Hate Crime Charges Filed in Attack on Maryland Transgender Woman

Two teenagers charged with brutally attacking a transgender woman in a Baltimore-area McDonald's restaurant on April 18 – a beating captured in a cell-phone video that went viral on the Internet – will be prosecuted as hate crime perpetrators.

Teonna Brown, 18, was indicted Monday (May 16) on state assault and hate crime charges in the beating of Chrissy Lee Polis, 22, at the Rosedale, Md., restaurant, according to the Baltimore Sun. A hate crime charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, which could be added to the 25-year maximum for the assault charge. Brown is also charged with assaulting a customer and a McDonald's employee who tried to intervene. A 14-year-old girl, whose identity has not been released because of her age, is facing the same charges in juvenile court.

Polis was attacked when she emerged from the bathroom at the restaurant. A McDonald's employee captured video of the event on his cell phone and then posted the video to YouTube, which took it down, but not before it had gone viral. (The employee was fired for doing so.) Confusing accounts and details of what led up to the attack appeared in different media outlets during the following week. Polis initially told a reporter the fight started because one of the assailants thought Polis was talking to her boyfriend. Later, one suspect reportedly said the fight was over Polis using the women's bathroom. Scott Shellenberger, the Maryland state attorney for Baltimore County, told the Sun in an April 24 article, "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." He said then that his office would revisit the motive for the attack and determine if "we need to make additional charges."

Polis's attorney, William Murphy, told the Sun that Shellenberger made the right decision to seek hate crime charges against her attackers. "There is, we think, ample evidence to support his decision that this should be a hate crime," he said. Dana Beyer, a board member of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the Associated Press that people who see the video in which Polis was brutally beaten might feel that the attack was "clearly a hate crime." But she noted that it is important for the evidence to be there for the charges. "If there is no hate crime enhancement, the public can get very upset," she said. But, "it doesn't benefit anyone to have the law applied indiscriminately," and it is "always a difficult call."

As the SPLC reported last fall in the Intelligence Report, members of the LGBT community are vastly more likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime than any other minority group, as shown by an analysis of FBI hate crime data. Although official statistics on attacks on transgender 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 published an article on an epidemic of murders of transgender people in the Washington, D.C., area.