Nice girls don’t get into politics: on the sentencing of Cecily McMillan

I once told my grandfather about what I was reading in school. I was reading Emma Goldman at the age of twenty. I thought he could appreciate it somehow; his father was an organizer with the IWW, blacklisted and imprisoned for it. Instead he turned, touched my hair in a tender way, and told me that “Nice girls don’t get into politics.” 


Yesterday, Cecily McMillan was given a sentence of 90 days in prison and 5 years of probation. For the trial, McMillan and her defense portrayed her as an antithesis to the caricature of the “smelly hippy” protester. McMillan also said from the stand that she was not a communist. She wore pearls to the trial and portrayed herself as a normal, reasonable, smiling woman. From this portrayal and towards the logical end of the trial itself, in addition to probation and jail time, she was given the order to attend mandatory mental health counseling.

Ulrike Meinhof was murdered in her cell by the West German government. A mother, Meinhof was berated for abandoning her family to take up the cause of guerilla war. After her death, an autopsy was performed, and she was said to have a tumor in her brain that, according to her captors and murderers, must have contributed in some way towards her political beliefs and actions. Simply put: a white woman who objects or acts in self-defense against a society that worships the body parts of white women is seen as crazy, not nice. She needs mental health counseling, brain surgery, a good fuck to get better.   



To avoid a draconian sentence of 2-7 years for defending herself against police violence, McMillan was forced to forgo her radicalism and appear as non-threatening and complacent to the system that put her in Rikers as possible. McMillan very emphatically said she was not a communist. She said that she had protested alongside cops in the past. She dressed up in normie drag: white pearls, make-up, very professional, very smart. More importantly, her defense atomized the incident, making the trial less about the repressive state violence used to crush a legal, non-violent protest, and more about an individual (herself) responding to another individual (Grantely Bovell) who grabbed her breast. The defense was not interested as portraying her as emblematic – they strategically broke down the situation into bite-sized individual pieces that the jurors and the judge were more likely to swallow. 

The defense strove to make McMillan appear as a sane, well spoken, middle class lover of humanity. And she is. But despite all of this, she was still sentenced to jail time and 5 years probation, with the bourgeois state that did such violence against her now having a very active and constant presence in her life for years to come. Most importantly, she will be psychologically evaluated and treated by the very machine of horror she protested against. Any traces of a larger social experience must be erased from her mind. The state of New York makes the case that if she really is a pearl-wearing, cop-respecting white cis woman, she must need psychological treatment in order to retake her social place in good standing. If she has PTSD from living under capitalism, from being beaten by the police, she must learn to accept that it was her fault with the way her mind worked – after all, she was found guilty. The bourgeois state sees her as broken, malformed somehow. Instead of the bourgeois state itself and it’s mechanisms of violence coming under scrutiny and re-evaluation, it is she who must be reformed and made whole by bourgeois justice. 

The pig who assaulted her, meanwhile, is vindicated in his action. He will probably receive a promotion. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s