Cecily McMillan Sentenced to Three Months in Jail
Photos © by Bud Korotzer (Reports follow)
Cecily McMillan Sentenced to Three Months in Jail
McMillan to also serve five years’ probation for deliberately elbowing a New York police officer at a protest in 2012
n Occupy Wall Street activist has been sentenced to three months in jail for assaulting a New York police officer as he led her out of a protest.
Cecily McMillan, who had been facing a maximum sentence of seven years, was told on Monday morning by Judge Ronald Zweibel that she “must take responsibility for her conduct”.
“A civilised society must not allow an assault to be committed under the guise of civil disobedience,” said Zweibel at Manhattan criminal court. However, he added: “The court finds that a lengthy sentence would not serve the interests of justice in this case.”
McMillan, 25, received a three-month jail sentence to be followed by community service and five years of probation. Her lawyers expect her to serve two-thirds of the sentence. She will also receive credit for the two weeks she has been remanded at Rikers Island jail since being convicted.
McMillan was earlier this month found guilty of deliberately elbowing officer Grantley Bovell in the face at a demonstration in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park in March 2012. He suffered a black eye and spent two weeks off work with headaches and sensitivity to light. McMillan insisted throughout her trial that she swung her arm instinctively after having one of her breasts grabbed from behind.
Wearing a fuschia dress, the New School graduate student was on Monday led, handcuffed, into a courtroom lined by about 50 police officers. Reading a prepared speech, she told the judge that she lived by the “law of love”. She said: “Violence is not permitted. This being the law that I live by, I can say with certainty that I am innocent of the crime I have been convicted of”. She apologised for what she called “this accident”.
However, in a sharply critical statement to the judge, assistant district attorney Shanda Strain said that McMillan had “not only physically assaulted the police officer but also falsely accused this police officer’s character both inside and outside of this courtroom”.
Accusing McMillan of using the court as a “grandstand for her political opinions,” Strain baldly stated that the 25-year-old had committed perjury by accusing Bovell of grabbing her breast. “Through her lies, she has undermined the claims of genuine sexual assault victims who seek justice in this system,” she said. However, Strain said that a sentence of 90 days would be sufficient to “serve the interests of society”.
After being pushed to the ground during her arrest, McMillan suffered further bruising and said that she had a seizure or anxiety attack. She previously said that she underwent treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. McMillan’s attorney, Martin Stolar, told Zweibel: “I urge the court to take into account the injuries that Miss McMillan suffered subsequent to her arrest … which will last probably the rest of her life.”
Stolar told the Guardian outside court that the sentence was “less worse than it could have been”. He said: “The punishment, and whatever deterrent effect a punishment can have, was already delivered to Cecily the night she was arrested. As far as the police were concerned, she punched a cop and she got punched back, so street justice was delivered.”
McMillan’s felony conviction for second-degree assault is believed to be the most serious against any of the hundreds of members of Occupy who were prosecuted for offences around protests after the movement began in 2011. She had previously turned down an offer from prosecutors to plead guilty to the felony charge in exchange for a recommendation that she not receive a prison sentence.
Following the sentencing, Erin Duggan Kramer, Vance’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement that the district attorney’s office recognised the freedoms of speech and assembly as “bedrocks of our personal liberties” that were “deeply entrenched in our city’s culture”. Claiming that “great leniency” had been shown to Occupy members charged with minor offences, Duggan Kramer said: “This defendant chose to take her case to trial, and was convicted by a jury of her peers for a violent felony.”
Stolar pointed out to the judge that following McMillan’s conviction, nine of the 12 jurors in her trialwrote to Zweibel, asking him not to send her to prison and to show her leniency. Their letter was followed by similar requests from members of the New York city council and prominent pop musicians. Two members of Pussy Riot, the Russian punk activist group, visited McMillan at Rikers and also wrote to the judge.
McMillan’s support team also delivered a petition to Zweibel and Cyrus Vance, the district attorney, bearing what they said were 43,000 names of other people asking that she not be sent to prison. While acknowledging that the courts should not be dictated by public opinion, Stolar urged Zweibel to note that “so many people have spoken up and that they believe leniency is in order for Miss McMillan”.
Singling out by name contributions from Kim Gordon, formerly of Sonic Youth, and Lauren Mayberry, of the Scottish group Chvrches, Stolar told Zweibel: “These are people that neither you nor I would recognise, but among this generation are fairly important”.
Zweibel said: “The court agrees with many of Miss McMillan’s supporters that Miss McMillan is capable of making a positive contribution to society. However, as I stated before, a sentence must take into account the fact that Miss McMillan was convicted of assaulting a police officer.” He then delivered his order on her sentence.
Several people in the public gallery began quietly singing ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’, adding “Cecily is innocent” to the lyrics. However, they stopped after being ordered to be quiet by a senior police officer.