Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan has been in and out of court for the past two years. On Monday, she became one of the first Occupy protesters to face serious jail time when jurors found her guilty of second-degree assault, which could carry a seven-year sentence.
McMillan was arrested on March 17, 2012, as she left Zuccotti Park during a protest to celebrate the six-month anniversary of OWS. She was one of about seventy arrested that night, most of whom have had their charges dropped. But while McMillan has been found guilty of assaulting NYPD officer Grantley Bovell, she maintains that she reacted instinctively, elbowing Bovell in the face after her breast was grabbed during her arrest. During the incident she was beaten and suffered a seizure before being hospitalized for cuts and bruises on her back, shoulders, head and breast.
Monday, McMillan was sent directly to Rikers Island until May 19, when she will receive her final sentencing.
“Cecily has been found guilty. 6pm solidarity rally at Liberty Square. No JUSTICE? No PEACE! #Justice4Cecily,” read the text message sent out to hundreds of Occupy supporters and activists by the OWS communications team.
McMillan’s supporters rallied immediately outside the courthouse after her guilty verdict was announced and headed to Zuccotti. At the rally, more than fifty protesters chanted, “Prosecute the cops for sexual assault,” and held a speak-out. Others wore cut-outs of pink handprints, which were banned from court, symbolizing McMillan’s assault, and chalked statements on the cement that read, “warning NYPD may sexually assault you in this park.”
But while her supporters cried justice, the verdict was not all that unexpected. In March, McMillan’s friends and supporters held a gathering at her house called “the last dance” and McMillan had begun to get her affairs in order for the start of proceedings on April 7. If she had not been found guilty, Cecily’s friends say she planned to finish her masters degree and eventually move to Atlanta.
“Everyone is quite upset and I think some of us are quite surprised but most of us are not surprised at the verdict….It’s a legal travesty but I am not shocked,” said Yoni Miller, a member of the #JusticeforCecily Team, a group of Occupy veterans organizing to help support McMillan.
McMillan’s trial was long and drawn out. After more than two years, proceedings were postponed yet again on April 7 because of issues with jury selection. While activists argued over who should be tried (Cecily or Officer Bovell) in the first place, Judge Ronald Zweibel repeatedly ruled against the inclusion in court proceedings of the larger context of OWS police violence.
“It has been clear from day one that Cecily has not received a fair and open trial. The job of a judge during a jury trial isn’t to guide the verdict to fit his opinion. Judge Zweibel, who consistently suppressed evidence, has demonstrated his clear bias by consistently siding with the prosecution,” wrote the #Justice4Cecily Team in a statement Monday.
“Its been something like over forty times that she’s been in court about this trial,” said Stan Williams, a member of the #JusticeforCecily Team. “We have been always waiting and that’s a big stress.”
However, while the verdict may not have been a surprise, the outcome still breaks with the trend of Occupy cases in New York. Occupy activist Shawn Schrader, who was also hospitalized on the same night as McMillan’s incident, won an $82,500 settlement against the NYPD in December. In March, another Occupy activist, Michael Primo, was found not guilty of assaulting an officer after his lawyers were able to prove, using video of his arrest, that the NYPD had fabricated information about the incident. Around the country Occupy protesters have similarly been found not guilty, had cases dismissed or received large settlements from their arresting police force.
McMillan’s guilty verdict puts her among a tiny group of Occupy protesters actually jailed after their arrests. One other example is Mark Adams, an activist who has been called the “first political prisoner” of the Occupy Movement after serving twenty-nine days in jail on Rikers Island in 2012 for his involvement in a protest at New York’s Duarte Square.
During the thirteen days that McMillan will spend at Rikers Island, her legal team will prepare her case for appeals. Members of the Justice for Cecily team have also begun to publicize McMillan’s East Elmhurst address and urge her supporters to send her mail, which they will then forward to her at Rikers.
“Dearest comrades,” wrote McMillan in her last public statement on February 9. “It is because of you that I will walk into that courtroom with my head held high; I am truly honored to stand beside you. Occupy.”