Over thirty years ago, my father was arrested for intervening at an anti-war rally when a woman was being roughhoused by what turned out to be a plainclothes police officer. His penalty was seven days in jail. Today, the penalty might be closer to seven years, if the case of Cecily McMillan is any indication.
On March 17, 2012, McMillan was at Zuccotti Park during a protest marking the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. When the police began a mass arrest of the peaceful protestors, she was violently grabbed on her breast from behind — an action that, as any woman will tell you, will cause an instinctive response. McMillan’s response is what the NYPD calls an assault on their officer; the physical evidence of what prompted her action is downplayed.
But the bruising on her breast wasn’t all. After her arrest, McMillan was beaten severely by the police on her ribs and arms until she went into a seizure. She was subsequently denied medical treatment by the police, in full view of other protestors who pleaded with police to attend to her. The NYPD claim she initiated the altercation and charged her with a felony — an unfortunately common reversal on the part of the police after abusing arrestees.
Assistant district attorney Erin Choi stated in court that during McMillan’s arrest she cried out to protestors “Are you filming this?” and implied she did so out of fear of being caught on video attacking an officer. But Occupy Wall Street activists — and anyone who has ever demonstrated and seen police mistreat protestors — knows that the reason we chant “the whole world is watching” is that we want to remind the police that their actions will be documented. Unfortunately, it is a usually fruitless attempt to dissuade excessive force, as in McMillan’s case.
McMillan is just one of more than 700 protesters arrested in the course of New York Occupy Wall Street’s mass mobilization. These mass arrests during a peaceful protest resulted from a policing policy of arresting first and finding charges later — a pattern of unjust policing noted in a scrupulously detailed report issued by the NYU School of Law and Fordham Law School faculties. According to this report, the NYPD routinely used excessive force against Occupy protestors, with the police employing batons, pepper spray, scooters, and horses against the peaceful demonstrators. This behavior has led to the vast majority of these 700 charges being dismissed by the courts.
McMillan’s case, however, has not been dismissed. The DA’s office offered her a plea bargain: avoid jail time in exchange for pleading guilty to felony assault. A dedicated pacifist, she refused.
McMillan’s arresting officer Grantley Bovel has previously been involved in incidents involving the possible excessive use of force, as well as other possibly illegal behavior, but the judge ruled this history is inadmissable. Bovel is also currently being sued by a protestor arrested the same day as McMillan for purposefully bashing his head into the seats of a police bus while dragging him down the aisle.
I have known Cecily personally for several years. She has been an active member of both the Democratic Socialists of America and our youth section, the Young Democratic Socialists (YDS), serving as the volunteer northeast regional coordinator for YDS in 2011–2. Now, NYC activist networks should mobilize on her behalf.
Dozens of supporters have attended trial dates and it is important that the jury see that McMillan has widespread support in the next two weeks. It could be a major factor in the jury’s decision.
Let’s not let the NYPD steamroll McMillan the way they have hundreds of Occupy protestors — and the countless New Yorkers facing systemic violence every day through stop and frisk policies.
Supporters can find more information at the Justice For Cecily website, where you can donate to her defense fund and sign up to attend court sessions at the New York City Criminal Court (100 Centre Street, Room 1116 Part 41, on the eleventh floor) every day except Thursdays from 9:30 am to 1:00 pm and 2:00 to 4:30 pm. Check the site for the latest schedule.