The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Assault on Maryland Transgendered Woman May Be a Hate Crime

By Hatewatch Staff on April 27, 2011 - 4:31 pm, Posted in Hate Crime

A furor has arisen over the brutal beating of a transgendered woman in a McDonald’s Restaurant near Baltimore, with many supporters saying that Chrissy Lee Polis was attacked because of her gender identity in a classic hate crime and calling for the levying of hate crime charges. However, Polis seems to have given differing accounts of the attack, and prosecutors say they are still investigating and have not spoken to the victim yet.

The attack on Polis, 22, occurred on April 18, but has only in the last few days drawn national attention on LGBT websites and elsewhere. On Monday, some 300 people rallied against violence directed at the transgendered, singing “We Shall Overcome” outside the Rosedale, Md., McDonald’s. In a weird aside, the white supremacist website Occidental Dissent — a site thick with links to racist blogs with names like “Why Blacks Suck” — attacked the Southern Poverty Law Center on Monday, saying it was ignoring the attack because Polis was white and her two attackers were black. That shows the SPLC is a “hate racket,” the site said.

A restaurant employee recorded the attack on his cell phone and posted it on YouTube, where it was quickly removed, but not before it had been reposted across the Internet. The attackers pushed Polis to the floor, kicked her several times, and ripped her earrings from her earlobes before Polis went into an apparent epileptic seizure. The video shows that although one employee and a store patron tried to intervene, other McDonald’s employees did nothing, and in fact seemed to be goading on the attackers. (The employee who taped the attack was later fired.) Two young women have been arrested and charged with assault, according to press reports. Teonna Monae Brown, 18, had been arrested previously for a fight at the same restaurant in 2010. The second suspect was a 14-year-old juvenile and her name was not released.

The Baltimore Sun reported Sunday that Scott Shellenberger, the Maryland state attorney for Baltimore County, said his office had not yet received the case file and had not yet interviewed Polis. He said his office would likely interview her in the “next week and a half” and gather additional evidence in order to determine if the attack was a hate crime. “When the case was first presented, none of those facts had been revealed to the police – which is why the charges were the way they were,” Shellenberger told the newspaper. “We can certainly revisit the motive for the attack and determine if we need to make additional charges.”

Confusing details about the attack have emerged in different media reports. Polis told the Sun in a video interview posted online a few days after the attack that the assailants confronted her because one of them thought Polis was trying to “talk to her man.” In the video, Polis said, “They just seemed like they wanted to pick a fight that night. They really did.” Polis also expressed discomfort with Internet speculation about the attack, but she didn’t address any specific online assumptions.

However, in a subsequent article this Sunday, Polis told the Sun that the attack “was definitely a hate crime,” and that when she emerged from the ladies’ restroom, the attackers said, “That’s a dude, that’s a dude, and she’s in the female bathroom.” Polis also told the Sun that she thought race might have played a role. For its part, the police report quotes one of the suspects as saying that the fight was “over using a bathroom,” according to the Sun. Then, in a Tuesday article at MyFoxDC, Polis was quoted saying that the two girls jumped her when she tried to use the bathroom after one of their boyfriends tried to “hit on her.” The article went on to say that “the vicious attack escalated when they realized she was a transsexual.”

Equality Maryland, an LGBT rights group, has called on state attorney general Douglas Gansler to investigate the attack as a hate crime.

Polis told the Sun in the Sunday article that it’s not the first time she’s been assaulted because of her identity. Since the attack she said she’s afraid to go outside, and worried that all the publicity will keep her from getting a job.

Polis is hardly alone. As a major Intelligence Report article last fall reported, members of the LGBT community are vastly more likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime than any other minority, as shown by an analysis of FBI hate crime data. Although official statistics on attacks on transgendered people do not exist, it seems clear that they are almost certainly the most victimized members of that LGBT community, and therefore the most victimized group in American society. In 2003, the Report carried a major article on an epidemic of murders of transgendered people in the Washington, D.C., area.

