If you have not been following the story of Cecily McMillan, you might suspect the above headline to be either exaggerated or tasteless satire. Tragically, it is neither.
The story of McMillan is a story of police brutality and the justice system's propensity to insulate police from culpability, a story which takes place invisibly in urban centers in this country on a weekly basis. The only difference here is that McMillan, an Occupy activist who was assaulted during a police raid, gained national attention due to the cameras rolling and the high-profile nature of the event.
The assault happened on March 17, 2012, which was the six-month anniversary of the Occupy movement. Nonviolent activists had gathered in Zuccotti Park to mark the milestone, and that night police moved in to clear the park and make arrests. During the chaos, Officer Grantley Bovell grabbed McMillan's breast from behind, swung her around and threw her to the ground, at which point she began to have a seizure and required medical help. According to her defense, she instinctively swung her arms when her breast was grabbed. According to Bovell and the prosecution, McMillan's swinging elbow was all that mattered.
Bruising on McMillan induced by Officer Bovell grabbing her from behind. Image via McMillan and policymic.
During the trial, evidence concerning the violent way in which police cleared the park that night was suppressed. In many instances, physical evidence was tossed out, and the presiding judge, Ronald Zweibel, ruled that the context of the assault had no bearing or relevance. Of course, officer testimony was accepted and relied upon to paint a picture of McMillan's brutal assault of a police officer.
Here's Molly Knefel in The Guardian:
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.McMillan was fortunate to have an incredible support structure, both personal and legal – and yet even she ran into the buzzsaw of police brutality and a legal system's propensity to brush such brutality under the rug. For today she was convicted of felony assault for that swinging elbow, an elbow that likely was not intended as anything more than a response to being grabbed by a stranger:
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.
[Which is why] 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.
McMillan claimed that she swung her arm back instinctively only after having one of her breasts grabbed from behind while she was walking out of the park. Her lawyers showed photographs of bruising to her chest to support this. They said McMillan did not know that Bovell was a police officer, and did not intend to hurt him.Not only has a violent police officer with a history of abuse gotten away with his crime, but a woman faces seven years in prison for reacting upon having her breast sharply grabbed from behind.
One of the two people in the park on the night of the incident was there in the interest of serving the public good, and it wasn't the one in uniform.
And that person will be serving an extended jail sentence. Because we as a nation allow this to happen. Across this country. Every single week.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.