Cecily McMillan

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Cecily McMillan

Cecily McMillan (born 1989) is an American activist and advocate for prisoner rights in the United States who was arrested and subsequently convicted of felony second-degree assault after assaulting a New York City Police officer as he led her out of the Occupy Wall Street protest in Zuccotti Park on March 17, 2012.[1] McMillan's highly publicized arrest and trial led to her being called a "cause célèbre of the Occupy Wall Street movement".[2] McMillan claimed that her breast was grabbed and twisted by someone behind her, which she claims to have responded to by reflexively elbowing her perceived attacker in the face.[3] The officer involved testified that she deliberately assaulted him, a claim supported by video evidence showing McMillan "bending her knees, then throwing her right elbow into the officer’s eye".[4][1] She was arrested after a brief attempt to flee, and claims to have been beaten by police during her arrest.[3] McMillan was convicted of felony second-degree assault on May 5, 2014, and was subsequently sentenced to three months in prison and five years of probation.[1][4]

Her trial and conviction were criticized as a "miscarriage of justice" by supporters, who accused the court of failing to allow the defense to introduce what they viewed as important evidence. This evidence was primarily additional media and the officer's records, which contained accounts of several past incidents.[5] McMillan was released from prison early on July 2, 2014, after serving 58 days of her jail sentence at Rikers Island.[6] After her release, McMillan advocated for the plight of inmates and attempted to bring increased attention to the relationship between poverty and incarceration.[7][8][9][10]

Early life and education[edit]

McMillan is of Irish and Mexican descent.[11] She was raised by her single mother in Beaumont, Texas, and spent summers in Atlanta, Georgia with her father and his family.[12] She graduated from Lawrence University and actively participated in the 2011 Wisconsin protests where she fought to save collective bargaining from its dismantling by Governor Scott Walker.[11] In New York, she enrolled in graduate school at the New School for Social Research in the fall of 2011 and worked as a nanny for several families.[13] At the New School, she studied nonviolent movements and found inspiration in the works of Bayard Rustin.[14] McMillan was known as a "dedicated pacifist" who had many discussions with her thesis adviser about the topic of nonviolence.[15] She planned to write her master's thesis on Jane Addams and the settlement movement, but Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests began at the end of her first week of school.[12]

Occupy Wall Street[edit]

McMillan continued her studies at the New School, held a part time job, and became active with the OWS Demands Working Group. During one protest, she occupied the school buildings along with other demonstrators, but objected to the destruction of property. Her nonviolent approach caused a riff with other protesters who had advocated trashing the building, leading the radical elements in support of the property destruction to hold a "shadow trial" where she was condemned as a “bureaucratic provocateur".[12] "I realized there was a serious problem between anarchists and socialists and democratic socialists. I wanted, like Bayard Rustin, to bring everyone together. I wanted to repair the fractured left. I wanted to build coalitions," McMillan recalls.[12] Nick Pinto of The Wall Street Journal noted that McMillan's political views were "relatively moderate" and that the Occupy Wall Street movement "alienated [her] for insisting the group disavow violence."[16] While McMillan did not initially view Occupy Wall Street in a positive light,[12] she later "got very involved, inspired" by it, calling it "a beautiful experiment". She was heavily involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement for months before the incident, and was spending up to 14 hours a day in Zuccotti Park.[17]

Zuccotti Park arrest[edit]

On March 17, 2012, McMillan was celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with friends in Lower Manhattan when she went to Zuccotti Park to meet up with more friends.[13][1][11] On that day, hundreds of people were in the park commemorating the six-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Police officers announced that the park was closed and that anyone remaining inside would be charged with trespassing, and later began clearing out the remaining protestors.[18][13]

According to the police, McMillan was asked to leave the park, but refused to leave. The officer later placed a hand on her shoulder to lead her out. The events diverge here with McMillan claiming the officer grabbed her breast and in return, she elbowed the police officer in the eye, although she claims to have no memory of the incident.[19] The officer testified that she suddenly said “Are you filming this? Are you filming this?”, bent down, then leapt up to strike him in the face with her elbow.[4] Video supported the officer's account, showing McMillan "bending her knees, then throwing her right elbow into the officer’s eye".[1] After briefly attempting to flee, she was tackled by several officers and detained.[4][1] An account from a witness claimed that "without a doubt, there was kicking and clubs being used" for the 30-60 seconds the witness estimated police took to detain McMillan.[20]

After being taken into custody and loaded onto the transport bus being used by police, McMillan began writhing in an apparent seizure, and was subsequently removed from the bus and placed on the pavement in front of it. Witnesses claim police did not respond appropriately, claiming that her head lacked support and that "her skull repeatedly struck the pavement" during this apparent seizure.[4][20] Shortly after her removal from the bus, McMillan was relocated to the sidewalk and treated by police medics before later being taken to the hospital via ambulance.[12][15]

Trial and conviction[edit]

"The trial became a rallying point among people who sympathized with the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011 and 2012, which called attention to the gap between rich and poor and criticized the government bailout of big banks. Many of Ms. McMillan's supporters saw in her a potent symbol of the police crackdown that ended the occupation of Zuccotti Park and snuffed out the protest's momentum."

