Tuesday, May 6, 2014

UPDATE to Cecily McMillan Case

A couple of updates to the case of the injustice carried out against Cecily McMillan, which I wrote about earlier today

The updates are from the UK paper the Guardian, which has given this story comprehensive coverage throughout, unlike the American mainstream press, which, if it covers it at all, usually buries it -- in the case of the New York Times, in the NY Region section, even though it's a case with national implications. 

(Oh, and I'm still looking for it at NPR, whose website shows nothing about the case. Surprise, surprise.)  

First, an opinion piece by a Guardian journalist who covered -- or tried to -- the Occupy movement. She was often thwarted by the police. Molly Knefel writes:
The verdict in the biggest Occupy related criminal case in New York City, that of Cecily McMillan, came down Monday afternoon. As disturbing as it is that she was found guilty of felony assault against Officer Grantley Bovell, the circumstances of her trial reflect an even more disturbing reality – that of normalized police violence, disproportionately punitive sentences (McMillan faces seven years in prison), and a criminal penal system based on anything but justice. While this is nothing new for the over-policed communities of New York City, what happened to McMillan reveals just how powerful and unrestrained a massive police force can be in fighting back against the very people with whom it is charged to protect.
McMillan was one of roughly 70 protesters arrested on March 17, 2012. She and hundreds of other activists, along with journalists like me, had gathered in Zuccotti Park to mark the six-month anniversary of the start of Occupy Wall Street. It was four months after the New York Police Department had evicted the Occupy encampment from the park in a mass of violent arrests.
When the police moved in to the park that night, in formation and with batons, to arrest a massive number of nonviolent protesters, the chaos was terrifying.  
. . . In the trial, physical evidence was considered suspect but the testimony of the police was cast as infallible. Despite photographs of her bruised body, including her right breast, the prosecution cast doubt upon McMillan's allegations of being injured by the police – all while Officer Bovell repeatedly identified the wrong eye when testifying as to how McMillan injured him. 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.
That hyper-selective retelling of events to the jury mirrored the broader popular narrative of OWS. The breathtaking violence displayed by the NYPD throughout Occupy Wall Street has not only been normalized, but entirely justified – so much so that it doesn't even bear mentioning. 
. . . Still, it is the protesters who are remembered as destructive and chaotic. It is Cecily McMillan who went on trial for assault but not Bovell or any of his colleagues – despite the thousands of photographs and videos providing irrefutable evidence that protesters, journalists, and legal observers alike were shoved, punched, kicked, tackled, and beaten over the head. That mindset was on display during the jury selection process at McMillan's trial, when juror after juror had to be dismissed because of outright bias against the Occupy movement and any of its participants.  
. . . This is, of course, how police brutality is presented to the public every day, if it is presented it at all: an angry cop here, a controversial protester here, a police commissioner who says the violence of the NYPD is "old news". It's why #myNYPD shocked enough people to make the papers – because it wasn't one bruised or broken civilian body or one cop with a documented history of violence. Instead, it was one after another after another, a collage that presented a more comprehensive picture – one of exceptionally unexceptional violence that most of America has already accepted.
Good think Molly Knefel gets it, because god know plenty of other people don't, including hundreds of so-called journalists who so-called report the so-called news, some of whom I've tangled with personally and who are, frankly, too blinkered to recognize what's right in front of their faces.

The second update comes from a Guardian article recounting the reaction of the jurors in the case, some of whom are appalled at finding out that McMillan faces 7 years in jail:
Finally freed from a ban on researching the case, including potential punishments, some were shocked to learn that they had just consigned the 25-year-old to a sentence of up to seven years in prison, one told the Guardian. “They felt bad,” said the juror, who did not wish to be named. “Most just wanted her to do probation, maybe some community service. But now what I’m hearing is seven years in jail? That’s ludicrous. Even a year in jail is ridiculous.”
Of course it's ridiculous. But when has that ever stopped an authoritarian from flexing his power? People are put away in this country all the time for minor offenses, or no offenses at all. It's the American way.

Also true to form, according to research about juries and how they reach their decisions, there were a few holdouts -- three in this case -- but in the end, they went along with the majority. Even the final juror, who didn't think McMillan was guilty, gave in. Research on juries and their behavior shows that peer pressure is just as potent in the deliberation room as it is anywhere else. But, of course, Americans like to tout the jury system as the greatest thing in the history of jurisprudence.
The juror said that an immediate vote after the 12 were sent out for deliberation found they were split 9-3 in favour of convicting. After everyone watched the clip again in the jury room, the juror said, two of the three hold-outs switched to the majority, leaving only the juror who approached the Guardian in favour of acquitting the 25-year-old. Sensing “a losing battle”, the juror agreed to join them in a unanimous verdict. “I’m very remorseful about it,” the juror said a few hours later, having learned of McMillan’s potential punishment.
Oops -- too late, buddy. 

Among the many comments at this article, here's one by Tim Fitzgerald, 06 May 2014, 7:35pm London time:
I was there the night Cecily was arrested. I wish I could've played my memories back for the jurors of the brutal way the NYPD cleared the park that night -- or that Cecily's defense could have played back some of the dozens of videos that recorded it, including some that showed more context immediately around Cecily, which were prejudicially suppressed by the judge and prosecution.
If I could've shown you, jurors, you would have seen that Officer Bovell's actions weren't at all exceptional that night. After 6 months of orders to respond to non-violent protest with unchecked violent aggression for which they knew they would never be held to account, the NYPD's restraint was near an all-time low, and they harmed a great many protesters that evening. Knowing this, and if you accept that Bovell just "went along with the crowd" in the ticket-fixing scandal, how could you then assume that he did not just go along with the crowd during the St. Patrick's Day assault on OWS? But you were denied that context.
Also good context would be the glut of evidence that "clearing the park for cleaning" was the NYPD's favorite excuse for unconstitutionally denying our right to assemble, from the first failed attempt to illegally impose rules against perfectly legal camping in Zuccotti Park, to the illegal eviction over which they imposed a media blackout, all the way until after the night Cecily (along with myself and about 70 other people) was brutally arrested -- when they followed us to Union Square and suddenly had to clean wherever Occupy folks were assembled -- and then the next place, and then the next place, near-comically following us around. Your enthusiasm for obeying this order would have dwindled, too, if you had been us.
March 17th was for many OWS activists the last straw. It showed many of us that there would never be any allowance from the NYPD, not for anything, not in Manhattan. Not even just for being in the same park at the same time. That's how brutal M17 was, that after a couple thousand arrests, it was the night that broke our will to continue trying to speak and to work together for a better future.
If only you could have known.

But ya know, it probably wouldn't have mattered. Most Americans have bought the bullshit that the Occupy movement was a violent rabble that needed to be reined in. The mainstream media -- and certainly the U.S. government -- encouraged this view. 

The ignorance on display in this country is breathtaking. People haven't learned shit from history. They continue to ignore the cautionary words of Martin Niemöller, no matter how many times some of us quote him. They're determined not to learn, not even if, someday, the knock on the door in the middle of the night is for them.