The last prosecution from the Occupy movement: guilty! Reformers beware – suppression works.

Summary: As the last prosecution concludes from the Occupy Wall Street movement, now we can draw up lessons learned from OWS. Valuable lessons that must be learned to give a reform movement any chance of success. But first we look at the instructive case of Cecily McMillan, newly found guilty of assaulting a police officer as a protest was crushed (a show trial to discourage other protestors). Tomorrow we discuss lessons.

Army attack camp of the Bonus Marchers
Attack on the Bonus Army, July 1932


  1. About the incident
  2. Casual police brutality
  3. Justice for Cecily
  4. Conclusions
  5. For More Information

(1)  About the incident

It’s a pattern in America. Banks almost break America with their reckless and fraudulent actions. Only one small fry prosecuted. Massive police violence suppressing the Occupy movements; almost only the protestors prosecuted. It’s the two tiered justice system.

(a) The Outrageous Trial of Cecily McMillan“, Michelle Goldberg, The Nation, 14 April 2014

Two years ago, a young activist named Cecily McMillan attended a protest at Zuccotti Park marking the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. When police moved in to clear the demonstrators, a cop roughly grabbed her breast — photos show an ugly bruise — and she ended up being injured so badly that she had a seizure and ended up in the hospital. In a just world, she would be getting restitution from the City. Instead, in a grotesque act of prosecutorial overreach, she’s currently on trial for assault and facing up to seven years in prison.

According to prosecutors, McMillan, now 25, intentionally attacked her arresting officer, Grantley Bovel, by elbowing him in the face, and was then hurt when he tried to subdue her. She says that she instinctively struck out when she felt his hand on her breast, not knowing that he was a cop, and was then further assaulted.

Her story is more convincing for a number of reasons. McMillan, a veteran of the anti–Scott Walker protests in Wisconsin, was a dedicated pacifist; in Dissent, her masters thesis adviser Maurice Isserman writes about the “many and long discussions Cecily and I have had about nonviolence.” Her injuries, which you can see in this Democracy Now! piece, are indisputable, particularly the hand-shaped bruise on her right breast.

(b) NYPD officer embroiled in assault trial sued by another Occupy campaigner“, The Guardian, 4 April 2014

A New York police officer whose allegation of assault against an Occupy Wall Street activist could send her to prison for seven years is being sued by another Occupy campaigner, who alleges that the officer injured him on the same day. … {he} has faced several previous allegations of wrongdoing …

(c)  A charmingly naive but vivid account of the story: “The Silencing Of Cecily McMillan“, Kathryn Funkhouser, The Toast, 14 April 2014 — Also includes the videos of the incident.

(d) Woman Found Guilty of Assaulting Officer at an Occupy Wall Street Protest“, New York Times, 5 May 2014

Occupy Wall Street
Saving the nation one unicorn at a time

A trial that had become a rallying point for many Occupy Wall Street activists ended on Monday with a jury finding a protester guilty of assaulting a police officer at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan in 2012.

A jury of 8 women and 4 men took less than three hours to decide that the protester, Cecily McMillan, 25, was responsible for assaulting the officer, rejecting her contention that she had reacted instinctively when he grabbed her breast during a protest on St. Patrick’s Day. Ms. McMillan had said she could not distinctly recall what happened amid the chaos of the night.

… Mr. Vance obtained indictments against seven Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011 and 2012 on charges of assaulting police officers. Two pleaded guilty to that charge, one woman was acquitted and three were allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges.

(2)  Casual police brutality, not even news in the New America

(a) Scores Arrested as the Police Clear Zuccotti Park“, blog of the New York Times. 17 March 2012 — One special note:

Paul Moore, 25, said that he was videotaping the encounter when the captain asked him for identification and began pushing him away, telling him he was not permitted to document what was happening.

