgender) people, or nearly half of African American transgender people have spent time in jail or prison.
These statistics are the result of the all of the ways that transgender people, especially transgender people of color, are denied access to the resources and opportunities that we need to live healthy lives free of violence, discrimination, and oppression. Transgender people consistently experience high levels of harassment in school, extreme levels of unemployment due to discrimination and lack of education, denial of competent medical care, inability to change identification documents, and disproportionate violence and harassment. Nevertheless, for generations transgender people, especially transgender women of color, have been at the forefront of movements against police brutality, white supremacy, economic injustice, and for queer liberation and gender self-determination.
CeCe is one of these leaders. She is the everyday hero that is the college student, working her way toward the career of her dreams. She is a femme icon, reminding her many friends and loving community that it’s never the wrong time to look fabulous, even as she is unjustly held in jail and awaiting trial for unwarranted charges. She is the center of a growing community of supporters in Minneapolis and nationally, inspiring action and solidarity in our joint struggles to (in her words) “be able to help and comfort someone who is unsure about his or her own sexual identity and preference…eliminate people’s fears of being victims of hate crimes and domestic violence…[and] help someone to accept and be comfortable as whomever they choose to be.”
Today, we are faced with the opportunity and the obligation to challenge racism and transphobia. Locally, we have and will continue to support CeCe every step of the way- from ensuring she has access to hormones in jail to packing the courtroom at every one of her hearings. Nationally, an increasing number of support groups and individuals are following CeCe’s case and demanding that Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman drop the charges against her. In Minneapolis and the rest of the country we aren’t only watching Freeman; we are standing up beside CeCe, a leader in our community, and waiting for him to do the same.
For more information and new developments: http://supportcece.wordpress.com
To tell Michael Freeman you support dropping the charges against CeCe