Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Cecily McMillan, Victim of Police Assault, Found Guilty, In Jail

In the continuing cavalcade of innocent people put in prison in this country -- the vast majority of whom are poor and/or people of color -- we now add Cecily McMillan, an Occupy activist who was assaulted by a New York City cop and who is now in jail for it.

You read that right. She was assaulted by him. Yet she is in jail. And he -- with a history of committing abuse -- is walking free.  

That's how things roll in the Land of the Free.

McMillan's trial was delayed at one point because it looked like justice might actually prevail. But she was convicted yesterday of second degree felony assault. Her sentencing is scheduled for May 19th. She faces up to 7 years in prison. 

She could have been released on bail to await her sentencing, since she's not a flight risk, which is what happens all the time with corporate criminals. But instead she was sent to Rikers Island.

Cecily McMillan was in Zuccotti Park in New York on March 17, 2012, the six-month anniversary of the Occupy movement, waiting to meet friends to go out for St. Patrick's Day. As she was standing there, she felt someone from behind grab her breast. She instinctively pushed back and elbowed the culprit. That culprit turned out to be a cop. A plainclothes cop.

That cop then shoved her to the ground, so violently that she became unconscious, handcuffed her, and began dragging her away. She suffered a seizure, as plenty of video from that day attests. The many cops surrounding her just stared at her and did nothing, while bystanders screamed at them to uncuff her and call an ambulance.

Somebody eventually did call an ambulance, which took 15-20 minutes to arrive, while McMillan was convulsing on the ground.

She was hospitalized for bruised ribs and limbs and was then taken to the city jail and booked.

Here's a picture of her showing right breast, bruised by the cop who attacked her:

The Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, instead of charging the cop, Grantley Bovell, charged McMillan with felony assault. And despite thousands of names on petitions and widespread publicity, refused to drop the charges against her. On the contrary, he's pushing for a prison sentence of 7 years.

McMillan also drew a bad lot with the judge in her case, Ronald Zweibel. He's known to NY lawyers as "a prosecutor with a robe." 

During the trial, the prosecution actually accused her of injuring her own breast. I guess she caused her own convulsions, too. Zweibel wouldn't allow the defense to present evidence of Bovell's track record of corruption and excessive force. Instead, he ordered Bovell's personnel file sealed.

Officer Bovell has been accused of running a motorcyclist off the road to make an arrest, kicking a suspect in the face while he was on the ground, and slamming an arrestee's face into the stairs on an MTA bus. In the case of the motorcyclist, Bovell was disciplined for a procedural infraction, while the department could not substantiate the other claims.
Bovell was also one of the 500 officers ensnared in the vast ticket-fixing scandal in the Bronx, and was again internally disciplined for his role.
It was clear throughout the trial where Judge Zweibel stood: he thought McMillan was guilty, and he indicated that to the jury in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. 

So much for justice. And so much for our fellow citizens standing up for civil liberties. It took them only a few hours to convict. But then as some of us have been saying for years, this isn't surprising. One of the most pernicious effects of authoritarianism is that it engages its victims as complicit in their own abuse. There are millions of people in this country who like to lick the authoritarian boot.

The NYPD -- and cops around the country -- used excessive force on peaceful, non-violent protesters throughout the Occupy movement. Instances of this excessive force have been widely documented. And a few settlements against police departments have been reached.

