Longform: Cecily McMillan Faces Prison Time. Where's the Justice in That?

C.S. Muncy
Following the May 5 verdict, McMillan supporters in Zuccotti Park hold up light boards bearing her name.

On March 17, 2012, James McMillan was en route to a St. Patrick's Day celebration in Houston with his wife when his daughter texted him a photo. Cecily was a vision in green: green skirt, green tights, green eyeliner, green nails, green coat .

"Don't you dare get arrested in that outfit," he admonished her over the phone.

The younger McMillan said she had no such plans. St. Patrick's Day was her day off from Occupy Wall Street, her break from the rallying and demonstrating and endless meetings that had dominated the past six months of her life, even after city officials cleared the occupiers from the Lower Manhattan plaza known as Zuccotti Park. By day, she was a graduate student at the New School and a nanny for two families. She and one of her charges, a six-year-old girl, had spent much of the last two weeks shopping for green clothes. A college friend was due in from out of town, and they were planning to paint the town.

The two-month occupation had ended in a police raid the night of November 15, 2011. The occupiers had always known Zuccotti couldn't last forever, and they gamely held marches and rallies elsewhere. But much of the wind had gone out of their sails. By March, their general fund was rapidly drying up, depleted in part by bail payments for arrested members. Nonetheless, a six-month celebration at Zuccotti was planned for March 17.

The mood started out festive, despite a handful of arrests at a morning march around the Financial District. Children and parents drew with sidewalk chalk. Erstwhile occupiers arrived and greeted their old tent neighbors.

As day turned to night, a cadre of police officers watched as activists began unrolling blankets and flattened cardboard boxes: The occupiers were planning a sleepover. At about 11:30, an officer announced through a bullhorn that the park required a midnight cleaning and that everyone would have to go.

By then, McMillan would later testify, she and her friend Lara Wasserman were at Zuccotti, looking to rendezvous with McMillan's friend Jake Stevens and continue their revelry. She recalled a police officer approaching her, saying it was time to leave. She headed out of the park, texting as she walked.

Suddenly she felt a hand grab her right breast from behind. She was pulled backward, then flung forward onto her face.

Then nothing.

McMillan awoke to the sensation of rubber treads pressed against her cheek. (Fellow occupiers' testimony would reveal the rubber as the floor of a city bus police had commandeered for prisoner transport.) Sometime later, she was dimly conscious of being back on the sidewalk with something covering her nose and mouth. (It was an oxygen mask.) When she fully regained consciousness, she was confined to a hospital bed, handcuffed and under arrest. Stevens visited hours later, and she told him she feared her ribs were broken.

Officer Grantley Bovell's recollection did not jibe with McMillan's. Bovell would tell jurors he'd arrived at Zuccotti on the afternoon of March 17 to pull an overtime shift. Soon after the order came to clear the park, he'd noticed a young woman in green screaming at a female officer. He calmed her, put a hand on her shoulder, and began walking her out. When the woman yelled, "Are you filming this?" Bovell testified, he turned to see who she was addressing, whereupon she crouched, leaped, and elbowed him in the eye.

He felt a sharp pain. McMillan tried to run. He grabbed her, she began to fall, and he fell on top of her. For five minutes or more, she rolled around on the sidewalk, refusing to be handcuffed and complaining she couldn't breathe.

"If you can speak to me, you can breathe," Bovell recalled having told her as he escorted her to a holding area.

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