Struggle for Equality: the CeCe McDonald Case

From the September 2012 PNL #817

Elliott DeLine & Gen Thomas

CeCe McDonald is a 27-year-old African American and transgender woman serving a 42-month prison sentence in St. Cloud, Minnesota. She studied fashion at Minnesota Community and Technical College and lived there with a few close friends. She was charged with second-degree murder after surviving a brutal attack in Minneapolis last summer. There has been a large public outcry against her incarceration and the treatment she has received since her arrest.

At approximately 12:30 am on June 5, 2011 CeCe and her “family,” a group of young LGBTQA individuals she formed a community with, were walking to the grocery store. When they passed a local bar, white people standing outside began to verbally harass them. Their slurs included the terms, “niggers,” “faggots,” and “chicks with dicks.” They also shouted that CeCe was “dressed as a woman in order to rape” one of the attackers, Dean Schmidt. CeCe approached them and said she and her friends would not tolerate hate speech. A woman smashed her glass against CeCe’s face, lacerating her cheek and puncturing her salivary gland. Afterwards, a fight broke out and Schmidt was fatally stabbed. CeCe was the only person arrested that night and was quickly charged with second-degree murder.

After being taken to the hospital and receiving stitches, CeCe was left alone in a room for three hours despite the traumatic experience she had just endured. She was then interrogated and sent to Hennepin County men’s prison where she was placed in solitary confinement, despite her request to be with the other prisoners. She had to wait nearly two months to receive follow-up medical treatment.

Many called for attorney Michael Freeman to drop CeCe’s case, calling out the racist and transphobic nature of the attack. During the trial, Judge Daniel Moreno ruled that the swastika tattoo on Schmidt’s chest was not admissible as proof of his history of bigotry. An online petition received over 18,000 signatures calling for her release. Freeman had dropped charges in the past for young people in similar situations but ignored the demands and added an additional charge of second-degree murder. CeCe then accepted a plea agreement in May 2012 and pled guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter. She was charged in June and has been in prison since. CeCe’s supporters called Hennepin Prison’s doctors, demanding that CeCe be given the hormone therapy she was prescribed prior to incarceration. The prison violated the court’s order by first denying her treatment, as well as feminine undergarments, and then denying her the proper medical dosage. In July 2012, CeCe requested supporters’ help. The effort was successful, and this is the sort of action that CeCe desires as more issues may crop up again in the future.

This case shines a light on the ways in which African Americans and transgender people are mistreated by society, law enforcement, and in prisons. According to the National Coalition of Anti Violence Programs, the murder rate among the LGBTQ community has risen 11 percent in the last year.  Among those murdered, the highest proportion of victims was transgendered women (40 percent). The support CeCe has received sends a message that punishing victims of hate crimes for defending themselves is intolerable. CeCe’s case is especially relevant to Syracuse citizens, who may remember the murder of LaTeisha Green, a 23-year-old transgender African American woman who was shot to death in 2009. LaTeisha’s case was the first classified as a hate crime in the Syracuse area, and this designation set the precedent that this sort of violence against transgender people is not okay.  CeCe’s supporters are also sending the message that it is time to end these injustices and make transgender liberation a reality.

For the latest updates on CeCe and information on getting involved, join the group “CNY For CeCe!” on Facebook, and visit

Elliott and Gen are both writers and seniors at Syracuse University.