That includes a $55,000 settlement announced Thursday, April 24 [video at the link] to be paid to Josh Boss, who was livestreaming an Occupy march when he was thrown to the ground and kneed by Chief Thomas Purtell, who was at the time the commanding officer of the Manhattan South Patrol Division. Also among the final tally is $82,500 to Shawn Schrader, who goes by Shawn Carrie, over three separate violent arrests. A joint report from NYU’s Global Justice Clinic and Fordham’s Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic found that the police’s treatment of Occupy included ‘frequent alleged incidents of unnecessary and excessive police use of force against protesters, bystanders, journalists, and legal observers; constant obstructions of media freedoms, including arrests of journalists; unjustified and sometimes violent closure of public space, dispersal of peaceful assemblies, and corralling and trapping protesters en masse.
This violent crackdown was also nationally coordinated. Which means the Obama administration knew about it and approved it. (That's okay, Obamabots, just skip over this part; we know you prefer to live in denial.)
It was more sophisticated than we had imagined: new documents show that the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall – so mystifying at the time – was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves –was coordinated with the big banks themselves. 
. . .The document – reproduced here in an easily searchable format – shows a terrifying network of coordinated DHS, FBI, police, regional fusion center, and private-sector activity so completely merged into one another that the monstrous whole is, in fact, one entity: in some cases, bearing a single name, the Domestic Security Alliance Council. And it reveals this merged entity to have one centrally planned, locally executed mission. The documents, in short, show the cops and DHS working for and with banks to target, arrest, and politically disable peaceful American citizens.  
. . . As Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the PCJF, put it, the documents show that from the start, the FBI – though it acknowledges Occupy movement as being, in fact, a peaceful organization – nonetheless designated OWS repeatedly as a "terrorist threat" . . . .
This is called repression of dissent. This is what fascist societies do. This is what a recent article in Rolling Stone, completely lacking in self-awareness, details about Putin and Russia. But it's going on right here in the USA, right under own noses, while Obama and Kerry and Hillary Clinton and other officials pontificate and tut-tut about "freedom" and "democracy" and "peaceful protest" and "the people."

I'll let our national poet and philosopher Chris Hedges have the last word:

. . . The trial of McMillan, 25, is one of the last criminal cases originating from the Occupy protest movement. It is also one of the most emblematic. The state, after the coordinated nationwide eradication of Occupy encampments, has relentlessly used the courts to harass and neutralize Occupy activists . . .
The Occupy Wall Street movement was not only about battling back against the rise of a corporate oligarchy that has sabotaged our democracy and made war on the poor and the working class. It was also about our right to peaceful protest. The police in cities across the country have been used to short-circuit this right. I watched New York City police during the Occupy protests yank people from sidewalks into the street, where they would be arrested. I saw police routinely shove protesters and beat them with batons. I saw activists slammed against police cars. I saw groups of protesters suddenly herded like sheep to be confined within police barricades. I saw, and was caught up in, mass arrests in which those around me were handcuffed and then thrown violently onto the sidewalk. The police often blasted pepper spray into faces from inches away, temporarily blinding the victims. This violence, carried out against nonviolent protesters, came amid draconian city ordinances that effectively outlawed protest and banned demonstrators from public spaces. It was buttressed by heavy police infiltration and surveillance of the movement. When the press or activists attempted to document the abuse by police they often were assaulted or otherwise blocked from taking photographs or videos. The message the state delivered is clear: Do not dissent. And the McMillan trial is part of the process.  
. . . Bovell, who was in plainclothes and who, according to McMillan, did not identify himself as a policeman, allegedly came up from behind and grabbed McMillan’s breast—a perverse form of assault by New York City police that other female activists, too, suffered during Occupy protests.
. . . The corporate state, which has proved utterly incapable of addressing the grievances and injustices endured by the underclass, is extremely nervous about the mass movements that have swept the country in recent years. And if protests erupt again—as I think they will—the state hopes it will have neutralized much of the potential leadership. Being an activist in peaceful mass protest is the only real “crime” McMillan has committed. 
“Everyone should come and sit through this trial to see the facade that we call democracy,” she said. “The resources one needs to even remotely have a chance in this system are beyond most people. Thank God I went to college and graduate school. Thank God Marty and Rebecca are my lawyers. Thank God I am an organizer and have some agency. I wait in line every day to go to court. I read above my head the words that read something like ‘Justice Is the Foundation of Democracy.’ And I wonder if this is ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ People of color, people who are poor, the people where I come from, do not have a chance for justice. Those people have no choice but to plea out. They can never win in court. I can fight it. This makes me a very privileged person. It is disgusting to think that this is what our democracy has come to. I am heartbreakingly sad for our country.”