Chrishaun McDonald says transgender status means unfair murder trial ahead
Statement from Katie Burgess, executive director of the Trans Youth Support Network
Minneapolis, MN -Early on the morning of June 5th, outside the Schooner Tavern on Lake Street, Chrishaun McDonald was verbally assaulted with racial slurs, sexual harassment, and transphobic and sexist attacks. When a larger brawl ensued, Ms. McDonald was hit in the face with a bottle. Her attacker ended up dead, and Ms. McDonald was taken to jail where she remains in solitary confinement. She has been charged with second degree murder. Ms. McDonald maintains her innocence, citing self-defense: "They were the ones who attacked us. It was evil what they called us."
Ms. McDonald is a transgender woman. In the weeks since June 5th, media coverage and prosecutors have consistently referred to Ms. McDonald with incorrect (male) pronouns. Because Ms. McDonald is being held in a gender-segregated jail, the potential for abuse and mistreatment is high. In a phone interview from jail, Ms. McDonald described the treatment she's receiving in solitary confinement: "They've got me in the hole, and they're not giving me proper healthcare."
According to Katie Burgess, Executive Director of the Trans Youth Support Network and a friend of Ms. McDonald's, "Chrishaun McDonald's case is a tragedy, but unfortunately it's not a rarity. Transgender women of color face disproportionate levels of violence and harassment, and are pulled into prisons and jails at extremely high rates. Over 30% of trans women of color are incarcerated every year. Once in prison or jail, 38% are harassed, 15% are physically assaulted, and 7% are sexually assaulted. These violent abuses are enacted upon them by guards and fellow prisoners. Although none of us knows all the details about what happened on June 5th, we do know that the deck is stacked against Ms. McDonald, and we ask concerned community members to support her in her trial."
Friends who have spoken with Ms. McDonald say she remains hopeful and committed to fighting for justice in her case. But she has deep concerns that because she is a transgender woman of color she is unlikely to receive a fair trial with a jury of her peers, especially because she doesn't have the funds to hire her own legal counsel. When asked about her trial, Ms. McDonald said, "Everybody should just be treated like human beings, no matter who they are."