Over one weekend in March 2012, police arrested more than 70 Occupy Wall Street activists in a violent altercation in New York City’s Zuccotti Park. Among those arrested was then 23-year-old graduate student Cecily McMillan, who suffered a seizure while allegedly being beaten unconscious by police. On Monday, McMillan will go to court to face up to seven years in prison over felony charges that she assaulted a police officer with her elbow.
McMillan and her lawyer say the violence began with an officer grabbing her breast from behind, making her swing her elbow back to hit the person groping her. Soon after her arrest, McMillan showed hand-shaped bruises on her chest and arms in an interview with Democracy Now. She also said her ribs were bruised. Video footage of the arrest show McMillan writhing in an apparent seizure with her hands cuffed, and bystanders said they heard her screaming for police to call an ambulance.
While McMillan’s claims of assault have not yet been proven in court, the New York Police Department’s use of force during Occupy Wall Street has been a contentious topic. A report conducted by clinics at NYU law school and Fordham law school tallied 130 serious cases in which police struck, punched, dragged, pepper-sprayed, or kicked protesters between September 2011 and July 2012.
Nor is McMillan the only alleged victim to face charges of assaulting an officer. Police often justify brutality by reporting that a victim “lunged” at them, resisted arrest, or was generally engaging in disorderly conduct. At least two other people convicted of violence against police were exonerated last year after recordings proved they were in fact the victims, not the perpetrators. Another spent a year in jail on charges for aggravated battery of an officer, before multiple eyewitness accounts confirmed that the officer beat and punched him while he was in the back of a police car.
McMillan is apparently hoping her high-profile case shines a light on the brutality epidemic overall. “I will say that the violence I experienced that night is nothing compared to the violence that many communities experience…I’m glad that my experience could bring police violence to the forefront, but we have to think about it beyond protesters and Occupy Wall Street and we need to recognize that this is one event in a series for Occupy Wall Street, while there are whole communities that have had this as their reality for years,” she said in an interview with the New School Free Press.