Pack the New York Courtroom on September 15

Cecily McMillan Faces New Trial for Witnessing Police Abuse

September 8, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


Cecily McMillan was arrested at an Occupy Wall Street protest in March 2012. She was assaulted by the police, but she was charged with felony assault on a police officer. In May 2014, Cecily was found guilty and given 90 days in jail and five years probation. She served 58 days at the Rikers Island jail in New York City. Cecily has since spoken out, exposing the horrific prison conditions there. Because of her outspokenness and continued activism around social justice issues, the powers-that-be continue to target Cecily McMillan for harassment and harsh punishment. (See Revolution Interview: Cecily McMillan on Rikers Island: 'Truly Horrific and Inhumane'.")

Cecily McMillan. Photo: Li Onesto/

Cecily is now facing another trial, set to begin on September 15. A call has gone out for people to pack the courtroom to support Cecily McMillan—to prevent the powers from putting her back behind bars. Here are the basic facts of the case:

On December 7, 2013, Cecily McMillan was on her way home. It was around one o'clock in the morning and she got on the Union Square L subway train in Manhattan. Sometime after sitting down on the train, she noticed two men hassling a young Latino man and a young Latina woman. She didn't understand what was going on, why the two men were being so abusive to these two people. So she spoke up, saying something like, "What's going on?" "Why are you doing this?" Turns out the two men were plainclothes cops.

The two cops arrested the two Latino people and started taking them to the police precinct in the Union Square subway station. Cecily followed along behind, wanting to watch and make sure that the cops didn't further abuse the two people and deny them their rights. Outside the precinct doors, she pulled out her cell phone and started to video to document what was going on.

All this was perfectly legal—Cecily was basically "blowing the whistle" on the cops who were harassing and abusing the two people,and then watching and documenting what was going on in the event that there was further police abuse.

But this was too much for the cops. They arrested Cecily, confiscated her phone (and by at least one report, when she got it back the video had been erased). They charged her with obstructing governmental administration—the prosecution claims in their complaint that Cecily interfered with the cops' ability to do their work concerning giving a ticket to the two people in the subway.

The cops treated Cecily roughly—they clearly did not like the fact that she was observing and questioning the abusive way they were treating the two people on the train. But when they took her in to be booked and found out she was the Occupy Wall Street protester who had been charged with assaulting a police officer in March 2012 (and at the time was scheduled to go to trial for this in the spring), they got even more nasty and they came down on her like a ton of bricks, both in their physically and verbally abusive treatment—and in their determination to give her outrageous charges that could put her back behind bars.

They said things like, "Oh, you must be having anxiety" and then took her glasses off so she couldn't see, which did cause her anxiety. They said, things like, “Oh, you must be having a lot of anxiety, can we take you to Bellevue?” (Bellevue is a public hospital with a famous psychiatric facility.)

The police arrested Cecily and kept her in jail. The two people on the train were ticketed and charged with entering through an exit gate and not paying the fare.

Cecily McMillan is now facing a possible sentence of one year in jail. Obstructing Governmental Administration is a Class A misdemeanor under the New York penal law, which is the maximum exposure in the case, making it eligible for a jury trial. This is extremely harsh and punitive for someone exercising their legal right to observe and attempting to document the police carrying out abusive treatment.

Some of the press coverage of this incident has been full of sensational misinformation, saying that Cecily made "threats to the police" and their families—a blatant and vicious lie. What Cecily was saying to the police—what they found "threatening"—was that she was questioning their abusive treatment of the two people on the train. What they found intolerable was that she was saying things like, "What's going on?" and "Why are you doing this?" and maybe telling the people that they had the right to remain silent—all things that are perfectly legal but that are a threat to the police's freedom to brutalize and abuse the people.

The people cannot allow the system to target, go after, and punish people like this—people who are standing up, exposing the abuses of the system, and trying to document and prevent police harassment and brutality. A call has gone out on Facebook, #PackTheCourts for Cecily McMillan, to pack the courtroom for Cecily McMillan on September 15, 9:30 am, 100 Centre Street, Manhattan, New York.

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