Dedicated activism can stem from a wide range of circumstances, but none so much as witnessing true injustice.
Over the summer, Heather Yang ’12 heard a story from a friend that made her blood boil and changed her perspective on Minnesota’s legal system.
“My friend told me about Chrishaun ‘CeCe’ McDonald, a black transwoman, [who] was walking to Cub Foods one night when drunk white supremacists hurled racist comments at her, and then violently attacked her,” Yang said.
“Ms. McDonald acted in [self]-defense, and as a result a man with a swastika tattoo passed away.”
The incident happened in Minneapolis. Normally, in the state of Minnesota, if a woman kills an attacker in order to protect herself, charges of manslaughter are dropped, and the woman gets to walk away.
Yet McDonald is still facing trial and a lengthy jail sentencing, which is unheard of for other, white women who have involuntarily committed manslaughter in similar acts of self-defense.
“Ms. McDonald is facing an overly aggressive prosecution that other white, non-transwomen have not had to deal with,” Yang said. “It is such an obvious case of racism and transphobia that I was really surprised that it hadn’t been resolved already and that Ms. McDonald is still facing charges.”
The injustice of McDonald’s case prompted Yang to take action. With a group of about 15 other Carleton students, she began to conduct a series of calls to Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman, who is trying the case. Freeman has a record of dropped charges for cases involving white females but is refusing to do so for McDonald.
“We called Mr. Freeman’s office to ask that he treat Ms. McDonald’s case exactly as he would for a white person, which would be to drop the charges against her, as he has done in many other cases,” Yang said.
The students’ dedication to vocalizing the injustice of the case did not go unnoticed.
“The call-in had a noticeable impact on the Hennepin County Attorney’s office, whereby they initially transferred calls to Freeman, but then as more calls came through, they started taking names and numbers,” Yang said.
“After a day’s worth of calls, they resorted to a stock message and did not take messages unless specifically asked. Even then, they ‘handwrote’ the messages and only transferred to voicemail box if specifically requested.”
The flood of students’ opinion had the desired effect of a noticeable public outcry, but, Yang said, there is still much more work to be done.
McDonald’s next trial will be on April 30, as was decided at her last hearing on Dec. 20. In the meantime, Yang encourages more students to take action and let Freeman know that his approach to the case is unfair.
“The ideal outcome would be for the Hennepin County attorney to realize the strongly racist and transphobic misjudgment in this case,” she said. “Ideally, Attorney Freeman will publicly apologize to Ms. McDonald and drop the charges against her.”
To get involved, Yang suggests making calls to the office or signing a petition.
“Call Michael Freeman’s secretary at 612-348-5540 and simply ask to please drop the charges against Chrishaun McDonald, or there’s also the petition at http://chn.ge/freecece,” she said.
“This is simple for us to do and what is necessary for the attorney to hear.”