The news: In most advanced nations, when a police officer assaults a civilian and causes her to have a seizure, you would expect that officer to be the one that ends up in court.
Not so in America, apparently.
A 25-year-old named Cecily McMillan was convicted in court on Monday, the last of the 2,500 Occupy Wall Street protestors who have been moving through the criminal justice system since police arrested hundreds in a night-time raid on Zuccoti Park in 2012. Her crime: elbowing a cop named Grantley Bovell in the face after he allegedly groped her during the protests. According to a Manhattan jury, that was enough to convict her of second-degree assault of an officer, which is a felony that can lead up to seven years in prison. She was denied bail and taken to the Riker's Island jail, where she will await her sentencing.
Welcome to our criminal justice system.
Image Credit: Facebook/The Other 98%
The background: On March 18, 2012, McMillan stopped by Zuccotti Park to pick up her friends. Though she had taken part in the Occupy protests before, she was just heading out on that day to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. While she was there, the police swept through the park in a push to dispersing the crowds of people who had taken up residence in the park, leading to a clash between police and Occupy protesters.
This is where McMillan's and Bovell's stories differ. According to Bovell, McMillan deliberately struck him across the face and staged the stunt in front of her friends. "I remember her saying to someone: 'Are you filming this? Are you filming this?' Then I remember the defendant crouching down and lunging with her elbow and hitting me in the face," Bovell testified.
But that's not what happened, according to McMillan. In her account, she was trying to make her way out of the crowd when she felt a hand grabbing her right breast from behind. Without thinking, she whipped her arm back and elbowed the assailant in the face; only after she turned around did she realize that she hit a police officer. Her injuries were later documented by the Institute of Family Health.
And once she was handcuffed, McMillan says she suffered from a seizure or an anxiety attack. Other protesters filmed her lying on the pavement while police officers stood and watched; it took around 15 to 20 minutes for an ambulance to take her away.
What will happen next? McMillan's attorney is planning to appeal the ruling. McMillan has garnered a tremendous amount of support. The court hearings have been well-attended by Occupy protesters, who shouted "shame" at the jury's decision and refused to leave. Outraged protesters have also returned to Zuccotti Park, the site of the original incident, to support McMillan.
Still, McMillan is facing stiff opposition from the city. Assistant district attorney Erin Choi has called McMillan's claims "so utterly ridiculous and unbelievable that she might as well have said that aliens came down that night and assaulted her."
"She wanted to pull the wool over your eyes," said Choi. "That's how she benefited from this nonsense. She wanted to become the face of Occupy Wall Street."
But whether McMillan is a wronged hero or a violent vigilante, Choi is right — the former protester has become the new face of Occupy, and a symbol for what is wrong in the American criminal justice system today.