James C. McKinley Jr. in The New York Times[4]

The trial was held at the New York City Criminal Court and McMillan was defended by Martin Stolar, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild.[21][22] McMillan alleged that a bruise on her breast, shown in photographs at trial, was inflicted by Officer Bovell. Prosecutors argued that Bovell did not cause the injury, and noted that McMillan did not report the alleged assault at either of two hospitals where she received treatment the night of the arrest, with the pictures being taken days later by her personal doctor.[23][13]

After a month-long trial, the twelve-person jury reached their verdict after deliberating for three hours on May 5, 2014, finding McMillan guilty of intentionally assaulting a police officer.[24] The court convicted her of second-degree assault, a felony that could result in a prison term of up to seven years.[25] Justice Ronald A. Zweibel ordered her detained without bail until her sentencing on May 19.[26] McMillan was later sentenced to three months in prison and five years of probation, and was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and treatment.[27]

Imprisonment at Rikers Island[edit]

McMillan served her sentence at Rikers Island Penitentiary. On May 9, members of the Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot, who were jailed in Russia for performances critical of President Vladimir Putin, visited McMillan on Rikers Island as part of a campaign by The Voice Project petitioning for leniency.[28][29] A friend of McMillan claimed that McMillan was made to wait close to three weeks before receiving her prescribed ADHD medication, and that she was intermittently denied it afterwards.[6] McMillan claimed that after asking how she could obtain her medication, a corrections officer that had previously addressed her as "Vagina" said "Oh, you want your crazy pills!".[11] In one case, she claims to have been assaulted by the prison pharmacist for looking at his badge after he allegedly harassed her, she filed a complaint but did not take further action due to worries about retaliation.[30][31] McMillan was released on July 2, 2014, after serving 58 days at Rikers.[32]

Prisoner rights advocacy[edit]

After her release, McMillan advocated for the rights of prisoners at Rikers. In an opinion piece for The New York Times, McMillan wrote about how inmates were denied medical treatment, humiliated, and subject to random searches.[30] At a press conference, she called for "better access to healthcare, drug rehabilitation services and education inside the jail".[6] McMillan claimed to Democracy Now! that "deplorable conditions existed in the prison", and expressed concern over the death of her friend "Judith", who died shortly before McMillan's release.[33][30] She viewed Judith's death as a potential case of medical malpractice, claiming that Judith's pain medication had been switched to a dangerously high dose, and that requests to get Judith medical treatment after her condition declined were ignored, although her account omits that Judith was diagnosed with Hepatitis C and liver cancer, not just "back pain".[30][33][34][35][36][31]

Second lawsuit[edit]

