The first time I heard about Cecily McMillan’s trial I couldn’t make sense of it.
“You’re telling me,” I quizzed my classmate, “that Cecily was sexually assaulted by a police officer, but now she is the one being prosecuted? That she’s facing seven years in prison because she instinctively lifted her arm to protect herself?!”
“Yes,” said my classmate, “that’s exactly what I’m telling you.”
In 2012, Cecily attended an Occupy Wall St protest. When this legal demonstration was brutally disrupted by police, a policeman grabbed Cecily’s breast from behind as he tried to push her from the space. This is a tactic that many NYPD officers began using during Occupy demonstrations in order to intimidate female protestors. A number of women protestors have since sued.
I began showing up at the New York City Criminal Court to watch the trial.
It was there that I first saw Cecily: an intelligent, gently spoken, petite 25-year-old. Cecily is a Masters student and union organiser, with a record as a committed anti-violence advocate. Over 50 of Cecily’s friends packed the courtroom daily. They described a person who is warm and generous, serious and principled, courageous and fiercely loved.
When Cecily was grabbed from behind, her arm flew up in instinctive self-defense, hitting her attacker in the eye. In response, a pack of other NYPD police tackled this tiny woman to the ground, beating and kicking her until she lapsed into a 7 minute seizure. She was then arrested and thrown into a cell with other protestors, where she passed out repeatedly.