by Jason Schulman
Cecily McMillan has been released from prison, but the American justice system has not yet allowed her to be truly free.
An activist in Occupy Wall Street and a member of Democratic Socialists of America, a working class native of rural Texas and a socialist-pacifist in the tradition of the young Bayard Rustin, Cecily was wrongfully convicted on May 5 of felony assault of police officer Grantley Bovell, who both assaulted her and brutalized other OWS protesters the night of March 17, 2012. Judge Ronald Zweibel prohibited key pieces of evidence from the defense. It originally appeared that Cecily would be sentenced to two-to-seven years in Rikers Island. Undoubtedly due to international outcry at the obvious injustice of her trial—even nine of the 12 jurors signed an appeal to the judge asking that she be given no further jail time—Cecily was sentenced on May 19 to a 90-day sentence and five years of probation.
While in Rikers, Cecily participated in what she called “collective action to fight for right to recreation. Corrections Officers routinely schedule meals, medication, mail, and recreation at the exact same time, thereby preventing inmates from having their daily recreation and receiving mail.” Cecily herself was forced to wait nearly three weeks before receiving a necessary prescription medication, then was denied it for two days, given it for two days, and then denied it again. As she says in an interview with jezebel.com—referring to the avoidable death of an inmate with liver cancer and Hepatitis C, among other horrors—“It's not like anyone in here expects to be treated like a human being…My biggest surprise is that more people do not die in here…”
After serving 58 days in prison, Cecily was released on July 2. That day she spoke publicly at a 1pm press conference outside the Rikers Island Gates in Queens. A transcript of her statement can be found at justiceforcecily.com. It is not about her in particular, but about the suffering of her inmates. “I am inspired by the resilient community I have encountered in a system that is stacked against us,” she says. Despite the five years of probation hanging over her head, and despite the fact that she still faces another trial over another incident in which she supposedly interfered with an arrest in December 2013, she states: “The court sent me here to frighten me and others into silencing our dissent, but I am proud to walk out saying that the 99% is, in fact, stronger than ever. We will continue to fight until we gain all the rights we deserve as citizens.” Her statement includes a number of demands for prison reform that she formulated with other women in Rikers.
(As reported by the Huffington Post, Rikers has lately been shaken by allegations that Correctional Officers were smuggling drugs and weapons to inmates, with at least 12 facing charges. The prison has also been hit by violence resulting from a lack of psychiatric beds and the deaths of two mentally ill inmates, one of whom was an ex-marine who “baked to death” in his cell.)
Cecily hopes to be allowed to move to Atlanta, Georgia and work as a community organizer. We in DSA remain in solidarity with our comrade and hope to continue working with her against the manifold injustices of American capitalist society—including its palpably unjust “justice” system.
See the statement issued by DSA’s National Political Committee as Cecily awaited trial in March 2014.
Jason Schulman teaches political science at Lehman College in the Bronx. He is a member of New York City DSA and is the editor of Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
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