SRLP Statement on Cece McDonald’s Release from Prison
This week, The Sylvia Rivera Law Project celebrates the release of CeCe McDonald from more than a year of unjust incarceration. Imprisoned for defending herself against a vicious hate crime in June 2011 where she and her friends were attacked by a group of men and women using racist and transmisogynist slurs. In self-defense, CeCe McDonald killed her attacker and survived what was a clear attempt on her life, simply because she was a trans woman of color. In spite of this being a clear case of self-defence, she was tried, convicted, and imprisoned. From the beginning, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project recognized this as another clear case of both individual and institutional violence being brought to bear on the life of a trans woman of color. Though CeCe McDonald’s fight for her own survival inspired many, it made her a target of the American criminal justice system which punished her for the crime of believing her life was one worth defending.
For many in the communities we serve, CeCe McDonald became a household name and a standard around whom we could rally; she had become a political prisoner of the system that makes the lives of trans people and people of color so difficult. As so many people came to stand with her, a loud and powerful grassroots movement developed that, for all of its diverse manifestations, languages, and ideals, cohered around a single ringing phrase: Free CeCe. That movement, which counted a number of organised groups great and small amongst its number, was one that SRLP was proud to be a part of. It generated countless phone calls, letter writing campaigns, postcard mailers, protests, prison visits, and more that shone a light not only on CeCe McDonald and her words, but also on the many others like her incarcerated throughout the United States.
Her experience has become paradigmatic of the world in which too many trans women of color must live: under constant threat from the violence of hateful individuals and a prejudicial state. Sadly, she is not alone.
CeCe McDonald has achieved a rare victory athwart a system that too often annihilates the marginalized. Though she remains under court-mandated supervision, she will now begin reclaiming her right to a full and rich life with the help of a community that has exploded in size for her since that fateful night. Now that she has been released there will be more work to do, both for CeCe McDonald and those still suffering in inhumane prison conditions across the nation. But we take great hope from CeCe McDonald and the community that rose with her. It is an untiring reminder of the collective power wielded by the people SRLP is dedicated to serving.