She was convicted of assaulting a police officer, and she will now have a felony record because of it, but the story of Cecily McMillan is nowhere near over. An upcoming court date to decide how much jail time she will serve for her alleged crime has her own jurors as full of misgivings as it does McMillan herself.
As the case draws to a close the question is less likely to be did the punishment fit the crime, but instead what exactly is the crime McMillan is being punished for?
As a member of Occupy Wall Street, the groundswell movement that overtook the country as a protest to corporate corruption, big money influence in politics, and the growing gap between the rich and poor, McMillan, who had been involved in the Occupy movement in Wisconsin, was in New York’s Zuccotti Park when it was being cleared by city police.
Officers say they were only “escorting” her out of the park. McMillan said she was grabbed on a breast from behind and instinctively elbowed the person in the face, unaware that the person she was trying to get off of her was a cop — and offers a photo of her bruised breast as evidence. She then was said to have suffered a seizure after being handcuffed.
Jurors decided to convict her regardless, in what The Nation describes as a miscarriage of justice. “Abundant evidence of McMillan’s abuse at the hands of police—photos of bruises on her breast and arms, testimony that she suffered a seizure once handcuffed—were questioned in the spirit of what we’ve come to call rape culture: maybe, the prosecutor suggested, she faked it,” wrote Sarah Leonard. “Maybe she inflicted the bruises herself. Reports of NYPD misconduct during the Occupy protests were deemed inadmissible as evidence in court, as were the more violent parts of Officer Bovell’s record. In the absence of substantive background, the jurors came to their verdict based on a grainy video.”
It was this picking and choosing of allowable evidence, as well as the refusal to allow the jurors to have any idea what the potential punishment of McMillan would be if she were convicted, that is the most unsettling. Although Occupy Wall Street began as a fairly popular movement, that popularity seriously waned as it progressed.
With no real idea of the implication that a conviction could have on McMillan’s future, could a jury have decided to convict based on half-truths and piles of inadmissible defense evidence, believing that they were as much making a judgement against the movement as a whole as they were against the woman being charged, who was even at one point in the trial viewed as “the Paris Hilton” of Occupy Wall Street?
It’s possible, and based on the blow back now that everyone is realizing that they may have just sentenced McMillan to seven years in prison, it’s looking even more likely. Nine of the 12 jurors on the case have asked that McMillan not be made to serve any jail time at all, and the city council has asked she get probation versus time behind bars as well.
Even Pussy Riot, documentary producer Michael Moore and local clergy are demanding leniency. “Seven years for her and only a few blocks away ‘banksters’ walk the streets during their lunch hour free and clear,” said Bishop George Packard, according to AM New York.
McMillan will be sentenced on May 19, where she will learn if she will get the full seven years, probation, or something in between. Regardless of what sentence she receives, her lawyers appear ready to demand a new trial, and one in which all evidence can be produced, and where her lawyers will have a full ability to actually defend their client. “We will be fighting this unjust verdict in the court of appeals,” said Justice for Cecily, which has been advocating for McMillan. “Cecily’s lawyers are optimistic, given the circumstances of the case and the gross bias demonstrated throughout, that we can win on appeal.”
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons