Pussy Riot, New Yorkers and jury oppose the conviction of NYPD assault victim Cecily McMillan

Last week, a jury convicted Cecily McMillan of getting her breast grabbed and bruised by an NYPD officer, getting shoved by the officer and then having the nerve to have a seizure in front of several police officers, who responded by doing absolutely nothing for several minutes (link is to a pdf). The conviction has drawn criticism and outcry. Formerly incarcerated Pussy Riot* members are speaking out on behalf of McMillan, with whom they identify and whom they visited in jail over the weekend. Yesterday, New York residents and elected officials held a protest against McMillan’s conviction. But what is much more surprising, and revealing, is the fact that the very jury which found McMillan guilty is outraged and remorseful. 

Of course, Cecily McMillan, a 25-year-old graduate student and Occupy organizer, wasn’t officially convicted for being assaulted. She was convicted of Second Degree Assault, specifically of intentionally assaulting Police Officer Grantley Bovell in order to “prevent him from performing his lawful duty.” She was convicted despite the existence of overwhelming evidence exculpating McMillan and incriminating the officer: videotape footage of her seizing on the pavement, photographs of a bruise on her breast in the shape of a hand print, and a record of violence on the part of the police officer.

So, how did this happen? As Kathryn Funkhouser explains in her article at The Nation, the case was extremely misrepresented by an overzealous and either dishonest or willfully ignorant prosecutor and the incredibly biased judge. The prosecution claimed that McMillan faked the seizure, inflicted the injury which caused a hand-shaped bruise on her right breast (which seems pretty hard to do), and intentionally elbowed the officer without being provoked. But no claims or evidence relevant to Bovell’s record were allowed. In fact, the Judge, Ronald Zweibel, ordered that the officer’s files be sealed. He excluded, for example, Bovell’s involvement in running a teenage boy on a dirt bike off the road and kicking a suspect in the face while the suspect was lying on the ground. He barred the testimony, or even mention, of Austin Guest, another Occupy protester arrested the same day as McMillan, who said that Bovell and another officer lifted him up and slammed him head-first into each row of seats on a bus which transported prisoners. There were two eyewitnesses to this abuse. But the judge dismissed the claim and blamed the victim, saying (out loud!) “He must have been resisting!” The judge also, conveniently, excluded the majority of the video footage and only allowed a select clip without sound to be played for the jury. In case that wasn’t enough to make the judge’s position clear, Zweibel imposed a gag order on McMillan’s attorneys and refused bail.

On top of being given a very one-sided version of the evidence (their only view of the case since juries aren’t allowed to do independent research), the jury wasn’t told of the draconian sentence — of up to seven years in prison — McMillan was facing. When they found out, they were shocked. Nine out of 12 members of the jury wrote this letter asking for leniency:

We the jury petition the court for leniency in the sentencing of Cecily McMillan. We would ask the court to consider probation with community service. We feel that the felony mark on Cecily’s record is punishment enough for this case and that it serves no purpose to Cecily or to society to incarcerate her for any amount of time.

Zweibel will sentence McMillan on May 19th. But I’m not holding my breath. Neither is McMillan’s legal team, which is already planning an appeal.

 

*This deserves a post in itself. The last time I wrote about Pussy Riot, people commented that Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were no longer part of the collective. Six anonymous members of Pussy Riot did disown the two in an open letter, stating that their institutionalized activism  and “advocacy is hardly compatible with radical political statements and provocative works of art – just as gender conformity is not compatible with radical feminism.” Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, however, maintain that they never left the group, saying, “Pussy Riot can be anyone, and no one can excluded from Pussy Riot… Pussy Riot can only grow.”

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 11.13.50 PM Katie Halper is a writer, filmmaker and comedian.

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