  • MrsCaptJack

    I think that Dick just likes to type long winded drivel and then sit behind his computer and feel important. But that’s just my two dracmas.

  • Jordan

    Dick,
    So, after complaining about how you’re ‘totally not racist’ you come back and complain that a DHS report about domestic terrorism is BS because its primary subjects(“Lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent right wing extremist ideology”) were mostly white non-muslims (which makes sense since America is majority white and Christian, it would certainly be the other way around if America were mostly black and Muslim). And to add further doubt to your “I’m not racist” claims, you go on to “prove” that almost all violent acts committed by veterans were committed by “black American Muslim converts” by listing 12 whole people at least one of whom (Hasan) was ethnically Arab (not black) and therefore white according to the American census bureau. The reasoning behind all this is even better. The whole post (which succesfully destroyed any claim you had of not being a racist) was intended to “prove” that the SPLC plays a role in the prosecution of an unrelated hate crime case because they were listed as one of the many sources in the DHS (which, by constitutional seperation of powers, has no say in the operation of the justice system) report.

  • Dick Lancaster

    In response to Robert Steinback:
    If the SPLC expresses its views on matters of hate or racism, how can it play no role in what prosecutors determine? I recall the Dept. of Homeland Security’s Report on Right wing Extremism leaked in March, 2009 concluding that “Lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent right wing extremist ideology are THE MOST DANGEROUS DOMESTIC TERRORISM THREAT IN THE UNITED STATES. But not word one was mentioned about Muslim cells. The report concentrated only on Timothy McVeigh type rednecks and veterans. The SPLC that fed this drivel to a willing DHS was identified in the report only as a non-governmental agency.
    In fact, veterans would have been a valid category if the SPLC had been willing to send a truthful report and those veterans would consist almost exclusively of black American Muslim converts. The DC sniper, Faisal Shahzad, Waqir Khan, Ramy Zamzam, Umar Chaudhry, Ahmad A. Minni, Aman Hasan Yemer, Serdar Tatar, Mohamad Shnewer, brothers Dritan, Shain and Eljvir Duka, Agron Abdullahu and our post assessment jihadist, Ft. Hood killer, Hasan.

  • http://splcenter.org Robert Steinback

    In response to Sarah, Eileene and Buz Thompson,

    SPLC plays no role in determining whether prosecutors decide whether to charge a crime as a hate crime. However, we often express our views on such matters. In some cases, it is quite easy to determine if a crime is a hate crime: If someone publicly declares a desire to harm a stranger for being a member of a certain group, then does so, that rather clearly establishes a motive of class hatred. On the other hand, merely being a member of a particular group doesn’t automatically mean that a crime committed against you was motivated by hatred of your group — it might have been done because you were flashing money and the assailant wanted it. That would be a crime, but not a hate crime.

    The case of Chrissy Polis is unclear in this regard — there have been contradictory allegations, some suggesting class hatred was involved (hate crime), some suggesting the fight was a personal dispute (non-hate crime). Whether or not SPLC “decides” this was a hate crime will depend not on the race and sex status of the attackers or the victim, but on what the evidence ultimately reveals, or what prosecutors ultimately charge.

    By the way, hate-crime statutes are not written to protect “minority” groups. They address motivation in general — so, a black person who attacks a white person because they are white, or a gay person who attacks a straight person because they are straight, could face hate-crime charges just as easily as in the reverse.

    As RLavigueur stated well, one of the key reasons for hate crimes statutes is the recognition that the entire group, not just the specific victim, suffers from heightened fear knowing that any one of them could be the next victim, not because of anything they did, but simply for who they happen to be (think of the Klan’s purpose in publicly displaying lynching victims). That effectively means that a hate crime has many more victims than a simple crime — and thus warrants more severe punishment.

