No Justice for CeCe

A black transgender woman faces prison for killing her attacker. Her supporters call that a crime.

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Meanwhile, McDonald survived her attack; her attacker didn't. And despite the fact that she had deep lacerations on her face and the police never found the murder weapon, she was still charged with second-degree murder and thrown in jail for months. Even worse, the judge wouldn't let her lawyer bring up in court that her attacker had swastikas tattooed on his body and had a history of assault.

Her trial, which began the first week of May, ended quickly when McDonald pleaded guilty to a lesser charge: second-degree manslaughter. I'm not sure why she agreed to a plea deal, but given that the judge referred to her account of what happened as "unreliable" and openly chastised her for having scissors in her purse, perhaps McDonald believed that the jury would react to her in the same biased and unsympathetic manner and hand down a conviction.

In a way, like her actions in front of the bar that night, this plea deal might have been another act of survival. Most likely, she will spend only 20 of the likely 40-month sentence in jail for time served, but she will be held in a men's prison and will possibly be subjected to severe harassment and sexual assault.

Her sentencing will take place on June 4.

Clearly, the ordeals of McDonald and Trayvon Martin (and Marissa Alexander, who received 20 years in prison for shooting a gun near an abusive husband) are clear examples of how flawed our justice system is and how difficult it is for black people (heterosexual and LGBT) to claim victimhood in this country. And while hate crimes and the threat of violence have always been black people's reality, it's important to understand that transgender women and gender-nonconforming individuals of color are especially vulnerable to these types of attacks.

Just in the past two months, it's been reported that Paige Clay of Chicago, Coko Williams of Detroit and Brandy Martell of Oakland -- all of them black transgender women -- were shot and found dead. All of these cases are being investigated as possible hate crimes.

According to a 2011 study (pdf) conducted by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, people who were both transgender and of color were almost 2.5 times more likely to experience discrimination and nearly two times as likely to experience intimidation as non-transgender white individuals. Also, half of those who experienced hate violence did not contact the police after their attack. A 2009 report conducted by the same group found that of the 22 people who were murdered in 2009 because of their sexual orientation, about 80 percent were people of color and half were transgender women; the other half were overwhelmingly men who defied gender stereotypes.  

It's also important to note that the trans community's relationship with law enforcement is just as grim. In 2011 a National Center for Transgender Equality and National Lesbian and Gay Task Force survey of 381 black transgender men and women (pdf) found that 38 percent of those surveyed who had interacted with the police reported harassment by officials, 14 percent reported physical assault and 6 percent reported sexual assault. Another 35 percent of black transgender people said that they had been arrested or held in a cell because of bias at some point in their lives, and 51 percent reported discomfort seeking police assistance.

Given that systems continue to fail the ones who need it the most, what are transgender people of color supposed to do? The answer depends on whom you ask.

Some might offer: Do nothing, because the crime isn't the violence committed against you. The crime is your very existence, being out in the open and not being ashamed of who you are.

The Root 100 People's Choice Awards  
Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM