Why We Should Support CeCe McDonald

by Guest Contributor Jessica Annabelle

CeCe McDonald, a black trans woman, has been facing 2nd degree murder charges since being attacked last summer by a group of white adults.

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
call: 612-348-5561
email: citizeninfo@co.hennepin.mn.us
fax: 612-348-2042

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  • Kaydee-P

    Not surprised. I am more than happy to spread the word. Violence is painfully common in the transgender community, but justice is not.

    • Jess Annabelle

      thanks kaydee-p. i hear that.

  • Kaydee-P

    Not surprised. I am more than happy to spread the word. Violence is painfully common in the transgender community, but justice is not.

  • Jessica

    The whole “youth” debate is very much distracting us from having a conversation about state-sanctioned violence against trans women of color. I wonder what this comment thread would look like if we pushed ourselves to move beyond what is preventing us from having an important conversation about the multi-layered forms of oppressive violence playing out in CeCe McDonald’s life. I understand that the wording in the article can be confusing or distracting for some (not sure about the wording being suspect, though), but now that we have established that…what’s next?

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  • Anonymous

    Would you have stopped if the author of the piece had said a college kid (which CeCe is)?  Does it really matter that a person is a young adult, and not a minor youth?  Why are you so quick to be “suspicious as a casual reader” about a woman who was minding her own business when some reckless adults assaulted her with hate speech, broke a glass in her face, and initiated a series of events that left a person dead?

  • Chris

    I am a longtime lurker on this site and would like to support this cause, but I agree that much of the language makes me hesitant to accept that this is the whole story.  Using “youth” and “adults”, and the paraphrasing of CeCe’s words while directly quoting the other woman is making alarms go off in my head.  From this post, this does sound like a pretty classic case of self-defense, but I would like to know a lot more before I take a stand.  

  • angrysoul observerand

     Exactly, they were not youthful but full fledged adults. I know Minneapolis and although it is seen as an open place for Gay/Lesbian/trans people, it can have some quirks. As a heterosexual female, I have been assigned there several times for work and I can say that they seem to have some issues with people of color, especially black women.I have walked down the street and had horrible things said to me, just because I walking down the street.  When you add being trans-gendered into the mix, I am sure that it can be hell. In my opinion, the girl who smashed a glass across CeCe’s face should stand accused because her actions resulted in the death of a friend.

    • Natalie

      I can say that they seem to have some issues with people of color, especially black women”

      This is definitely the truth (I have lived in Minneapolis most of my life). It’s probably our biggest negative for being such a progressive city. 

  • Jess Annabelle

    Thanks for communicating your concern Bomdia. Those words were definitely choices I made as the writer- from my vantage point, 23 does feel very young, especially to navigate a complicated court system, the paperwork that comes with being pulled out of school, and trauma from being attacked. Additionally, I’m used to ‘youth’ being used as a category in queer and trans spaces to mean people anywhere from 12-25, partly because for many queer and trans people coming out, or changing genders, can feel like a second adolescence or new beginning. I hope that helps explain why I used that word, and I hope that didn’t distract you overmuch from the real issue in the article- namely, that CeCe was the victim of a hate-based attack and is currently the victim of a legal system that disproportionately targets trans women, especially trans women of color. 

    • MsBridget

      The word “youth” also made me pause. That’s not to say that the overall issue was lost on me. Thanks for your calm explanation. 

    • jvansteppes

      The report of a ‘woman’ being attacked by ‘adults’ is a bit confusing because a woman is an adult by definition. While it is clear that CeCe and her friends were harassed by the white assailants for being trans and POC, it’s unclear as to why age is an important detail or why it was phrased that way. The attacker with the broken glass could have been the same age as CeCe and still qualified as an adult. And in the end their ages don’t really matter. CeCe was targeted for racist, transphobic violence and then further abused by the judicial system; this isn’t acceptable for anyone, young or ‘old’.

    • .elise.anne.

      Thank you for the insight into your choice of words. As a 26 yr old, I too disliked the word “youth” as I assume that means under the age of 18, and I associate the use of the word with adolescence, but I assumed there was a reason for it and therefore let it go. I see your points to the age of being involved in everything CeCe is now forced to deal with, so thanks for the background information into your choice of words.

    • Danielwebster

      It seems strange the article doesn’t discuss whether she lethally stabbed Dean or not.

      If she did it’s not a surprise (or an injustice) that she was the only person arrested. Or that they interrogated her for hours, lethally stab someone and you can expect some serious question time.

      This isn’t to say it wasn’t self defense, it sounds like it was, but the whole framing seems very odd. As others have said the adult/youth stuff is also puzzling. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1164481042 Mieko Gavia

        It is an injustice that she was the only person arrested, considering the instigator of the fight caused her grievous bodily harm and basically committed a hate crime.   A woman attacks another and cuts *through* her cheek with glass, and not only is that woman not arrested, the victim of this crime is arrested and denied adequate medical attention.  Even if Cece DID stab Dean, this is no excuse for pretending she has no right to medical care, or to not hold the person who assaulted her responsible for the first blow.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1164481042 Mieko Gavia

        Secondly, according to my research, it’s not clear WHO stabbed Dean, or even which weapon  was the used to do it.  Of course this is a pending case so we know very little, but there are 1) at least two possible murder weapons, and 2) while CeCe confessed AFTER being the only person arrested, she later recanted and said  it was “a big mistake [for] trying to cover up for one of my friends who actually did it. I didn’t know exactly who, but I knew someone was defending me.”


  • Grace

    Whether or not that is the language YOU would use is quite irrelevant to the story; plenty of people use “youth” and “young adult” interchangably. The point is a trans woman of color was ATTACKED, *defended herself*, and in the course of such defense, unfortunately someone died. That’s not 2nd degree murder. Period.

  • Mntranspr

    Fantastic article, thank you so much Jess Annabelle! Please everyone stand up and support CeCe. You can start by signing this petition. http://www.change.org/petitions/free-cece-were-looking-at-you-michael-freeman-drop-the-charges-against-cece-mcdonald