    Robert Steinback
    Deputy Editor, Hatewatch

  • RLavigueur

    A.D.M.,

    Good to know I’m not the only one that finds it hilarious that these people are posting on the SPLC site about how the potential hate crime that the SPLC is writing about is something the SPLC won’t write about because the victim was white. You see the same disconnect in Dick Lancaster stating that there’s no statistics on hate crimes against transgendered people without seeming to notice that the article links to an SPLC report which not only gives such statistics but names sources where more can be found.

    Dick Lancaster,

    See Ruslan’s comment, he did a good job explaining (again, since you ignored it the first time), how motive is a factor when sentencing in crimes. The slippery slope argument often becomes a logical fallacy, and in your case you’re not at all making it clear how punishing crimes where the motive was to attack an entire community, or to punish someone for being part of that community, will lead to a collapse of a functioning and fair legal system.

    You are, I think, trying to make the argument that even if hate is the motive, that doesn’t make it a different crime and it should be treated the same as all crimes that share the same physical component as it. Imagine if we did this whenever someone was responsible for another person’s death, and did away with all of the differences in sentencing between premeditated murder, murder in the heat of passion, manslaughter when the intent was to harm but not to kill, and accidental killing through negligence.

    I doubt you are making the argument that these activities should all be seen as equally criminal, but in all cases the result is the same: the culprit is responsible for the death of another human being. Giving a more serious sentence to hate crimes done to punish group membership or punish entire groups is no different, and as Ruslan mentioned, it serves a very important purpose in a world where we still have need of the term trans-bashing.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    “I would say that motive is almost always considered in criminal prosecution. It is not a separate crime. If “hate’ happens to be the motive, let it stand with jealousy, revenge or whatever the motive might be. If you make the motive of a crime a separate consideration in sentencing which could double or tripple your incarceration, then how much more will greed get you? Double? How about a crime of passion? Can we give incarceration credits? Slippery slope”

    Dick, were you aware that motive is considered in cases when it comes to sentencing? For example, premeditated murder against a person who raped your wife is going to get a much better sentence compared to premeditated murder by someone who just wanted to know what killing someone felt like.

    That’s what hate crimes laws do. They add a stiffer penalty to crimes where the motive was hatred for a particular groups. It sends a message to people- if you have a problem with other races, sexual orientations, etc., you had better keep it under control and not commit a crime against someone because of it.

    Be honest Dick, are you trying to protect the rights of people who want to attack transgendered or gay people? Why else would someone deliberately not read the facts about these kinds of laws?

  • A.D.M.

    Sarah and Buz Thompson, you two are being foolish. First, the transgendered person was attacked for being transgendered. Second, SPLC has posted stuff about black extremists in the past. Look at their archives. Third, at the “Stand Strong Map,” there were bias crimes against white individuals reported in that section. Look at the archives there. Fourth, you two are showing your true colors by posting the comments you made. I guess WorldNutDaily must be a disease or something.

  • Dick Lancaster

    “Motivation is frequently an element in determining how severely a crime will be punished, this is why we have different degrees of murder, and why attacking someone just because they are trans is more serious than attacking someone who has actually done you harm. ”

    I would say that motive is almost always considered in criminal prosecution. It is not a separate crime. If “hate’ happens to be the motive, let it stand with jealousy, revenge or whatever the motive might be. If you make the motive of a crime a separate consideration in sentencing which could double or tripple your incarceration, then how much more will greed get you? Double? How about a crime of passion? Can we give incarceration credits? Slippery slope.

  • Jordan

    “There will be those who argue that African-Americans as a protected class can not fall under a hate crime statute due to their minority and oppressed status…” Yeah, and the ironic thing will be that some of those people will probably be the same ones who complain that “hate crime laws are used to oppress whites”. In the real world, anyone is capable of a hate crime (or if Mr. Lancaster prefers, we can call it by the more accurate and much less convienent title “crime-motivated-by-personal-bias-unconnected-to-the-victim”. Note: that is one hyphenated word).

