George Zimmerman, who stalked and killed 17-year-old Trayvon, cited self-defense, although he showed no real signs of having been in a life-threatening struggle. And even though the lead detective on the case believed that Trayvon’s death was a homicide, Zimmerman was set free. Granted, he was arrested seven weeks later, but that would have never happened without a national outcry sparked by social media, determined journalists and Trayvon’s heartbroken parents.
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.