CeCe McDonald, who pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge after an altercation following a racist and transphobic attack outside a Minneapolis bar in 2011, was released on parole from the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud, an all-male prison where she served two-thirds of her sentence, on Monday, January 13.
On June 5, 2011, CeCe McDonald and a group of friends were walking past a tavern in Minneapolis, where a group of people began harassing McDonald and her friends, yelling racist and homophobic slurs. In the ensuing altercation, McDonald was hit in the face with a bottle, which sliced her cheek. According to her testimony, McDonald took scissors out of her bag in self defense as she attempted to leave the scene. She was rushed by one of the members of the group, Dean Schmitz, and he was stabbed in the chest by the scissors she held up in defense. He later died from the injury.
Charged with second-degree (intentional) murder, which can carry a forty-year sentence, McDonald accepted a plea offer of second-degree manslaughter, with a sentence of forty-one months in prison, which she would have to serve in a men’s facility.
Her sentencing caused an uproar in the transgender community, which sees her case as an example of a transgender woman who is forced to serve time for defending herself in a transphobic attack.
Evidence that the incident may have been a hate crime, such as an autopsy photo revealing Schmitz’ swastika tattoo, as well as testimony of the everyday violence experienced by transgender women, was ruled irrelevant by the judge overlooking McDonald’s case, which probably influenced her decision to plead guilty.
“I’m sure that to Dean’s family, he was a loving, caring person,” McDonald told the court at her sentencing hearing. “But that is not what I saw that night. I saw a racist, transphobic, narcissistic bigot who did not have any regard for my friends and I.”
After serving two-thirds of her forty-one month sentence in a male prison facility, McDonald was released Monday, January 13, and was greeted by fellow activist Laverne Cox, who is currently working on a documentary about her case, “FREE CeCe.”
“CeCe’s story in so many ways encapsulates the intersectional issues that lead to far too many of us experiencing violence,” said Cox in an interview with Persephone Magazine.
“I wanted to do a piece that explores the nature of how race, class and gender affect violence towards trans women and also give CeCe a space to tell her story in her words in the context of a piece that truly values the lives of trans women of color.”
McDonald plans to share a public statement about the conditions of her release, though she has asked to be granted a few days of peace and reconnection with her friends and family before doing so, according to her blog.