Occupy Wall Street inmate visited by Russian protesters
NEW YORK — Most people disappear from the headlines into the gray anonymity of Rikers Island jail after they are found guilty in state court in Manhattan.
But for Cecily McMillan, the 25-year-old Occupy Wall Street organizer convicted on Monday of assaulting a police officer, her incarceration has served only to heighten her profile.
As her admirers have taken to Twitter in droves to criticize the judge and the district attorney for their handling of the case, McMillan has gotten sympathetic treatment on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and friendly coverage from left-leaning media outlets like Democracy Now!, The Guardian, The Nation and The Village Voice.
That trend reached a peak on Friday, when two members of Pussy Riot, the Russian protest group that was incarcerated for staging a political performance against President Vladimir Putin, trooped out to Rikers Island in the drizzle to visit McMillan in a show of support.
“It was a very bad decision to put her in jail,” said one member, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 24, as she came through the jail’s hurricane fence, which is topped with razor wire, and lit a cigarette. “She’s a professional revolutionary.”
Her colleague Maria Alyokhina, 25, urged Justice Ronald A. Zweibel to sentence McMillan to probation and community service rather than prison. She said a harsh sentence would lead to unflattering comparisons between New York and Russia, where they served 21 months for playing a raucous protest song in Moscow’s main cathedral.
“Society must organize to save Cecily because she’s really a hero,” Alyokhina said. “She is very similar to us. We also did time and went to prison for our beliefs. We see a lot of parallels.”
The groundswell of support for McMillan includes some of the jurors who convicted her in state Supreme Court. On Thursday, a juror who said he spoke for nine members of the panel took the highly unusual step of writing a letter to Zweibel, asking that he show leniency.
“We feel that the felony mark on Cecily’s record is punishment enough for this case and that it serves no purpose to Cecily or to society to incarcerate her for any amount of time,” the juror, Charles Woodard, wrote, according to a defense lawyer, Martin R. Stolar. Juries have no say over sentencing in criminal cases.
Zweibel could sentence McMillan, who was convicted of second-degree assault, to as little as a stint of community service to as much as 7 years in prison. The judge remanded her to jail after the conviction until a sentencing hearing on May 19.
The jury found that McMillan had deliberately elbowed a police officer, Grantley Bovell, in the face as he led her out of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan during a 2012 protest.