Dean Spade Speaks On CeCe McDonald Trial
PQ: Will she be placed into a maximum security prison situation?
DS: I don’t know. I’m not familiar with how this works in Minnesota. No one has been talking about that today. I don’t know what level of security facilities are used in Minnesota. I did hear today that Minnesota is one of the states that, compared to many others, imprisons fewer people, but is also one of the most racially targeted prison systems.
I have seen something similar in Seattle, where they have reduced the population of the youth jail, but it has become more racially targeted as they have reduced it. So it is like literally, the reforms are actually just refining the essential racist purpose of the prisons.
PQ: As far as the judge goes, does he have a lot of latitude, at this sentencing hearing on June 4th, to decide how long the sentence will be?
DS: What the lawyer told one of the people on the support team is that if the prosecutors are recommending the sentence of 41 months, which is the lowest within the options that the prosecutors have within that second degree manslaughter charge, the judge is not likely to change that. It probably will be what the prosecutors recommended. It sounded like there’s not a danger of surprise at the June 4 sentencing hearing.
For me, there is not a pure legal rule that could have made justice inside CeCe’s prosecution, the problem is CeCe’s prosecution itself.
PQ: It’s not likely to be higher than that either.
DS: Exactly, if they are recommending 41 months, the judge isn’t likely to say, “I’m going to set the sentence at 50 months,” or something like that. It sounds like the lawyer felt certain that the judge would follow prosecution recommendations. Again, I heard this through another activist so I cannot confirm this with great certainty.
PQ: Some people are online are already calling for the Governor of Minnesota to pardon CeCe, how likely do you think this would be?
DS: I have no idea, but I have been inspired by the history in the United States and elsewhere of large social movements being able to get people out of prison and out of detention who have been targeted by harmful systems. So I think we should never give up on that possibility.
PQ: Do you anticipate the support team working towards that type of an outcome in the next month or, what do you think is the next step?
DS: I think today, people were just dealing with what happened today, and having a lot of emotions about it because they have all been working so hard to support her for the last year, and people are already talking about how to maintain really good support to her, during the time she ends up spending in prison, and how to build support for her when she gets out.
Access to healthcare and things like that that are such a struggle for people coming out of prison. And her life has been so disrupted, she lost her apartment and she is no longer enrolled in school, all those things, so I think that is what a lot of people have been focusing on. But I wouldn’t be surprised if in the coming days they continued to strategize about all the possible options.
PQ: So this is a felony conviction, can you tell me a little about how this type of conviction changes a person’s life?
DS: In Minnesota, individuals convicted of felonies can’t vote while in prison or on parole or probation. In some states, it does affect your voting rights for some period after imprisonment or the rest of your life. Also, having a felony conviction impacts your ability to get employment.
Some jurisdictions bans employers from asking about convictions in the job application, but even in those places that doesn’t mean that an employer will follow that law and not ask. Usually applicants have to list convictions when applying for jobs, or people can find that out about you by doing a background check. Many jobs include background checks, and often landlords will also do checks that might turn up a conviction.
So, in many ways, having a felony conviction can marginalize people from the most basic needs–political participation, housing and employment–so it is really concerning. Some felony convictions can have affects on people’s ability to access financial aid, as well.
PQ: So obviously all of these things impact trans people more, because of intersections of oppression, but are there other things that become more difficult in terms of name changes and things that trans people are doing specifically.
DS: Yes, in jurisdictions that I have worked in, when you decide to change your name legally, you have to attach a report of convictions, and then you also have to provide notice to the prosecutor from the jurisdiction where you were convicted if you are changing your name.
So this adds hoops to jump through for so many administrative processes that might be central to people’s survival and well-being, especially trans people who have a lot of ID issues.
PQ: And as far as Medicare and health care and things like that, does this type of conviction affect eligibility for those entitlements?
DS: Not that I am aware of, but I think the biggest issue is that people experience such severe medical and nutritional deprivation while in prison, and such severe trauma, that it has long-lasting health effects, to spend any period of time locked up. Especially with the fact the CeCe had been denied care after her initial injury from the attack–those kinds of traumas and medical deprivations can have long-lasting effects on people’s health.
PQ: There has been some confusion about whether the judge did end up ruling on the swastika tattoo–about whether or not to admit that into evidence, do you know if that was discussed?
DS: There was a ruling that the defense could not introduce evidence about the swastika tattoo on the attacker. Also the judge did not allow the defense to include, concerning the person who died, the history of his violence against people in his family, even though the prosecution was allowed to and intended to introduce evidence that CeCe had once written a bad check. This is part of the process of framing CeCe as blame-worthy and dishonest, and cleaning up of the image of the person who attacked her.