(b)  Strongly recommend reading:New Police Strategy in New York – Sexual Assault Against Peaceful Protestors“, David Graeber (Reader in Anthropology, U London), Naked Capitalism 3 May 2012

(c) Cecily McMillan’s guilty verdict reveals our mass acceptance of police violence“, The Guardian, 5 May 2014

That hyper-selective retelling of events mirrors the popular narrative of Occupy Wall Street – and how one woman may serve seven years while the NYPD goes free.

… When the police moved in to the park that night, in formation and with batons, to arrest a massive number of nonviolent protesters, the chaos was terrifying. Bovell claimed that McMillan elbowed him in the face as he attempted to arrest her, and McMillan and her defense team claim that Bovell grabbed her right breast from behind, causing her to instinctively react.

But the jury didn’t hear anything about the police violence that took place in Zuccotti Park that night. They didn’t hear about what happened there on November 15, 2011, when the park was first cleared. The violence experienced by Occupy protesters throughout its entirety was excluded from the courtroom. The narrative that the jury did hear was tightly controlled by what the judge allowed – and Judge Ronald Zweibel consistently ruled that any larger context of what was happening around McMillan at the time of the arrest (let alone Bovell’s own history of violence) was irrelevant to the scope of the trial.

In the trial, physical evidence was considered suspect but the testimony of the police was cast as infallible. Despite photographs of her bruised body, including her right breast, the prosecution cast doubt upon McMillan’s allegations of being injured by the police – all while Officer Bovell repeatedly identified the wrong eye when testifying as to how McMillan injured him. And not only was Officer Bovell’s documented history of violent behavior deemed irrelevant by the judge, but so were the allegations of his violent behavior that very same night.

To the jury, the hundreds of police batons, helmets, fists, and flex cuffs out on March 17 were invisible – rendering McMillan’s elbow the most powerful weapon on display in Zuccotti that night, at least insofar as the jury was concerned.

That hyper-selective retelling of events to the jury mirrored the broader popular narrative of OWS. The breathtaking violence displayed by the NYPD throughout Occupy Wall Street has not only been normalized, but entirely justified – so much so that it doesn’t even bear mentioning.

After the police cleared the park that night, many of the remaining protesters went on a spontaneous march, during which a group of officers slammed a street medic’s head into a glass door so hard the glass splintered. It is the only instance of which I know throughout New York City’s Occupy movement where a window was broken.

Still, it is the protesters who are remembered as destructive and chaotic. It is Cecily McMillan who went on trial for assault but not Bovell or any of his colleagues – despite the thousands of photographs and videos providing irrefutable evidence that protesters, journalists and legal observers alike were shoved, punched, kicked, tackled, and beaten over the head. That mindset was on display during the jury selection process at McMillan’s trial, when juror after juror had to be dismissed because of outright bias against the Occupy movement and any of its participants.

(3) Justice for Cecily

Here is the website for her defense team, taking donations: Justice for Cecily.

(4)  Conclusions

It’s a pattern, a defining one for New America. Massive numbers of heavily armed police, aggressively deployed to suppress demonstrations (preceded by extensive police infiltration, often with agents provocateur). Police brutality to discourage future protests. Followed by show trials to establish that the protestors started the violence.

Especially notice the pre-emptive nature. Police regard protestors of all kinds as potential criminals, against which they array massive forces — often with physical barriers to segregate the contagion.

These measures work because the State has the moral high ground. The public — consumers watching TV — nod while journalists repeat as gospel what officials say. A large fraction of the public grins with vicarious pleasure at videos of police cracking heads (bash those hippies).

The Occupy protests have clear lessons for reform movements. The nature of the Left makes it unlikely these will be learned (there are only embers of interest in reform on the Right).

(5)  For More Information

(a) Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street“, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, NY School of Law, 25 August 2012 — 130 documented incidents of excessive or unnecessary physical force by the New York Police Department.

(b)  All posts about Reforming America: steps to political change

(c)  Posts about the Occupy Wall Street Movement:

  1. Occupy Wall Street, another futile peasants’ protest, 5 October 2011
  2. How do protests like the TP and OWS differ from effective political action?, 26 October 2011
  3. Occupy & Tea Party are alike, both saving America through cosplay, 18 October 2013

18 thoughts on “The last prosecution from the Occupy movement: guilty! Reformers beware – suppression works.”

