Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Cult of Compliance: Occupy NYC and the Trials

Note: Below is a picture of Cecily McMillan in her bra, showing the bruise on her breast. This is a picture she made public but it's possibly NSFW depending on your workplace.

Across the internet, yesterday, you might have read any number of progressive voices talking about Cecily McMillan.Cecily McMillan was part of Occupy NYC and may go to jail for 7 years for allegedly elbowing a police office in the eye. She's been found guilty. She's been remanded even though she poses no flight risk. She'll be sentenced in a few weeks.

I want to think about this story through the lens of the cult of compliance - the idea that our culture venerates compliance itself.

There are, of course, more important stories here - the imprisonment of a woman, the attack on progressive values, even room for a nuanced debate on the nature of policing in moments of civil disobedience. These things matter. You should follow the link below and read more, call whoever you can who might be in power here, and advocate. Still, I think it's indicative of a much bigger problem, not just the elements of a police state that do infuse our society, but something deeper, cultural, nearly religious. Compliance is one of our idols.

Molly Knefel in The Guardian writes:
When the police moved in to the park that night, in formation and with batons, to arrest a massive number of nonviolent protesters, the chaos was terrifying. Bovell claimed that McMillan elbowed him in the face as he attempted to arrest her, and McMillan and her defense team claim that Bovell grabbed her right breast from behind, causing her to instinctively react.
But the jury didn't hear anything about the police violence that took place in Zuccotti Park that night. They didn't hear about what happened there on November 15, 2011, when the park was first cleared. The violence experienced by Occupy protesters throughout its entirety was excluded from the courtroom. The narrative that the jury did hear was tightly controlled by what the judge allowed – and Judge Ronald Zweibel consistently ruled that any larger context of what was happening around McMillan at the time of the arrest (let alone Bovell's own history of violence) was irrelevant to the scope of the trial.
The real problem here is the judge. The judge has consistently ruled that no one gets to say anything that doesn't serve the police narrative. The cop may have been elbowed, but has consistently identified THE WRONG EYE when telling the jury where he was hurt.  The cop has a history of violence - not relevant. McMillan has a hand-shaped bruise on her breast [the picture below is one she tweeted out] - not relevant.

The judge gets to decide what story it is even possible to tell, and in this case has worked to limit the scope of the trial to did McMillan hit Bovell in the eye or did she not. Although a pacifist, she probably did elbow out (in panic at being grabbed by the breast), the jury decided, and convicted her.

In this context, not only do the police feel they have complete authority to act against non-compliant individuals as they see fit, but the justice system conforms to make sure that that no counter narrative is even offered to a jury. That, to me, is the gravest offense here. She's not being allowed to defend herself, she's not allowed to offer her own story, and in silence, she is convicted.

McMillan is being sacrificed to the idol of compliance.