There’s No Sense in Prison
Released from Rikers prison after serving 58 days, Occupy activist Cecily McMillan discusses prisons, policing and why she’ll keep protesting.
Cecily McMillan would rather not be famous. Not for the dubious honor of receiving the most serious sentence among thousands of Occupy Wall Street activists arrested over the course of the movement.
McMillan was released from Rikers Island after 58 days. She’d been sentenced to 90 days for felony second-degree assault for elbowing a police officer, Grantley Bovell, who was attempting to arrest her as Zuccotti Park was cleared on March 17, 2012, but got out early on July 2 for good behavior. She still faces five years of probation and a life with a felony record if her appeal, which is still going forward, is unsuccessful.
At trial, McMillan argued that she accidentally struck the officer after he grabbed her breast, bruising her. She’d previously refused to take a plea deal that would still have resulted in her pleading guilty to a felony. The jury found her guilty – though later nine of the 12 jurors issued a call for leniency in sentencing.
Video of McMillan suffering an apparent seizure after her arrest, while officers looked on and did nothing, was not allowed at trial, nor was evidence of other accusations of brutality against Officer Bovell. Despite the jurors and several members of the New York City Council calling for McMillan not to serve prison time, the judge, Ronald Zweibel, remanded her to Rikers immediately after her conviction, rejecting her lawyer’s request for bail. “A civilized society must not allow an assault to be committed under the guise of civil disobedience,” Zweibel said at her sentencing.
Upon her release, McMillan brought to the press a statement from the women of Rikers that she met while inside, with a list of demands for reforms of the institution. Though, she says, she is nobody special – “I’m just not as interesting as they’re making me out to be” – her experiences have made her determined to speak out about prison conditions, as well as the connections between the prison system and the economic justice issues that led her to get involved with Occupy in the first place.
McMillan spoke with Truthout‘s Sarah Jaffe about prisons, protests, policing and the world she’d like to see. This is a link to an edited transcript.