APAP – CeCe is Free: Standing Strong Against Prisons

CeCe McDonald is 25. Last week, she was released from prison after serving two-thirds of her sentence. In June 2011, CeCe defended herself against a violent, racist, transphobic attack from a neo-Nazi and his companions. The neo-Nazi, Dean Schmitz, died in the attack. CeCe was wounded but survived. Because of her strength and survival, she was tried and imprisoned. CeCe’s trial was a true miscarriage of justice. Evidence such as Schmitz’ history of participation in fascist movements and swastika tattoos, was ruled inadmissible. Even before the trial, friends and allies rallied around CeCe and created a support committee.

In early 2012 my friend Diana and I first met about collaborating on a fundraiser for CeCe’s legal needs, and then after her sentencing, her prison canteen. But what we really wanted was to help contribute to a secure future for CeCe after release. We raised somewhere between one and two thousand dollars. The support response to CeCe was so overwhelming that before her release, she wrote on her blog asking people to donate to other incarcerated people who were in more urgent need of funds.

This week, I mailed the remaining Cece is a Hero letterpress prints to CeCe via the MN Transgender Health Coalition. Diana and I, along with CeCe’s vast legion of supporters, hoped for a day when CeCe would be released from prison “safe, comfortable, and cared for.” It is beautiful to see that day come.

I relished the sight of CeCe and her companions walking out of prison. But I also remember the obstacles CeCe will face as a person who has been incarcerated. Mostly, I am listening to what CeCe has to say.

The crux of her message emerged in an interview with Melissa Harris-Perry. Present for the interview was CeCe, Katie Burgess (her supporter and friend from MN Trans Health Coalition), Laverne Cox (trans activist and star of Orange is the New Black, currently producing a documentary about CeCe’s story), and Rea Carey (Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force). The entire conversation is inspiring, lively, and absolutely worth watching but the real heart of it emerges in the tension between what Carey and CeCe have to say. Carey affirmed the fight for special prisons for transgendered people. The resounding message from CeCe, Burgess, and Cox, was NO.

CeCe has been standing strong against all prisons since the start. Writing from inside the walls of a men’s prison, CeCe emphasized that she didn’t want “supporters to launch long-term campaigns on her behalf that exceptionalize her situation.” Shortly after her sentencing, CeCe wrote that the real issues are the ones that affect all prisoners. Just as Cox said on MSNBC, there is a cultural pipeline that puts transwomen in prison, particularly transwomen of color and especially black transwomen. “We’ll just build more prisons” is a familiar response to activists, whether they are seeking justice for incarcerated people with mental illness or mothers in prison and resisting the building of mother/child units. Radical, revolutionary thinking says: no compromise in the face of boutique prisons. No compromise when the prison industry decides you’re an emerging market.

As CeCe suggested, if you are able to donate to folks like the Rainbow Defense Fund, or if you are able to commit to writing a person in prison via Black and Pink, please consider doing so.

I read CeCe’s blog posts from prison. They are insightful, full of heart, life and resistance. She shared poetry, confronted electoral politics, and dissected power issues around straight cismen who date transwomen. Now she is free and we have the honor of hearing her voice and seeing her strength. There’s so much we can all learn from CeCe.

Remember: “prisons are not safe for anyone.” Remember: if they tell you they’re going to build a special prison for people like you, say NO.

APAP All Prisoners Are Political

 

(Image Credit: Astropressdc.com)

APAP: On Grand Jury Resisters, the Latin Kings, CeCe McDonald, and Pussy Riot

When members of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation in North Carolina were first arrested in a brutal raid, the big picture was clear to their friends, family, and colleagues in Greensboro. The ALKQN in NC have been very politically active, with King Jay (Jorge Cornell) running twice for city council and negotiating a gang truce. The gang truce in particular threatened the existence of a new, lavishly funded gang task force in Greensboro, part of the decades-long national trend of funding such carceral endeavors as opposed to schools and community programs.

Across the country, another community is under attack: that of activists in the Pacific Northwest, with homes being raided in search of incriminating books and more activists being subpoenaed every day. Within left circles, there has been a heartening amount of press and support for the resisters. Last week, Anonymous announced a new campaign in support of the Pacific Northwest Grand Jury Resisters. Contrasting that with the paltry amount of attention granted the case of the Kings parallels the difference between the airtime given Pussy Riot versus CeCe McDonald. The crime that CeCe McDonald committed was surviving a racist, transphobic attack on her life. But like Pussy Riot, the Grand Jury Resisters have the benefit of being young and attractive (and thus easily incorporated, despite their radical politics, into the spectacle of fashion). And, like Pussy Riot, their crime is perceived to be ideological. Thus their innocence is more explicit. One doesn’t have to take a stand against all prisons or prison society writ large to sympathize with their plight.

The NC Kings are being prosecuted under RICO, or the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO is a federal litigation tool with a deeply convoluted history during which it has attempted to rid Teamsters of Mafia influence (which mostly resulted in obstructing democracy within the Teamsters), been disproportionately applied to people of color and weaponized against activists ranging from the Black Liberation Army to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. As a tactic of State repression it is a part of a larger effort to dismantle and delegitimize left and POC communities.

The Greensboro Legal Defense Fund has worked tirelessly to support the Kings throughout the usual moves from prison to prison, challenges in getting adequate legal representation, and disregard for medical needs. The GLDF are heavily constituted of women and queers, who are neighbors, friends, family friends, and colleagues with the Kings—a community. In addition to the partners and children of the Kings, the local anarchist community has played a huge part in doing this work, “performing the arduous labor of being on the outside for someone—trying adequately to switch among the many and sometimes conflicting roles of caregivers, wageworkers, and justice advocates”. Disdain or disinterest from the national left has come through informal channels, but usually involves questions about the perceived homophobia or misogyny of the Kings.

Why are the Kings subject to such deep scrutiny while other political prisoners are not? This demand for perfection in those we support is unreasonable, a distraction from the larger issues with mass incarceration and State repression, and often seems to be deployed only on POC prisoners. Some in the national anarchist community see the language of kings and queens as reinforcing hierarchy, but the GLDF knows these titles are about dignity, not domination. “We may not all desire to be kings and queens, we all desire to be the masters of our own destiny.”

If you are supporting grand jury resisters but not the ALKQN, I urge you to broaden your analysis. If you (like Madonna, Bjork, Julian Assange, Amnesty International, and Yoko Ono) are supporting Pussy Riot but not CeCe McDonald, I urge you to broaden your analysis—because all prisoners are political.

 

(Photo Credit: PrisonBooks.Info)