In a December 2013 incident, McMillan was arrested and charged with obstructing governmental administration after she tried to intervene when a police officer asked two people in a Union Square subway station for identification.[2] A sentencing memo presented at her earlier trial stated that she had yelled at the police "she hoped their wives and children died", continuing with "this new arrest mirrors what was on display throughout the trial: the defendant’s utter contempt for the police and the important job they do on a daily basis".[2] According to the criminal complaint, she was accused of misrepresenting herself as a lawyer and urging the two people not to cooperate with the police.[2] After she was acquitted of the charges in November 2014, her lawyer summarized the case as "being annoying and obnoxious to the police is not illegal".[37]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f McKinley Jr., James C. (May 5, 2014). "Woman Found Guilty of Assaulting Officer at an Occupy Wall Street Protest". New York Times. Archived from the original on May 6, 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d Madan, Monique O. "Occupy Wall Street Protester Is Out of Jail, but Back in Court". New York Times. Archived from the original on July 18, 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Crabapple, Molly (June 11, 2014). "From Pussy Riot to Snowden: the Dissident Fetish." Vanity Fair. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e f McKinley Jr., James C. (May 19, 2014). "Despite Calls for Release, Activist in Occupy Case Gets Three Months". New York Times. Archived from the original on June 1, 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  5. ^ Funkhouser, Kathryn (May 9, 2014). Editors Don’t Belong in Courtrooms, and Cecily McMillan Doesn’t Belong in Prison." The Nation. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Swaine, Jon. "Occupy activist Cecily McMillan released from jail after two months". The Guardian. Archived from the original on July 3, 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  7. ^ Nathanson, Rebecca (September 17, 2014). "Five Ways Occupy Wall Street Is Still Fighting." Rolling Stone. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  8. ^ McMillan, Cecily (July 24, 2014). "What I Saw on Rikers Island." The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
  9. ^ Feldman, Steffi (July 2, 2014). "Cecily McMillan, Former Occupy Protester, Released Early From Rikers Island." The New York Observer. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  10. ^ Feldman, Steffi (July 24, 2015). "Cecily McMillan Speaks Out In Defense of Rikers’ Correction Officers." The New York Observer. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  11. ^ a b c d Gitlin, Todd (May 23, 2014). "Cecily McMillan, from Zuccotti Park to Rikers." The New Yorker. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Hedges, Chris (2015). Wages of Rebellion. Nation Books. ISBN 9781568584904. This material previously appeared on Truthdig in 2014 as "The Crime of Peaceful Protest".
  13. ^ a b c d Merlan, Anna (May 19, 20140. "Cecily McMillan faces prison time. Where's the justice in that?." The Village Voice. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  14. ^ McMillan, Cecily (August 12, 2014). "I Went From Grad School to Prison". Cosmopolitan. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  15. ^ a b Goldberg, Michelle (April 14, 2014). "The Outrageous Trial of Cecily Mcmillan." The Nation. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  16. ^ Pinto, Nick (May 19, 2014). "Final Occupy Wall Street Defendant, Cecily McMillan, is Sentenced." The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  17. ^ Divito, Nick (April 29, 2014). "Occupy Wall Street Defendant Testifies". Courthouse News Service. Archived from the original on July 2, 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2015. 
  18. ^ Moynihan, Colin (March 27, 2012). "Scores Arrested as the Police Clear Zuccotti Park". New York Times. Archived from the original on Jan 5, 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  19. ^ Schweber, Nate (April 30, 2014). "Protester Says She Doesn’t Recall Hitting Officer With Elbow". New York Times. Archived from the original on May 1, 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  20. ^ a b Devereaux, Ryan (March 20, 2012). "Occupy protesters accuse NYPD of beating activist during weekend clashes." The Guardian. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  21. ^ Mckinley, James C. (May 5,2014). "Woman Found Guilty of Assaulting Officer at an Occupy Wall Street Protest." The New York Times. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  22. ^ Merlan, Anna (May 5, 2014). "Occupy Wall Street Activist Cecily McMillan Found Guilty of Assault on Police Officer." Village Voice. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  23. ^ Amy Goodman and Aaron Mate, Occupy Wall Street on Trial Convicted of Assaulting Cop, Faces Up to Seven Years", truth-out.org; accessed November 8, 2014.
  24. ^ Swaine, Jon (May 5, 2014). "Occupy Wall Street activist found guilty of assaulting police officer." The Guardian. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  25. ^ Swaine, Jon (May 8, 2014). "Cecily McMillan jurors tell judge Occupy activist should not go to jail." The Guardian. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  26. ^ "Cecily McMillan found guilty of striking policeman." BBC News. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  27. ^ McKinley Jr., James C.(May 20, 2014). "Despite Calls for Release, Activist in Occupy Case Gets Three Months." The New York Times. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  28. ^ John Swane, "Pussy Riot members visit Occupy activist Cecily McMillan in prison", TheGuardian.com, May 9, 2014; accessed November 8, 2014.
  29. ^ "Campaign: Cecily McMillan", VoiceProject.org, May 2014; accessed November 8, 2014.
  30. ^ a b c d McMillan, Cecily (July 23, 2014). "What I Saw on Rikers Island". New York Times. Archived from the original on July 25, 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  31. ^ a b Merlan, Anna (Jun 30, 2014). "Occupy Protester Cecily McMillan On Rikers: "In Some Ways, I'm Treated Better Than Anyone Else In Here, Which Is Horrifying"". Village Voice. Archived from the original on Jun 25, 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  32. ^ Associated Press. (July 2, 2014). "Cecily McMillan, Occupy Wall Street Activist, Exits Rikers Island Fighting For Prisoner Rights." CBS News. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  33. ^ a b "Occupy Wall Street Activist Cecily McMillan Released, Brings Messages from Women Held at Rikers Jail". Democracy Now. July 2, 2014. Archived from the original on July 3, 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  34. ^ Goodman, Amy (July 14, 2014). ""Your Body Is No Longer Your Own": Freed OWS Activist Cecily McMillan on Plight of Women in Jail". Democracy Now. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  35. ^ Sledge, Matt (July 2, 2014). "Occupy Wall Street Activist Cecily McMillan Charges 'Medical Malpractice' In Rikers Death". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on July 4, 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  36. ^ Law, Victoria (Nov 16, 2014). "Public Prisons, Private Profits". Prison Legal News. Archived from the original on Apr 21, 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2015.  (See section: "Privatizing Health Care - But at What Cost?")
  37. ^ Peltz, Jennifer (Oct 11, 2014). "Occupy Wall Street Activist Cecily McMillan Acquitted Of Obstructing Police". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on Oct 14, 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2015.