United States: Protests as Occupy activist sentenced to jail over ‘assault’ (PHOTO STORY)

A protester in support of Cecily McMillan outside her sentencing on May 19. Photo by Edward Leavy.

Despite an ongoing outcry by a large group of her supporters, Judge Ronald Zweibel sentenced Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan to 90 days in jail on May 19.

McMillan had been found guilty of assaulting a police officer during the operation to close down an Occupy protest at Zuccotti Park in March 2012. McMillan says she elbowed police officer Grantley Bovell after he grabbed her breast, leaving it bruised.

McMillan was also placed on probation for five years. The sentencing came despite a campaign run by Justice for Cecily and more than 167,000 signatures on an online petition in her support.

McMillan also received support from the president of The New School University David E. Van Zandt and filmmaker Spike Jonze, and was visited in jail by two members of the Russian punk protest group Pussy Riot.

The case also featured an unusual reversal of opinion, with nine of the 12 jurors who found McMillan guilty writing letters to Zweibel expressing remorse for their decision. They cited many facts that were withheld from the jury during the trial.

The jurors urged the judge not to give McMillan a lengthy jail sentence, the maximum of which was seven years.

More than 200 supporters came to court on May 19 in solidarity with McMillan and sat silently as the sentence was handed down. As they left the courtroom, many supporters sang “We Shall Not Be Moved” and chanted “Cecily is innocent.”

McMillan’s lawyer Martin Stolar said they were disappointed by the sentence and would seek to have her felony conviction overturned. Stolar said Zweibel’s conduct should be called into question and that errors in the trial, including missing witnesses, would be raised in an appeal.

New York City Councillor Ydanis Rodriguez spoke emotionally at the press conference after the sentencing, saying: “[McMillan] is not a criminal, and should not be spending one day in jail.”

Rodriguez said protesters were too frequently charged with assault of police officers based on biased judgments.

Bovell has faced several allegations of misconduct, including for his role in a recent ticket-fixing scandal in the Bronx. He has also faced a lawsuit over accusations he injured another protester during the police operation to remove demonstrators from Zuccotti Park.

During the trial, prosecutor Erin Choi said McMillan's account 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”.

However, the defence showed photographs revealing a handprint-shaped bruise on McMillan’s breast and said it was Bovell who should face trial.

McMillan does not deny hitting Officer Bovell, but says it was an involuntary reaction to his assault against her.

In court, McMillan maintained her innocence, saying: “I cannot confess to a crime that I did not commit [but the] law of love requires me to acknowledge the unintentional harm I caused another. For this accident, I am truly sorry.”

When McMillan was found guilty on May 5, supporters who filled the court room shouted “Shame! Shame!”. Amid scenes of chaos, McMillan was ordered to be held in Rikers Island jail pending sentencing without bail.

On May 19, Zweibel accepted recommendation of leniency and McMillan was returned to Rikers Island in handcuffs to serve the remainder of her sentence. The judge told the court: “A civilized society must not allow an assault to be permitted under the guise of civil disobedience.”

McMillan’s supporters were relieved that the sentence was not more severe, but insist the fight for freedom of speech continues in what appears to be a war on protesters. The struggle for democratic rights will continue — with McMillan set to rejoin the peaceful fight when she is released.

Photos below by Edward Leavy are from the sentencing of McMillan on May 19 and protests at the court by her supporters. See more of Leavy's photos here.

Above: Cecily McMillan with her lawyer Martin Stolar.

McMillan and Stolar face supporters.

A supporter embraces McMillan.

Above and below: Supporters of McMillan ejeted from the court tom during her sentencing.