NEW YORK — A New York City judge sentenced Occupy Wall Street protester Cecily McMillan on Monday to three months in jail and five years of probation for elbowing a police officer while he was clearing out a protest in Zuccotti Park.
Judge Ronald Zweibel’s decision comes at the end of a trial that sparked widespread anger among Occupy supporters for the circumstances under which McMillan was convicted of second-degree assault. They said McMillan, a graduate student who’s now 25 years old, was simply reacting to an unknown hand grabbing her breast while visiting a March 2012 protest. Officer Grantley Bovell, not McMillan, they said, should have been on trial.
But Zweibel — who was nearly obscured by a phalanx of more than 50 court officers, ringing the courtroom in apparent anticipation of protests — seemed unmoved.
“A civilized society must not allow an assault to be permitted under the guise of civil disobedience,” he said. “The jury rejected the defendant’s version of events.”
McMillan wore a bright pink dress when she entered Zweibel’s Manhattan courtroom. After her lawyer noted the many expressions of support for leniency — including a letter from the president and provost of the New School, where she is a graduate student — she struck a defiant note.
“Whether personal or political, violence is not permitted. This being a law that I live by, I can say with certainty that I am innocent of the crime I have been convicted of,” McMillan said. “I cannot confess to a crime that I did not commit. I cannot throw away my dignity in return for my freedom.”
McMillan’s dignity was a note that many of her supporters discussed both before and after the sentencing. They claimed Bovell’s alleged grab was tantamount to sexual assault. Many focused on a picture of McMillan taken after her arrest that shows a large bruise on her right breast.
During the trial, prosecutor Erin Choi said McMillan’s description of Bovell’s action was “so utterly ridiculous and unbelievable that she might as well have said that aliens came down that night and assaulted her.”
Assistant District Attorney Shanda Strain echoed that statement on Monday, telling Zweibel before his sentence that McMillan’s testimony about having her breast grabbed was “perjury” and “a fabrication clearly designed to manipulate the system and once again to assault Officer Bovell, although this time to assault his character.”
But the contentious debate over the charged issue of whether McMillan’s breast was grabbed seems unlikely to go away, even after the sentencing. The alleged assault by the officer was a rallying cry for McMillan’s supporters ahead of Monday’s proceedings.
One, Melanie Poole, arrived to court wearing a green button that simply said “Cecily.” Poole said Choi used “every one of the most horrific kinds of misogyny and rape myths.”
Focusing specifically on the picture, she said Choi’s description of it as a fake showed the “total absurdity of the prosecution’s closing argument that this woman could beat up her own body, put a hand on her own breast.”
But like many of McMillan’s supporters, she seemed relieved that McMillan’s sentence was much less than the seven years maximum she faced.
Still, she added, “an innocent woman is still going to spend three months in jail … the message that this sends to protesters is very powerful. It will have its intended chilling effect.” …