06 May Justice for Cecily?
Cecily McMillan, a 25-year-old organizer, and has been politically active for over a decade — most notably in the Democratic Socialists for America, the anti-Scott Walker mobilization, and Occupy Wall Street. However, on March 17, 2012, Cecily’s attendance at Zuccotti was a point of party, not protest. It was St. Patrick’s Day and as a McMillan, she vowed for this one occasion to put down the bullhorn and pick up the beer. Cecily swung by the park to pick up a friend on her way to a nearby pub. Minutes later, she was sexually assaulted while attempting to leave Zuccotti in compliance with police evacuation orders. Seized from behind, she was forcefully grabbed by the breast and ripped backwards. Cecily startled and her arm involuntarily flew backward into the temple of her attacker, who promptly flung her to the ground, where others repeatedly kicked and beat her into a string of seizures. In a world that makes sense, Cecily’s attacker would be brought to trial — but unfortunately, her attacker turned out to be a police officer. To add insult to injury, Cecily is being accused of Felony Assault of a Police Officer, a charge that carries up to seven years imprisonment. Two years later, the trauma continues as the constant string of court dates have all but reduced her life to trial and the hope for vindication. This website is dedicated to making sure Cecily gets the justice she deserves.
The above paragraph comes form the website justiceforcecily.com. I only heard about Cecily in the last few weeks as friends involved with Occupy began posting about her trial. Yesterday she was convicted of felony assault and is being held in jail without bail while she awaits sentencing. She faces a mandatory sentence of between 2 and 7 years for assaulting a police officer.
I wasn’t at Zuccotti Park on March 17, 2012. However,I have been at a number of protests over the last 15 years. I’ve seen an increasingly brazen militarization of the police. This increased domestic police force isn’t aimed at terrorism per se, but instead towards those that question the goals and actions of the political and business elite.
I am not a professional protestor nor a committed activist, but I am an observer. I don’t trust the press to accurately represent what’s going on at protests so I often go to document them myself.
In 1999, while making a documentary about a punk rock publisher’s attempt to re-publish a discredited bio of GW Bush I attended the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. There were a lot of cops, and there were even preemptive arrests and attempts made to infiltrate the potential protest organizations before the event. However, the protests that we filmed were peaceful and the police seemed like, police, not a military organization. By the time the inauguration rolled around, the police presence was more profound. The last day of shooting on that film was Sept 10, 2001. The next day the world changed dramatically, and having made a film that was on the surface, seemingly critical of the administration, we had a difficult time.
A year after we finished the film, it became once again possible to raise questions about the government. The film got short listed for the Oscar so sent out a dozen VHS tapes to publicists (this was 2002 and we still used VHS). Almost all of them received the tapes in plastic bags with a note saying that they had been opened and searched by the FBI. Needless to say they weren’t jumping up and down to represent our film.
By the time the Republicans came to NY for their convention in 2004, the militarization of the police was in full swing. Along with several partners I worked on a documentary about the convention, focusing on a journalist, a candidate, and a housing rights activist. As the convention came closer there were many news stories that profiled build up of weaponry like tanks. One of our characters, Michelle Goldberg asked a radio interviewer, “Do they expect Al Queda to come marching down the street?” If the weapons weren’t aimed at terrorists, who were they aimed at? It seems that they were aimed at those who might dissent. In addition to trying to infiltrate possible protest groups, the police staged mass pre-emptive arrests, rounding up hundreds of people at a time and shipping them off to vast holding cells.
People began to trickle out of jail as the convention came to a close. This pattern repeated itself in even more extreme forms at the convention in 2008. When Occupy began in lower Manhattan in the fall of 2011 there was some police pushback during the first week of the occupation, but the real police brutality hit after the first week when officers maced a woman in the face without provocation. This brought a good deal of attention to the movement and more people began to show up. The press was slow on the uptake though. The following day I documented 200 plus press people listen in as a developer and Jay Z announced a new name for basketball team that they were moving to Brooklyn. We had made a documentary about the fight against the arena. The police weren’t brutal in that fight. They didn’t need to be, because the developer and the government skillfully pitted people against each other.
On Sept 26th I went down and shot photos of the people and their signs. I wanted to get a sense of what was going on. The following Saturday I filmed for the first time, arriving after the cops had trapped 700 people on the Brooklyn Bridge and begun arresting them. I knew people who were making short films that were advocacy oriented. I wanted to contribute to the information flow but I also wanted the pieces to be observational rather than argumentative.
The next day I went down to the park to film, asking people why they were at Occupy. At that point, as long as people stayed in Zuccotti Park they felt somewhat safe. However, if they moved their protest off site there was often conflict. The police presence, and government unease began to grow.
I then filmed on Oct 13th and 14th as the protesters prepared for eviction. There were so many people, and so much media attention that eventually the police backed down. However, they came in with brutal force a month later, on Nov 15th. We filmed later that day as people tried to get back into the park, and eventually made a film called “month one”, which focused on the first month of Occupy. We made a limited follow up called “2 Months”.
I then came back on the anniversary of Occupy, Sept 17, 2012. I stayed on the periphery and made a piece which speaks to the “Normalization of Force”. There was a massive show of force, and people went on with their lives.
Everyday I see new posts on facebook about obscene abuses of power by the police. When Cecily went down to Zuccotti park the evening of March 17th she had no intention of protesting. I believe the story that she swung back instinctively after a cop grabbed her breast causing her great pain. I have seen way too many examples of police overreactions, abuse, and militarization to trust the process that put her in jail. The idea that she would get seven years in jail for this “felony offense” should give us all pause. This isn’t about a violent criminal being punished for premeditated crime. This is about the criminalization of dissent. We should all be very scared. The point is, we are overwhelmed by the media that we see, and even if the NY Times is not the “mouthpiece of the police”, there is a symbiotic relationship between mainstream media and those in power that affects the narrative that people see.
Unless you go down to an even yourself its almost impossible to gauge what’s really going on. I have provided all of these clips because I want to share with people what it felt like from my point of view.
This is not to say that all cops are evil. In fact, there were some moments of lightness in all the dark.