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Outrage after trans attack in Baltimore
News update, posted April 24, 2011
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2011-04-27

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An attack on a transgender woman at a McDonald's restaurant in Baltimore County, Md., April 18 was videotaped and then went viral via the Internet, while the victim claims it was "definitely a hate crime."

Chrissy Lee Polis, 22, stopped at the McDonald's to use the restroom, but was attacked by two females, including a 14-year-old girl, who repeatedly kicked and punched her. Polis also claimed they spit in her face.

A worker at the restaurant—Vernon Hackett, 22—taped the attack, and he was fired days after the incident. Another employee and an elderly restaurant patron tried to intervene. Others can be heard on the video laughing, and still others are doing nothing. After the video garnered hundreds of thousands of views on websites, McDonald's issued a statement condemning the incident.

Hackett allegedly posted a comment about the incident on Facebook, saying "that was not a female that was getting beat up … that was a man.

The three-minute video clip was posted on YouTube, but then administrators took it down, saying it violated the site's policies. However, it popped back up on other sites and was ultimately linked from the Drudge Report.

"My first and foremost concern is with the victim," franchise owner Mitchell McPherson said in a statement, adding that action might be taken against other restaurant workers. "I'm as shocked and disturbed by this assault as anyone would be. The behavior displayed in the video is unfathomable and reprehensible."

Polis said she plans to take legal action against the restaurant, according to the Baltimore Sun.

"Anyone in my predicament should not be afraid to walk the streets," Polis said. "They should not have to go into a restaurant and get gawked at and made fun of. They shouldn't be afraid to leave the house. It's just wrong."

Polis, a resident of Baltimore, reportedly was first attacked in the women's restroom. At the end of the attack, she appears to have a seizure in the video. She suffered cuts to her mouth and face as well as multiple bruises.

Polis told The Sun that she had a sex-change operation to become a woman, and that this was not the first time that she's been picked on physically because of her sexual orientation. She said seeing the attack aired worldwide has been "like walking out of the closet all over again."

Polis, who is white, told authorities that race also may have been a factor in her attack—as both the assailants were Black, according to the police report.

Equality Maryland has called on state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler to step in and investigate the case as a hate crime.

Equality Maryland Board President Chuck Butler issued a statement on the attack: "A member of our community was recently the victim of senseless violence. Equality Maryland is saddened that in this day and age, bigotry and discrimination against transgender individuals continue, especially in our own backyard. No person ever deserves to be a victim of violence regardless of their gender identity or presentation. We encourage the State's Attorney General to investigate this as a hate crime based on gender identity. We are encouraged that McDonald's is working with local police to investigate this incident, and hope that the company will follow-up with appropriate disciplinary action against any employees involved."

"As a community, we remain horrified that transgender citizens are so vulnerable, that they can be brutalized … for simply walking down the street," Lisa Polyak, vice president of the Equality Maryland board told The Sun. "She was simply trying to use a public accommodation. People should not feel threatened when they exist in public space.

"This is why we need a statewide law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression."

Scott Shellenberger, the state's attorney for Baltimore County, told The Sun that his office has not yet received the file and has not interviewed the victim because the charges were filed late in the week. He said his office will likely interview the victim in the next week and a half and gather additional evidence to determine if the attack was a hate crime.

Police said the 14-year-old girl has been charged as a juvenile, while charges were pending against an 18-year-old woman. Police officials said the investigation is continuing.

The police report does not provide a motive, but quotes one of the suspects saying that the fight was "over using a bathroom."

Transgender activist and journalist Christina Kahrl from Chicago had this to say: "The horror of the incident in Maryland is that it reminds us of limits -- limits to civil society and the rule of law, because in the end, bad people can do stupid, hateful, violent things, in this or any society. But that sad fact reflects other limits: limits to the power of any hate-crimes legislation, because while what happened was hateful and criminal, it's hard to know to what extent it was motivated by hate of trans people, or if that became an element of the assault as it happened. That, even with such hate crimes legislation available and broadly understood, it would not necessarily have had any deterrent effect on what happened."


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