Occupy Wall Street activist and New School graduate student Cecily McMillan was back in Manhattan criminal court Thursday morning, just weeks after her release from Rikers Island, where she served two months after being convicted of assaulting a police officer. The 25-year-old McMillan still faces another criminal charge, this one a misdemeanor, for obstruction of governmental administration. After a brief hearing, McMillan and her attorney, Martin Stolar, left the courthouse trailed by the usual press scrum, who immediately drilled down on the real story: McMillan’s physical appearance.
“My editor told me to ask who you’re wearing,” a photographer informed McMillan, snapping away. She replied that her dress was Calvin Klein and her shoes were from Via Spiga.
“I’m still very concerned about my friends and family that I’ve left behind in Rikers,” she told the assembled reporters. “I’m happy to be out, but I don’t feel exactly free.”
She explained that her advisors at the New School have urged her to write her master’s thesis about her activism and her time in prison (her initial intention had been to write about civil-rights activist Bayard Rustin), adding that she doesn’t feel safe in New York and doesn’t go anywhere in the city alone.
“Why don’t you feel safe?” asked a Daily News reporter.
McMillan looked at the woman for a long moment. “Because I was sexually assaulted and then put in jail for it,” she responded. (McMillan maintains that NYPD officer Grantley Bovell grabbed her breast from behind during a 2012 protest at Zuccotti Park, causing her to involuntarily elbow him in the eye.)
“Well, you look fabulous!” Post reporter Rebecca Rosenberg said brightly. “But you should eat more.”
Rosenberg’s blurt may sound bizarre, but it’s no aberration. Much of the tabloid coverage about McMillan has emphasized her physical appearance. A sampling (you’ll have to picture in your mind’s eye the many catwalk-style photos the papers ran of McMillan in the halls of the courthouse):
* “McMillan, dressed in a white dress and tan blazer, was cuffed as dozens of her supporters screamed, ‘Shame! Shame! Shame!’ as she was led out of the Manhattan Supreme courtroom.” – New York Post, May 5.
* “Cecily McMillan, wearing a fluffy white dress and a gray blazer, was convicted after less than three hours of deliberations, following a three-weeks trial in Manhattan Supreme Court.” – Daily News, May 5.
* “Cecily McMillan, 25, wearing a slim-fitting hot pink dress and pumps at her Manhattan Supreme Court sentencing, was given credit for the two weeks she’s already spent in lockup and has a shot at early release for good behavior.” –
Daily News, May 19.
* “The 25-year-old, wearing wedge heels and a polka-dot dress, said her time on Rikers Island was “transcendent” and strengthened her activism.” – Daily News, July 2.
In May, when she was incarcerated, both papers noted that she arrived for a court appearance on the misdemeanor charge disheveled and in obvious distress.
“Jail is one thing — but forcing her to wear the same outfit to two court dates was too much to bear for this fashion-forward Occupy Wall Street cop-puncher,” wrote the Post‘s Rosenberg.
The Daily News noted that McMillan “threw a tantrum” and “loudly wailed” as she was brought into court “with her hair tied up messily and her grey t-shirt untucked.”
Story continues on the next page.
McMillan explained to the Voice in a phone interview from Rikers that she’d been transported to that May hearing in a car by herself surrounded by police officers, instead of in a prisoner-transport van with other inmates. She said she grew concerned that she was being taken to talk to the FBI, as she’d heard had happened to other inmates.
“My nerves were shot by the time I got to the courthouse,” she said. When court security officers refused to uncuff her or even let her take off her gray, prison-issue pajama top, she said, “That was the last straw. It induced a mania.”
This morning, Rebecca Rosenberg’s dietary advice left McMillan momentarily speechless. Then she explained that incarceration was a stressful experience that had caused her to lose weight, and that the food quality at Rikers isn’t the best.
“The carbohydrates there are four moldy pieces of bread,” she added. “It’s a corporate organization that measures out approximately how much food and calories each person needs.” She said the food that’s doled out is frequently sub-standard: hard or moldy bread, mashed beans and tomato sauce squeezed out “through a syringe.”
“A school-cafeteria worst nightmare,” Stolar, her attorney interjected.
The reporters nodded and soon walked away. McMillan gazed after them for a moment, looking a little bemused.
“Cosmo didn’t even do that,” she said, finally.
Rosenberg’s story, titled “OWS Cop Puncher Exudes Glamour In Court”, was published this afternoon. She wrote that McMillan, whom she called “fashion obsessed,” looked “happy and thin” in court, and that the activist had “boasted the benefits of being on a Rikers prison diet.” Added Rosenberg:
As the pretty brunette sashayed to the front of the courtroom Thursday to face Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Anne Scherzer, a defense attorney commented, “She’s quite a looker!”
She has the Riker’s Island diet of moldy bread and other unsavory offerings to thank for her to svelte physique, she said.
“I lost 17 pounds and two cup sizes,” she said. “I’m practically on a liquid only diet now because I can’t stomach anything.”
McMillan’s current misdemeanor case, in which prosecutors allege that she interfered with the arrest of two people who police say were turnstile-jumping in Union Square, carries a potential penalty of up to a year in prison. The proceedings — and, presumably, the Post/Daily News style watch — will resume September 15.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 17, 2014