The recent trial, conviction, and sentencing of Cecily McMillan in New York is emblematic of something that has been going on in this country for a very long time but which has reached a kind of tragic climax.
Permission has been granted to "authority" -- no matter who -- to attack those without acknowledged power and authority at will with nearly complete impunity.
As I say, this has been going on for a very long time, but almost always with a proviso: police and those with power could do pretty much what they wanted to certain categories of people without power (young, brown and black men in particular, but by no means just them), but they couldn't go beyond those categories without facing consequences. A DA, judge or jury might not throw the book at them for assault, battery, murder, mayhem or what have you when they beat up or killed a mouthy white woman or a high-powered white business executive (as examples), but they might face "discipline," and that could amount to a sternly worded rebuke from higher up all the way to firing or even (very rarely) jail time.
For the most part, police know what they can get away with, and in New York, especially during the Occupy Wall Street period, they knew they could get away with just about anything short of gunplay, when it came to suppression of the movement. No, NYPD was not allowed to shoot down Occupy demonstrators in the streets and parks when they went marching or occupying encampments. Also, the NYPD rarely (or never?) appeared in standard issue Robocop/riot gear when confronting Occupy demonstrators. They mostly wore their regular uniforms. Some of the police infiltrators, of course, wore civilian clothes, trying to blend in with the motley crowds, but infiltrators were often easy to spot because they were so roided up and aggressive. Hello?
When it came to suppression of Occupy NYPD were often outrageous, brutal, deliberately cruel, and yet so very, very delicate. Touch a cop, and quite often demonstrators would wind up beaten bloody and trussed up like Thanksgiving turkeys before being hauled off in the wagon for whatever "processing" was thought necessary.
Cecily McMillan got caught up in that matrix on St. Patrick's Day, 2012, when she went down to Zuccotti Park/Liberty Square to meet some friends to go out for the evening. Well, yes, it was St. Patrick's Day, and there were celebratory festivities down at the Square for the six month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. A large and boisterous crowd had gathered at the park (soon to be outnumbered by police), and many were having a good time canoodling and reminiscing over past triumphs and failures. It was a party.
A decision was made to clear the park for its ritual "cleansing," and notice was given. Of course it was ignored, as was often the case during the Occupy Wall Street hey-day. Officers were then delegated to start removing people one by one, and they were authorized to arrest people who resisted.
Cecily says she was approached from behind by a strange man who did not identify himself who told her she had to leave. She ignored him. He was insistent. Rather than debate the matter, she decided to leave on her own volition, and as she was doing so, the unidentified stranger who was walking behind her grabbed her right breast and squeezed it hard. She reacted, she said, instinctively, by elbowing the man, who then tackled her and beat her and trussed her up with zip-ties. He was a cop. She had no idea.
Injured, apparently with a cracked rib and many bruises, she was hauled off to a holding area by a bus, where others who had been arrested were awaiting transport for "processing." She tried to escape the holding area, though she was still in zip-ties. She was re-captured and thrown down to the ground hard. She was in a great deal of pain and barely conscious by this point. After a while, arrestees started calling for medics -- they thought she had a broken rib and was in extreme distress. Their calls were ignored.
Soon, she was grabbed from the group and roughly hauled to the bus where she began to have a seizure. Then she was apparently thrown off the bus, falling hard on the street, and left in a seizure condition in the street for some minutes before being carried to the sidewalk -- so as to clear a path for traffic. She was left without any kind of medical attention for what I understand was sixteen minutes, while police hovered about chatting. EMTs in the crowd offered to help. They were ignored. People hurled invective at the police for their disinterest and neglect. Cops saw their main job as crowd control and taking those who had been arrested to jail.
Eventually, the fire department medics arrived and began treating Cecily. As far as I could tell, watching on livestream and later videos, she wasn't having a seizure as such, she was hyperventilating due to the injury to her rib, and the rough treatment and neglect she'd suffered had badly aggravated her condition.
After some time with the fire department medics, she was transported to the hospital where her numerous injuries were assessed and treated. She was released. Quite a while later, she was charged with assault on a police officer, a great surprise to her.
Thus her trial, conviction, and sentencing as the "last Occupy protester" to face judgement in the courts.
That's the story as I understand it, and in the retelling, it doesn't seem all that bad, given some of the other horrors that went on during the Occupy Wall Street suppression, and it is hardly worth mentioning given the numerous police shootings of innocent black and brown men in New York during that period as well as before and afterwards.
So what if a well-off young white woman is roughed up by the police? Who cares? Black and brown women face much worse on a daily basis in New York and all over the country. Maybe it's a good thing that this uppity white bitch gets a taste of what black and brown women go through all the time.... she's actually lucky, runs this line of reasoning, because if she weren't white and well off, she'd face much worse treatment than she did.
That's true enough. Making a cause celebre out of Cecily McMillan seems perhaps a bit unwise when so many black and brown men and women face far worse all the time, and nobody (well, hardly anybody) bats an eye.
If Cecily were black or brown, who would care what happened to her? She could be brutalized, raped, disappeared, chopped up for cat food, and hardly anybody would ever notice. That's the way it is in this country, that's the way it's long been for women of color.
So why should we care about Cecily above all? Or care about at all?
The only real reason to care about what happens to Cecily is if such concern is tied in with growing concerns about an out-of-control policing and injustice system that grinds down and grinds up thousands in New York and millions around the country, operating unjustly day in and day out, targeting the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, the young, the black and the brown. This is a monstrous system that destroys families and whole communities routinely, kills the innocent with impunity, declares entire categories of people to be... less than human.
The only reason to care about what happens Cecily is if caring about her opens eyes to what's been happening to so many, many others unjustly accused, imprisoned or killed by "authority" run amok.
She represents the consequences of this highly unjust system, that's all.
It's an unjust system of authority that has once again been granted permission to behave with impunity toward whomever it chooses.
Some of the jurors -- nine out of the twelve who convicted Cecily -- seemed to wake up to what they had done and implored the judge to grant leniency. Observers have said he did, by sentencing her to 90 days rather than the more typical 180 days. Maybe so, but that doesn't change the fact that the system he and they serves is unjust at its core, is arbitrary, and it targets the young, the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, and the black and brown for special interest and treatment.
We're told that Cecily has made her personal crisis within this unjust matrix into an opportunity to do good on behalf of those who face a much worse situation than she does.
For that, we can be grateful.