Racism, Transphobia, and Electronic Monitoring
The case of Rashanti Mcshane highlights how electronic monitoring exacerbates existing bias in the criminal legal system
In December of 2017, 29 year-old Rashanti Mcshane was involved in a fight outside a Chicago club. Rashanti, a Black transgender woman, described the incident as a “transphobic” attack on her by three women. Yet, when police arrived, only Rashanti was arrested. She was charged with three counts of felony aggravated battery. Police locked her up in the Cook County Men’s Jail. A friend paid her $100 bail after two days and Rashanti was placed on an electronic monitor.
She then went through a time during which she said authorities “made my house hell for me.” In her words, “they treated me like the scum of the earth.”
She was in virtual solitary confinement at home. When authorities did show up, they refused to call her by her legal name—instead reverting back to what appears on her birth certificate.
She told Challenging E-Carceration that she needed a court order to be allowed out to buy food. She also needed help from Lark Mulligan, her attorney and the Director of Legal Services at the Transformative Justice Law Project, to accomplish that. Even that intervention did not always work. Some days Rashanti only had crackers. One day she just had rice and corn. She said she sprinkled a little sugar on it to make it taste better.
Her medical situation was even more problematic. Despite frequent calls on her behalf from Mulligan, Rashanti could not get out of the house for over a month to get the HIV medicine she needed to take daily. In her view, authorities were trying to kill her in three ways: denying her access to meds, cutting off her food supply, and by plunging her into a deep depression.
Ultimately, she believed they were trying to “make it unbearable so I could break out,” i.e. hoping she would cut off the monitor, run away and quickly end up back in jail. She saw those dealing with her as “homophobic and transphobic.” At one point she told Mulligan, “I have to get off this monitor as soon as possible or else I am going to die.” She said she was having suicidal thoughts.
Mulligan noted that her efforts as Rashanti’s lawyer also were hampered by the attitude of the authorities. On some occasions when she tried to ask for movement for her client, authorities alleged that Mulligan was not an attorney but an impostor.
“I have to get off this monitor as soon as possible or else I am going to die.”
After nine and a half months, Rashanti pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to probation with no electronic monitoring. The fact that they reduced three counts of felony aggravated battery to a single misdemeanor throws considerable suspicion on the legitimacy of the charges against Rashanti.
Her case is a classic example of how the strict conditions of house arrest can have ripple effects on a person’s health, their mental state, and place pressure on them to accept a plea bargain. This pressure is even more extreme for transgender women like Rashanti who face possible incarceration in a men’s facility where there are high rates of homophobic and transphobic abuse.
Mulligan wondered if the outcome of Rashanti’s case might have been different if she wasn’t on EM. As it turned out Mulligan said, she was “punished for nine months with no trial, no proof, no anything.” And while Rashanti’s case was somewhat extreme, Mulligan stressed that the approach by authorities was typically punitive. She said getting movement was “a thing with all clients on EM.” It is a “nightmare to get approval.”
And while the challenges of getting movement exist almost across the board for those on a monitor, the extra harassment and fear often visited on Black transgender women makes the case of Rashanti Mcshane something we should all pay attention to.
Rashanti Mcshane is a Trans Advocate/Part time Shampoo girl/born &raised in south Chicago. Good heart in a cold world.