Occupy Wall Street demonstrator Cecily McMillan has become collateral damage of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s relentless policing of the group and its protests.
And the grotesque unfairness could continue on Monday when the 25-year-old faces a sentence of up to 7 years in prison in a case that also underscores a blow to the right of dissent.
A peaceful activist, McMillan was found guilty earlier this month of assaulting a police officer at a protest based on the evidence of a short, blurry video. She and her defenders say she felt someone grab her breast, and instinctively struck him, not knowing he was a police officer. Many women would do the same. (If she was simply defending herself from a grope, it’s the officer who should be going to prison, right?) Prosecutors argued that she attacked the arresting officer, elbowing him in the face as he tried to subdue her.
In any case, nine of the 12 jurors who heard McMillan’s case have written the judge to say that although they found her guilty, she should not go to prison.
No matter what happened, the jurors are right that a potential 7-year sentence is excessive.
But the government’s response to Occupy Wall Street was excessive. For example, on the night McMillan was arrested — St. Patrick’s Day 2012 — police arrested 70 nonviolent protesters in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan. The Village Voice reported that a protester has been awarded $82,000 after he sued the police department for brutality. He said an officer made the policing strategy clear the same night McMillan was arrested. The protester said the officer asked: “Are you Occupy Wall Street people going to come back and demonstrate? Are you punks going to come back and keep showing up? Because every time you guys come back we’re going to kick your ——.”
Bloomberg’s idea of a good public was a quiet one that strolls along the High Line and never protests the disproportionate wealth and power of the 1 percent (people like Bloomberg and his moneyed friends).
It’s up to the judge to deliver justice by showing leniency to McMillan. And after running as Mayor 99 Percent, Bill de Blasio should be pressured to change the NYPD’s approach to protesters.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.