Another trial that Minnesotans should be watching

Haddayr Copley-Woods
Haddayr Copley-Woods: The transgender community matters.
Courtesy Haddayr Copley-Woods

Haddayr Copley-Woods, Minneapolis, is a copywriter, blogger and mother. She is a source in MPR News' Public Insight Network.

When I reached the courthouse the morning Chrishaun "CeCe" McDonald was supposed to have her pre-trial hearing on a charge of second-degree murder, I saw news trucks lined up at the curb.

Wow, I said to myself. Someone is finally paying attention to CeCe McDonald. I was so naive.

They were there for the Amy Senser trial, which started that day. They were continuing their endless coverage of a rich white woman who allegedly struck and killed an innocent pedestrian and drove away.

The level of media interest is very different when it comes to a young, poor, black transgender woman who gets involved in a desperate midnight fight over in my part of town.

Perhaps, in the yawning media silence regarding this case, you haven't heard of CeCe McDonald. Last June, CeCe and a few of her friends had a clash with white bar patrons who reportedly hurled racist and transgender-phobic insults at them. Somebody bashed McDonald's face with a broken bottle, lacerating her salivary gland. And, in the struggle, one man suffered a fatal stab wound.

This is a complicated story; McDonald is pleading self-defense. The second-degree murder charge suggests that the authorities think they've got it figured out, but many of McDonald's friends say they've got it wrong.

These are people who not only know McDonald — they know the facts about the violence and harassment transgender people face. Nearly half of them report having been violently assaulted. One recent study found that among black transgender people, nearly half had been harassed and more than a quarter had been sexually or physically assaulted — and that's just at work.

This story offers a window into the kind of violence transgender people face and what might happen to them if they try to fight back. It may also offer a look at complicated legal issues. Despite calls from all over the world, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman is sticking to his decision to charge her. Perhaps the facts are more complicated than they seem.

This alone should make the case important to cover. But more than that, we should be having a national conversation about the treatment transgender people get from individuals, the police and our legal system. We should be discussing this case at the kitchen table, around the water cooler. It should matter.

But those media trucks didn't crowd around the government center to cover CeCe McDonald. As the major media in town give us saturation coverage of Amy Senser, only a handful have shown any interest in McDonald.

But her case matters. She matters. The transgender community matters. And we should all be paying close attention to how the justice system treats this case.