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Dean Spade Speaks On CeCe McDonald Trial

Dean Spade Speaks On CeCe McDonald Trial
Tom Léger

PQ: I understand the need, theoretically, if this situation was reversed, that inclination to not frame the victim or the deceased person as having a negative prior history. So how do you negotiate that from a legal standpoint when to us, of course, it is clear that this is a self-defense case.

Trans politics must be centered in opposition to white supremacy and criminalization.

DS: I think that in a lot of cases it is important to not bring in a victim’s prior convictions, or other factors about the victim. The real way–the only way–to have justice in this case or any case like this is to stop the prosecution itself. Because once we get inside it we are going to be making arguments that are going to bite us in the ass in another case.

With these particular rulings, her attorneys worked to provide a vigorous defense that she deserves as someone in the situation she is in, but ultimately, this system is so incredibly unfair and perpetually operates to the detriment of black people and values white life over black life, and that is going to play out in any set of rulings inside a case.

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: Did you meet her attorney? She spoke highly of him when we interviewed her in December.

DS: I spoke to him on the phone or via email, before I came here. When he was trying to find expert testimony.

PQ: Did you recommend someone or was he trying to get you to do that?

DS: I recommended people who had done more publishing directly on the issues of violence that trans people face, and who could really describe those statistics. But ultimately, obviously none of that going to happen.

PQ: It is my understanding also that the judge rejected an expert witness who would talk about the climate of violence that trans people face, but that he was going to allow an expert to testify as to what a transgender person is.

DS: That is my understanding, and I believe they were going to try to find other ways to introduce expertise, sometimes the judge might accept someone with clinical expertise, even depending on the type of expert it is, so I am not sure if they had finished that, or if they were going to try to continue to get other forms of expertise.

PQ: Will the defense have the opportunity to bring in anyone during the sentencing hearing?

DS: It doesn’t sound that the judge has a lot of discretion, which makes me think that the defense will not have to present a lot during that phase, but I don’t know.

PQ: There are a lot of reasons that this case has attracted so much attention, but it is obviously very rare for trans people to walk out of these situations. Usually, we’re reciting their names in November. How do you think this case will set a precedent or influence other possible self-defense cases that we might encounter in the future?

DS: I think that the main, really important thing about this case, is that it has mobilized people all over the world to understand centrally the role of criminalization and racism in the struggles of trans people.

I think it is helping us produce more and more a trans politics that centers on criminalization and racism, and to me that is some of what is important in terms of how it will affect us down the line, since obviously there is nothing about CeCe’s case that is new. This is something that happens to trans people all the time, and trans people in these systems face enormous police violence and street violence, both of which too often result in their imprisonment.

I think the visibility of CeCe’s case, CeCe’s willingness to connect with so many people and make her story public and the amazing support of the local community here in getting the word out around the world, I think moves us closer to having people understand that trans politics must be centered in opposition to white supremacy and criminalization.

PQ: And were those folks in the community already politicized before or did this activate them?

DS: I have a sense that a lot of the people doing this work were people who already were tied into work concerned with poverty and youth issues, and racism in the Minneapolis area. I met someone today who had been doing Occupy work, I think people are coming from a range of different communities, so I think there are a lot of different crossovers but whenever we encounter these struggles, it expands people’s levels of solidarity and investment in eachother’s struggles.

PQ: So there is a fabric of activism and a politicized ground movement there that was ready to take this up as a cause.

DS: Yes, and also that has been expanded by this.

PQ: I am glad that you brought up the mobilizing on the ground there because I don’t know if, for instance, the New York trans activist communities would have been able to come together in the same way, in that things are very segregated along race and class lines.

DS: The people are incredible, and it is really interesting multi-racial group working on it and there are a lot of people doing it from an ally role and there are people who are CeCe’s close friends and also people who didn’t know CeCe before. Supporting CeCe has developed relationships among people from many different communities, and they came together to do this work for her and also for a lot of other people facing criminalization and racism.

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  1. “I think that the main, really important thing about this case, is that it has mobilized people all over the world to understand centrally the role of criminalization and racism in the struggles of trans people.”

    What about transmisogyny? The names we read out in November are primarily trans women of color.

  2. Regarding health insurance and entitlements: Prisoners do not get Medicaid while they are incarcerated, although they may reapply after their release. In my experience, many private and state-managed health insurance plans stop when an individual is convicted, during their incarceration. Prisons are then responsible for carrying on the health care and treatment already in place, although of course there are so many documented instances of poor or absent care that one can argue that systemically, prisons don’t really provide health care.

  3. Eloy

    To contact Governor Mark Dayton and Lt. Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon, please write, phone, fax or e-mail.

    Mailing Address:
    Office of the Governor
    130 State Capitol
    75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
    St. Paul, MN 55155

    Other ways to reach our office:

    Telephone: 651-201-3400
    Toll Free: 800-657-3717
    Minnesota Relay 800-627-3529
    Fax: 651-797-1850
    Contact the Governor’s Office

    • Julie Blair

      Thank you! We will be re-publishing this information soon with a thorough guide on writing to people who are currently incarcerated.

  4. In working with imprisoned trans women in Washington, DC, I was surprised to hear that some of them preferred to be housed with men (especially since their other option was solitary confinement). Many of these women had grown up with the male prisoners, and felt much more protected by them than by the corrections officers. They feared being alone. Unsurprisingly, prison systems are not centered on prisoner preferences. But I do hope that in our future conversations with policy makers and prison managers, we include the lived experiences and voices of trans women prisoners because we should never assume what their needs are.

    • Thank you for all of this, Everett.

  5. Julie Blair

    A huge amount of comments were removed from this article (but not deleted). Trust me, you didn’t miss anything. Unfortunately, some valid topics came into play but had to be sacrificed out of respect for CeCe and the issues she is facing, as discussed in this article.

    For the record, this is a transcription of an actual real-time 20-minute conversation with Dean with minor edits for clarity, approved by Dean Spade himself.

  6. Nora-Adrienne Deret

    In a sane and normal society these charges would never have been placed against CeCe. I really hope that after this bogus trial is over that someone will mount a campaign to have it declared illegal or something and have this judge who seems to be connected in way too many ways to the DA’s office removed.

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