On March 17, 2012 Occupy Wall Street veterans gathered in Zuccotti Park to commemorate the six month anniversary of the beginning of the Occupy movement. What followed was a mass of New York police in riot gear with batons marching in to crush the protest. Some protestors left, others sat down or linked arms. The results were extreme even for the New York Police Department (NYPD), which has acquired a reputation for brutality. Reported injuries among the protestors included a broken thumb, a broken jaw and at least one protestor struck repeatedly in the back with a nightstick as he fled the park. Multiple witness accounts claim that officers used their boots to hold protestors’ faces to the ground while handcuffed and awaiting the pre-arranged bus to jail.
One protestor, graduate student Cecily McMillan, was groped from behind by plainclothes officer Grantley Bovell, and allegedly reflexively elbowed him. McMillan stands 5'4” while Bovell is 5'11”. After being held down for over a minute by officers she was dragged from the bus, having an apparent seizure. She was left on the ground for 20 to 30 minutes before Emergency Medical Techinicians were brought or allowed in by police.
McMillan's nightmare did not end there. She was charged with assaulting an officer and now suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The officer had left a hand shaped bruise on her chest that was still visible when the picture below above was taken.
Some activists claimed McMillan's trial was biased. The judge, Ronald Zweibel, disallowed officer Bovell's personnel file to be entered into the court record. Officer Bovell had been the subject of previous accusations of excessive force and had been disciplined during a ticket fixing scandal in the Bronx.
According to the Gothamist, “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 [Manhattan Transit Anuthority] bus. In the case of the motorcyclist, Bovell was disciplined for a procedural infraction, while the department could not substantiate the other claims.”
On April 17, 2014, Judge Zweibel placed the defense under a gag order, forbidding them to speak to the press during the trial. The previous day, the defense had responded to questions asked by the New York Times. Zweibel also banned McMillan's supporters, who attended every open hearing in a large group, from wearing pink paper hands on their chests to symbolize her injuries.
Zweibel did not permit other protestors, who were arrested that night and also alleged to be victims of police brutality, from testifying. Austin Guest, a 33 year old Harvard graduate student, alleges that Bovell used him as a battering ram while on the bus, causing his head to strike every seat on the way to the back while he was carried. Guest and eight others have filed a federal lawsuit because of their treatment by police that night. The jury was not permitted to know the suit had been filed.
On May 5, 2014, with 28 police officers in the court facing the audience, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Judge Zweibel ordered McMillan held without bail pending sentencing on May 19, where she faces a minimum of two and a maximum of seven years in prison. McMillan is now 25 years old and if she receives the maximum sentence she will have spent the majority of her adult life awaiting trial or in prison for being groped and beaten by officers of the New York City Police Department.
The audience began reacted negatively to the jury's verdict and the judge's order that McMillan be held without bail. An additional 22 officers entered the court room from a side door to clear the court. The officers came prepared with multiple sets of plastic handcuffs each suggesting they had been previously prepared to arrest McMillan's supporters. Several of her supporters were carried from the courtroom by police.
McMillan's defense team reacted to the verdict with a published statement that began with “We are devastated by the Jury’s verdict today. It has been clear from day one that Cecily has not received a fair and open trial. The job of a judge during a jury trial isn't to guide the verdict to fit his opinion. Judge Zweibel, who consistently suppressed evidence, has demonstrated his clear bias by consistently siding with the prosecution. In addition to suppressing evidence, he imposed a gag order on Cecily’s lawyers, which is a clear violation of their 1st Amendment Rights, and placed the burden of proof on the defense, not the prosecution. He is rightly known as ‘a prosecutor in robes.’”
An emergency protest was announced for 6pm the same day at Zuccotti Park via Twitter. At the time of this writing, hundreds of supporters had shown up in solidarity. At least one other Solidarity rally was announced in Denver. Protestors in New York listened to the defense team talk about the next steps. Some protestors tweeted “Bring the tents” vowing to re-occupy the park while at press time several dozen had marched on the court building at 100 Center Street in Lower Manhattan.