Civil Liberties On Trial In Occupy Wall St. Case

The last trial of Occupy Wall Street protesters opened on Monday, testing the country’s commitment to protecting civil liberties.
By @FrederickReese |
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    Cecily McMillan

    Cecily McMillan

    In New York City, a major test of the nation’s commitment to civil liberties is playing out as Cecily McMillan, 25, a New School student, faces felony charges in a trial that started on Monday. McMillan, the last of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators to face trial, is accused of assaulting a police officer — a charge that carries the possibility of seven years in prison.

    McMillan’s case represents the latest attempt by law enforcement to challenge the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of assembly.

    McMillan is accused of elbowing a police officer in the eye on March 17, 2012, during the six-month anniversary demonstration to mark the date of the original Occupy Wall Street demonstration, which was held on Nov. 15, 2011 and ended when New York City Police raided and destroyed the encampment at Zuccotti Park.

    During a violent clash between the protesters and the police on the anniversary demonstration, McMillan suffered from a seizure and convulsed on the ground for several minutes, possibly as a response to the assault she received. Reactions to her situation — particularly, the NYPD’s lack of action — were videotaped.

    As she was being arrested, McMillan allegedly elbowed Officer Grantley Bovell. McMillan, who does not deny that she did strike the officer, has said she believed that her breasts were being groped and acted instinctively. The beating she received as a result left her with bruised ribs, cuts across her body and discoloration above her breasts and on her arms.

    Bovell’s integrity has been called into question in pre-trial motions. In these motions, he has been accused of kicking a suspect in the face while the suspect was on the ground and slamming an arrestee’s face into the steps of a city bus. In the case of Bovell running a motorcyclist off the road to make an arrest in March 2010, the officer received discipline for a procedural infraction.

    Requests to have the officer’s personnel file brought into evidence in McMillan’s trial were rejected as irrelevant. Jury selection started on Monday, with opening arguments planned for Tuesday.

    “Our clearly enumerated rights are supposed to guarantee our freedom, but in a landscape of extreme inequality – economic, racial and gender inequality – the letter of the law doesn’t always amount to much,” wrote Chase Madar for the Guardian. “Changing this socioeconomic landscape requires mass mobilization – often raucous, often messy, and utterly vital to the health of any real democracy. With this channel of political activity overpoliced to the point of blockage, the result is a positive feedback loop of rising inequality and eroding freedoms.”

    In Chicago, an Illinois state court in February dismissed terrorism charges against the “NATO 3,” who were charged with throwing Molotov cocktails at the NATO summit in 2012.

    The charges against Brian Jacob Church, Brent Betterly and Jared Chase were revealed to be — allegedly — a part of a larger plan to help justify the $40 million the City of Chicago spent on security preparation for the summit. The three were infiltrated by undercover police, who convinced the group to procure and use the incendiaries. The three were arrested, each was held on a $1.5 million bond for 20 months, and they were used as part of a larger scare campaign, in which they allegedly targeted other major sites, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home and the Obama campaign headquarters.

    Meanwhile, in North Carolina and in Georgia, arrests have escalated in the “Moral Monday” protests, with 30 arrested on March 18 in protest of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s refusal to expand Medicaid. These protestors joined the more than 1,000 other protesters who have been met with police opposition and detainment in North Carolina while marching against restrictions on voting access, cuts to aid to the poor and the elimination of low-income tax credits.

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