On the night of March 17, 2012, Cecily McMillan was arrested at Zuccotti Park. It was the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street and though she'd joined the protestors before, that night she was there to meet up with friends on the way to a St. Patrick's Day celebration at a local bar. Police forces swept in to clear the park, and chaos erupted as many protestors attempted to hold their ground and others went limp, officers dragging them toward the police buses. During this raid, McMillan was grabbed from behind on her right breast hard enough to leave a large handprint bruise, which was later photographed by her doctor. She lunged back, elbowing the assailant — Officer Grantley Bovell — in the face.
While McMillan and her supporters expected Bovell to be charged with assault, it was the officer who brought charges against Cecily. Bovell claims she purposefully jumped up and backward to elbow him in the eye as he attempted to escort her out of the park. McMillan now faces a felony charge and up to seven years in prison.
The trial proceedings began last Monday, after weeks of a laborious jury selection. As with all the Occupy Wall Street trials, it's proven difficult to find prospective jurors who don't have a strong opinion one way or another on the movement that dominated local and national news for months. McMillan's friends and supporters gather daily outside the court, all eager to speak on her behalf to press or passersby. But, inside the courtroom, the outcome remains entirely uncertain.
While no one denies both parties were injured, the details of intent are entirely unclear. McMillan claims her elbow was an instinctive response to being grabbed so roughly from behind. Bovell maintains it was a conscious attack, that she crouched down and leapt up and back on purpose. After this initial incident, McMillan claims she was thrown to the ground and hit, causing a seizure moments later. Bovell asserts she wasn't thrown, but that he fell on top of her, and her subsequent seizure was fake.
Supporting both sides are myriad videos documenting the raid of Zuccotti Park, each catching moments of the events alleged by McMillan and Bovell in loud, pixelated fragments. We see hoards of police officers herding protestors toward a bus, both parties' heads popping in and out of frame. In far more graphic detail, we see Cecily seizing in the street, surrounded by police officers who appear, if not necessarily negligent, then unsure of how to handle the situation. Medics arrive eventually, but the screams of outrage and demand by both police and protestors continue at an ear-splitting pitch.
Occupy Wall Street yielded hundreds of trials, and yet this one has gained media attention like no other. Why is that? Perhaps it is the graphic photographs released by McMillan days after her arrest featuring the injuries she sustained. One of the photos, taken by a physician, which shows the bruise on her breast, can be seen on the next page. (It is safe for work, but may be triggering.) It may also be due to all the aforementioned video evidence and the alarming tableau it presents. Much has also been made of both McMillan and Bovell's histories: She as an outspoken pacifist and he having been charged with police misconduct before.
In the middle of all these chaotic shouts of support and demands for justice are two people deserving of a fair trial. But, in the aftermath of such a historic and controversial movement, one that engaged and exhausted public opinion in equal measure, the truth may be lost in a much bigger, more complicated story.
Cecily McMillan's doctor at The Institute of Family Health took this photo days after her arrest. McMillan chose to release it to the public shortly thereafter:
Photo: Courtesy of Justice For Cecily.