  • Buz Thompson

    ONCE AGAIN THE SPLC IS SHOWN ITSELF TO BE HATING THE WRONG SIDE . AT FIRST THINKING THIS INCIDENT WAS A HATE CRIME AGAINST A WHITE TRANSGENDERED FEMALE PERSON DICOVERED THIS CRIME WAS WAS COMMITTED BY TWO BLACK FEMALES . ALAS THE SPLC HAS NOW DETERMINED THIS WAS NOT A CRIME AT ALL, CERTAINLY NOT A HATE CRIME. RATHER IT WAS TWO MISGUIDED POOR BACK FEMALES WHO SHOW THE AFTER EFFECTS OF GROWING UP IN POVERTY. CERTAINLY THEY MADE A MISTAKE BUT SHOULD BE PARDONED. NO HATE HERE JUST SOME CONFUSED CHILDREN……. THIS SHOWS THE DEFINITION OF HATE IS DETERMINED BY THE HATER!

  • Eileene

    There is no doubt that this is a hate crime. What is most disturbing is that not one employee sought to comfort or help the woman. All of the employees present should prosecuted as well as the attackers.

    Of course, this is an indictment of what American society has become.

  • Sarah

    This is not a hate crime, as the transgender is white gentile. The SPLC will be backing away from this case.

  • RLavigueur

    Dick Lancaster,

    First, there are statistics about the victimization of transgender people, just not government statistics. If you want to see them for yourself, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs is one place to start, so is the National Centre for Transgender Equality.

    Second, please define a crime committed with love. Your flippancy aside, a hate crime is punished more severely for two reasons. First, the crime is directed at someone for no other reason than that they had the misfortune of being the wrong race or religion or sexual orientation. Second, these crimes are often meant to spread fear through entire communities, and as such are similar in their motive to terrorism, which I doubt you’ll argue should be treated like any other murder because, really, who can guess at the motive of such an action?

    Motivation is frequently an element in determining how severely a crime will be punished, this is why we have different degrees of murder, and why attacking someone just because they are trans is more serious than attacking someone who has actually done you harm.

    Your oh so clever pie comment aside, hate crimes are rarely prosecuted as such precisely because courts are cautious in making that judgement, which doesn’t stop it from sometimes being apparent in the evidence. Courts constantly need to look for evidence to help them understand a criminal’s mindset. If I drive a car over someone and then claim that I didn’t see them there and won’t testify otherwise, the prosecutors aren’t going to throw in the towel if they have other evidence that I did it deliberately. Not being able to assume that I committed a crime out of hatred is not the same thing as not being able to gather evidence that I did so.

    church,

    As a warning, most transgender people find the use of dual pronouns extremely insulting. Trans people have a hard enough time having to deal with things like this as it is, the least we can do is show respect by using the pronouns which they themselves identify with. By your comment, I doubt you were attempting to be insulting, but it is something to be careful about.

    Deep Ecology,

    Very few sensible African American or LGBT people believe that it is impossible to commit a hate crime because of minority status. What makes a crime a hate crime is its motivation, not the status of who committed it. In this case, if it was hatred of transgender people which motivated the attack, this would be equally true if the culprits were white, black, male, female, gay, or straight; the animus or lack of animus is the same regardless.

    In fact, it also is possible to be a victim of a hate crime without being part of the group against which the crime was directed. A straight person attacked because their attackers thought that they were gay would still be the victim of a homophobic hate crime, even though they are not gay themselves. Of course, things get more complicated in the courts, since hate as a motivation isn’t always easy to prove or confirm.

  • Deep Ecology

    It will be interesting to see how this case evolves. LGBTG and African American’s represent protected classes of American’s. Both can be the victims of hate/prejudicial as opposed to property or others classes of crimes. There will be those who argue that African-Americans as a protected class can not fall under a hate crime statute due to their minority and oppressed status and thus should only be prosecuted under existing assault/battery criminal statutes. The LGBTG community will not see this as a simple assault unmotivated by the victims Transgender status, but in fact, completely motivated by it. Moderators, opinion?

