Some of the details of what happened that night are fuzzy, but there is no doubt that McDonald and her friends were subjected to a slurry of homophobic, transphobic and racist taunts followed by a thrown bottle that sliced open McDonald’s cheek and caused a fight to break out. What happened after that will be officially decided in court, but McDonald would tell you that she pulled out a pair of scissors to defend herself from a hate crime. She maintains that when her middle-aged, white attacker (with a Swastika tattooed on his chest, no less) followed her away from the scuffle, he ended up running into her scissors and incurring a fatal wound.
Minnesota Public Radio’s recent coverage of the case focused on a debate that has become central to McDonald’s case: Should the hate crimes committed and attempted against McDonald be a consideration in her trial?
Both Minneapolis City Council member Cam Gordon and Rep. Susan Allen, DFL-Minneapolis, have weighed in, urging Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman, the prosecutor in this case, to mind the hate crimes committed. Freeman, however, has stated that McDonald’s “gender, race, sexual orientation and class” will not be considerations in his case against her. Then of course there were the story’s comments, many of which made the claim that hate crimes don’t actually exist.
Hate crimes don’t exist? I don’t think a claim like that can be made without a whole lot of privilege and an abysmally low amount of empathy. If your head is that deep in a hole, get a clue — there is a difference between an average crime and a hate crime and they should be punished differently. And in a case like this, where one man’s hate-driven actions led to his death, the fact that he was committing a hate crime on the basis of McDonald’s race, gender and orientation should absolutely be taken into account.
Schmitz’s attack, like any hate crime, wasn’t random, but it also wasn’t driven by a personal vendetta. McDonald hadn’t done anything to him. She was singled out for her identity and self-expression, less tangible and far more personal assets than a body alone, and that identity is one that many other people hold. His attack, therefore, was not just a random attack on one person’s body, but an attack on an entire race and entire gender. An entire population of living, breathing, feeling people are hurting with McDonald, perhaps not physically but in the core of who they are.
It’s precisely because hate crimes are targeted attacks on entire minority groups that they are prosecuted differently. If it was a hate crime, or even an attempted hate crime, that led to this man’s death, then the case should be handled with the same consideration.
The queer and transgender communities as well as communities of color have organized around this case, demanding that Hennepin County drop the charges, and I stand with them. After all, every last one of them was an indirect victim of this man’s hate — a fact that Freeman would like to ignore. It’s their opinions and their wounds, as well as McDonald’s, that we should consider.