Outrage and Protests Follow Guilty Verdict for OWS Activist
'This has become something bigger than Cecily McMillan. It's about protests and dissent.'
People across the United States responded with outrage after Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan was found guilty Monday afternoon of "assaulting" the very police officer who she says sexually assaulted her.
Over 100 people rallied in New York City's Zuccotti Park Monday night and, according to advocates, messages of support immediately began pouring in from across the country.
"I know Cecily would be in gratitude for how much people care," Stan Williams of support group Justice for Cecily told Common Dreams. "But this has become something bigger than Cecily. It's about protests and dissent."
McMillan's supporters on Monday filled a New York court room with cries of "Shame!" when the 25-year-old organizer was handed a guilty verdict and then promptly handcuffed and taken away to Rikers Island, where she is currently detained pending sentencing. In a Democracy Now! interview Tuesday morning, Martin Stolar, criminal defense attorney affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild and co-counsel for McMillan's case, derided her felony verdict—that could land her a sentence of two to seven years with a chance of probation—as "ridiculous" and vowed an appeal.
McMillan was one of approximately 70 people detained late the night of March 17/early morning March 18, 2012, when police violently cleared a memorial event marking the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. McMillan, who had stopped by the park to meet a friend, says she was sexually assaulted by police officer Grantley Bovell while she attempted to leave the area. "Seized from behind, she was forcefully grabbed by the breast and ripped backwards," according to a statement by Justice For Cecily. "Cecily startled and her arm involuntarily flew backward into the temple of her attacker, who promptly flung her to the ground, where others repeatedly kicked and beat her into a string of seizures." Following the attack, McMillan underwent treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Yet, despite numerous allegations that Bovell has inflicted excessive force while on duty, as well as his previous involvement in a ticket-fixing scandal, it was McMillan who was put on trial for felony charges of assaulting Bovell.
According to McMillan's supporters, what followed was a trial riddled with injustice, in which Judge Ronald Zweibel showed repeated favoritism towards the prosecution and imposed a gag order on McMillan's lawyer.
Facing photographic and video evidence of McMillan's bruises following the attack, including a hand-shaped bruise on her chest, as well as the testimony of dozens of witnesses, the prosecution went so far as to claim that McMillan had imposed the injuries on herself.
"In the trial, physical evidence was considered suspect but the testimony of the police was cast as infallible," writes journalist Molly Knefel, who was present the night of McMillan's arrest. "And not only was Officer Bovell's documented history of violent behavior deemed irrelevant by the judge, but so were the allegations of his violent behavior that very same night."
"To the jury, the hundreds of police batons, helmets, fists, and flex cuffs out on March 17 were invisible – rendering McMillan's elbow the most powerful weapon on display in Zuccotti that night, at least insofar as the jury was concerned," Knefel added.
Yet, according to Kristen Iversen writing for Brooklyn Magazine, McMillan's verdict is not just the outcome of one unfair trial, but rather exposes "systemic" failures of justice: "The failure is that McMillan was given the exact kind of trial that our system is set up for, one that supports the police no matter how wrong their behavior, one that dismisses victims of sexual assault in astonishing numbers."
Lucy Parks, field coordinator for Justice For Cecily, told Democracy Now! that McMillan's supporters are busy figuring out next steps, with plans to organize petitions, call-in days, and other mobilizations in the works.
"We're also trying to bring together communities of U.S. activists and anyone who feels strongly about this trial to try and heal and move forward and broaden the conversation about the justice system to talk about more people than just Cecily," Parks added.
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