  • church

    That’s messed up what happened to Polis—those girls had NO right to put their hands on him/her like that—she/he should have whipped their behinds right back,and saved herself/himself the court costs. Sound like a bunch of immature teenagers—what’s messed up is how normalized this kind of thing is–the idea that’s it;s okay to beat up or kill anybody that dosen’t fit into your definition of what is considered normal in your environment. I hope they do get locked up for a minute,just so that they realize that what they did was wrong as hell.

  • Dick Lancaster

    Some questions to ponder:

    Since statistics do not exist to measure a trend, how can anything concerning that trend seem clear?

    If one can be punished double or triple if the crime committed is done with hate, can a criminal be given a double or triple award if his crime is committed with love?

    How is it determined what’s in the mind of an individual during the emotional commission of a crime when the law cannot presume an individual to know he has committed a crime when he pleads the 5th?

    What is the threshhold that propells anger to hate? What instrument measures such an important threshhold?

    I hate pumpkin pie. Can I be arrested if I drop one on purpose?

  • Sam Molloy

    The Junior Gender Police strike again…If there should be the category of “hate crime”, and I think there should, then I’d say this qualifies. Sometimes it may be hard to prove and in nonprogressive areas it’s hard to get the charges filed. One reason is because the local officials don’t want the statistics. I think Mississippi has like zero hate crimes, on paper, but a lot in real life.

  • Daniel Norvell

    As a Transgender person myself, this is ones worse fear .When I saw the video of the attack it sent shutters in me and a moment of deep fear that I to might be misread and attacked as to who I’am. Im also very angry that a fellow transperson has had to endure such pain and humilation. and that bystanders did nothing .Transpeople ,we are like canaries in cages.
    Daniel

  • RLavigueur

    Todd,

    The problem for a lot of these bigots is that they don’t understand that “guy” and “girl” are sometimes misleading terms. If more people understood gender identity, things would be a lot better, but how are you going to teach them? One of the only places in America that transgender people are less welcome than bathrooms is in school curriculums. Same problem in Canada and most of the western nations that like to pride themselves on LGBT rights, hoping nobody will question the “T”.

    The “cross-dressing men molesting women in bathrooms” meme has been brought up whenever trans people try to get basic protections against violence like this, it frequently sways legislators, despite there being no evidence that it has ever happened. Evidence of transgendered women being attacked by both men and women for using women’s bathrooms, and transgendered men being attacked by men for using men’s bathrooms, yes, but the bigots don’t consider this to be a problem.

  • Todd

    If my daughter is in a public restroom and there’s a guy in there, I’m going to have a problem.
    I’m not going to beat him up though.
    Multisex people are as common as redheads.
    Trapped between being a man and a woman.
    A local town has removed “men’s” and “women’s” rooms.
    They are just bathrooms.
    The times they are a changing.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    “In a weird aside, the white supremacist website Occidental Dissent — a site thick with links to racist blogs with names like “Why Blacks Suck” ”

    Oh but their movement isn’t about hating other races, it’s just love for their own race.

    I know it’s a little off-topic but that kind of glaring hypocrisy the WN movement displays every second just drives me up a wall.

  • http://splcenter.org Robert Steinback

    In response to Andrew,

    There is little question looking at the video that a crime took place. The question of whether that crime is a hate crime is one of motivation, and the video does not clearly establish why Polis was attacked. If it cannot be established that Polis was attacked because of her race or transgender status (or some other hate-crime category, such as religion or nationality), then the crime could not be considered a hate crime.

    Robert Steinback
    Deputy Editor, Hatewatch

  • Andrew S.

    Assault on Maryland Transgendered Woman MAY Be a Hate Crime?!?

    It’s great that the SPLC is covering these stories, but c’mon? MAY be a hate crime? Watch the video again…