This evening hundreds gathered in Zuccotti Park, the origination point of the Occupy Wall Street movement, to protest and stand vigil over the guilty verdict in the case of Cecily McMillan, one of the most high profile legal battles to result from the OWS protests.
McMillan was one of dozens of protestors originally arrested on March 17, 2012, charged with felony assault of a police officer. Grantley Bovell, the officer at the time of the arrest, was wearing his NYPD jacket inside out and grabbed McMillan’s right breast from behind in an attempt to restrain her, and she instinctually elbowed back, according to her defense, unknowing who was touching her.
McMillan now faces seven years in prison. Her supporters claim that the trial was unfairly biased, ignoring the realities of police violence and portraying the Occupy Wall Street protestors as chaotic and lawless. This reality may very well be true. And, at least at the current moment, the physical evidence of brutality on Cecily McMillan seems overwhelming. If the narrative of the events of that night played out as McMillan and others describe them, then we ought to be outraged at this particular miscarriage of justice. But, as I have found while following the protests at Zuccotti tonight over social media and via friends at the site, it must be emphasized that we cannot stand to lose context of the role that police violence plays in the broader scope of our society – most especially on black and brown bodies.
I found @ChiefElk's comments to be particularly necessary context for this evening:
I'm sorry for Cecily McMillan & what happened, but I need white people to not do this narrative about state violence, cops, & sexual assault— Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk) May 5, 2014
And by that I mean act like all of this is new.— Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk) May 5, 2014
This is not new, this is not a revelation. State sponsored sexualized violence to enforce the law is called U.S. history.— Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk) May 5, 2014
We live in a time and a society where the lives of black and brown men and women are considered suspect for merely existing, for merely being on the street. The very existence of laws and programs like Stop & Frisk and Stand Your Ground belie their ideology of order and protection in favor of their reality as licenses to kill indiscriminately.
I write as a white male, training to serve as clergy in a majority white church, the PC(USA). Tonight, I'm angry about the events that have happened to Cecily McMillan. But I am devastated moreover by the lack of context surrounding the coverage of this event. I'm trying every day, aided and deeply humbled by the testimony and experience of brilliant colleagues at Union Theological Seminary, to remember that by my social position of privilege I have never once feared attack by a police officer. I have never once been automatically suspect. This chance of violence is the constant reality for a huge portion of people in this city where I'm learning how to be a minister. It is something that the church has to not just account for, but speak prophetically against.
The reality of police violence is one that I carry into my future ministry, honoring the voices of and striving to be in solidarity with those who it affects most directly.
How do your churches deal with police and gun violence?