  1. Police brutality has increased at an alarming rate through out the country. There seems to be more of a military mentality backed by our gov. Also perhaps the police are starting to feel the heat of more people waking up to our liberties being eroded. Police also need to undergo a more thorough background check and mental health check to weed out these thugs and head cases we’re getting. I realize there are some very good cops who really do ” serve and protect ” but the ones that don’t are out of control and don’t get the same justice as the rest of us.

    1. “the police are starting to feel the heat of more people waking up to our liberties being eroded.”

      Conversely, we can also state that the police is starting to feel emboldened against people weakening because of their liberties being eroded.

    2. “Police also need to undergo a more thorough background check and mental health check to weed out these thugs and head cases we’re getting.”

      The San Diego Police Department is one of the few police agencies in the United States that seems to do a genuinely good job and be sincere about background investigations and internal affairs probes of bad cops.

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  3. The McMillan trial was obviously tainted by serious irregularities, including prejudice by the trial judge, so I’m cautiously optimistic that an appellate court (either state or federal) will order a new trial. The case is probably only in its early stages, with the subsequent stages to be played out in coming months and years; appellate courts are rarely expeditious. And I expect that McMillan will be represented by top-notch appellate counsel. So far, things look bad, but no one will really know the extent of the rot in the courts with jurisdiction in this case until appeals have been exhausted.

    As far as public outrage over police brutality is concerned, I’m impressed by the turnout at recent city council meetings in Fullerton, CA and Albuquerque. These people weren’t just venting on Twitter; they were publicly confronting elected officials en masse. In Fullerton, the response to the fatal police beating of Kelly Thomas included the ouster of three city councilors in a recall election and the trial of two police officers for murder. (They were acquitted by a jury.) It’s spotty reform, to be sure, but it’s better than nothing.

  4. Anthony Caudill

    If you ask me, big city police today are naught more than knights in the medieval mode, serving the makeshift aristocracy of corporate wealth.

  5. publiusmaximus

    Thanks for the great analysis – it just gives me more motivation as we seek to emigrate from this grotesque nation.

    1. Publius,

      ” it just gives me more motivation as we seek to emigrate from this grotesque nation.”

      That’s a fail for my post, which has the opposite intent. But perhaps a good thing for America. It’s an idea, and people unwilling to fight for it are passengers. Deadweight. Deadwood.

    2. FM, a sober look at what is suggested here is in order. It is too easy to look down upon people considering emigration for political reasons and write them off with a blanket “deadwood” qualifier.

      Look at what happened to John Kiriakou. He lost his job, raked lots of legal fees, and now his wife and children are in dire straights while he stays in jail. Peter van Buren was reduced to a poverty job at Walmart — which did not pay enough for his and his wife’s living.

      Spouse and children are at risk of paying dearly the consequences of one’s political activities. They are also easy targets for blackmailing, harassment and all kinds of payback from the powers that be. Because that is exactly what authoritarian States do.

      If one does not want to compromise one’s beliefs and seeks to avoid one’s family feeling the full brunt of the State’s wrath, then emigration is a perfectly valid issue.

      And in particular, given what happened in the last decade: if you intend to blow a whistle, with or without a family, get the hell out of the USA first.

      1. Guest,

        That looks like argument by exception. From the limited data I have seen, the emigrants look not even remotely like that.

        Wait, are those even exceptions? Are any of those people emigrating? Or is this argument by making stuff up?

    3. “Or is this argument by making stuff up?”

      I knew people from former Southern European and Eastern European authoritarian regimes who had been in that situation. Emigrated, as remaining in their country meant them staying in jail, in disciplinary battalions, or at best in a limbo, and their family having to fend for themselves encumbered by a nasty police dossier popping up at every opportunity.

      Just do not dismiss this argument out of hand; given how things evolve, I suspect it is a matter of time before it becomes significant in the USA as well.

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