Occupy Wall Street Defendant Testifies
MANHATTAN (CN) - The Occupy Wall Street protester accused of elbowing a police officer during a rally took the stand Tuesday on her own behalf, saying she has always been a staunch supporter of nonviolent, peaceful protest.
Cecily McMillan, 25, said she did not attend the first day of the Occupy Wall Street Movement on Sept. 17, 2011 out of fear that the assembly had the "potential to be violent."
When she did attend the rally at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan the next day, she said she made it a point to relay to her protesting peers "that we stand against violence."
Prosecutors say McMillan intentionally elbowed New York Police Department Officer Grant Bovell in the eye while police tried to clear protesters from the park so it could be cleaned on the night of March 17, 2012, when protesters returned to the park to mark the 6-month anniversary of the movement and celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
Prosecutors say that after throwing the elbow, McMillan played dead and faked a seizure to try to get out of being arrested.
She faces up to seven years in prison if convicted by the jury of seven women and five men. Such a verdict would be the most serious conviction of the thousands of Occupiers to move through the court system after the mass demonstration.
Her attorney, Martin Stolar, claims the officer grabbed her breast from behind, and that she threw an elbow as a natural reaction.
Stolar says the officer fell on her during her arrest, causing McMillan to bang her head on the sidewalk and trigger a seizure.
On the witness stand Tuesday, McMillan, clad in a light grey, sleeveless dress, said she joined the Democratic Socialists of America while in college in Wisconsin, and was interested in tackling the nation's "housing crisis" and the "corporate personhood [that] seemed to be spiraling out of control."
McMillan, who said she was dubbed "The Paris Hilton of Occupy Wall Street" by Mother Jones Magazine, testified that at first she felt that she didn't fit in with her fellow protesters: "I was out of my league," she said.
McMillan said fellow protesters called her a "liberal" - which she did not know at the time was meant as an insult.
"They called me a liberal, and I said, 'Thank you,'" she said.
McMillan said her priorities with the movement were "three-tiered:" to stop public sector job cuts, to end the NYPD's policy of "stop and frisk," and to abolish the nation's debt. But fellow protesters were more focused on "jobs for all," she said.
"I think most people at Occupy Wall Street wanted to cut themselves off" from society and "create society anew with a new moral order," she said. "They saw the world as violent and decrepit and unsalvageable."
She eventually "got very involved, inspired" by the movement, and said it became "a beautiful experiment."
McMillan testified that she spent up to 14 hours a day in Zuccotti Park and worked on several Occupy committees during the months that protesters filled the park. She also worked toward her master's degree at The New School and worked as a nanny.
"I didn't sleep," she said.
McMillan's testimony is expected to continue Wednesday, followed by prosecutors' cross-examination.