Tag Archives: Nutter

The Captain, the Commissioner, and the Brotherhood

Retired Captain Ray Lewis at Philadelphia City Hall, 16 February 2012. Photo by Dustin Slaughter

Retired Philadelphia police captain Ray Lewis is in town for a day-long event focusing on First Amendment issues, including corporate consolidation of the media, organized by Occupy Philadelphia. One reason for his visit?

“I will not idly stand by while law enforcement is administered only to the poor and disenfranchised while the rich flaunt their immunity,” he says, standing next to a monument with the First Amendment etched in stone.

It’s on this blisteringly-cold afternoon when reports of veiled threats from the Philadelphia police department begin to trickle in: Lewis may be arrested for wearing his uniform if he leaves Independence Mall and marches through Center City.

Lewis decides “to call the city’s bluff.” Leaving the temporary encampment at the Mall, he begins walking with a small group towards that afternoon’s target – the towering Comcast Center, a corporation which refuses to include Al-Jazeera English (despite the 24-hour news channel winning multiple awards) – into their programming, instead planning to add a new P-Diddy music channel to their lineup.

I catch up with him as he heads up Market Street. He has a firm handshake and a hard, yet calm gaze when he’s not wearing his sunglasses. An elderly Asian woman pokes her head out of a storefront to watch this tall uniformed man carrying a protest sign.

It is this power – albeit a different power that one in a police uniform usually wields – that likely has the city’s police commissioner angry at the outspoken retired officer, while giving fuel to a somewhat subdued peoples’ movement during the winter.

“It’s like a river. I don’t know where it’s headed, but I’m going to remain on the raft,” Lewis says of the Occupy movement, for which he was arrested in Lower Manhattan during an act of civil disobedience.

Downplaying his arrest, he said he was inspired by “those kids willing to sacrifice their comfort,” to rail against corporate America, which is the principal benefactor of his ire.

Lewis feels that civil disobedience is necessary because it “draws attention” to grievances easily glossed over by mere picketing.

It was indeed civil disobedience which, Lewis asserts, allowed Commissioner Ramsey to achieve the position as Philadelphia’s top cop – because of the civil rights movement. It is also civil disobedience that Ramsey essentially accuses the former captain of committing by demonstrating in uniform.

There is one problem with that accusation, however.

In a press release included in a packet Lewis assembled for curious onlookers – as well as the media – he cites the statute which Ramsey is accusing him of violating:

Section #4912 Impersonating a Public Servant – Falsely pretending to hold a position in the public service with intent to induce another to submit to such a pretended official authority or otherwise to act in reliance upon that pretense to his prejudice.

Lewis also includes in the press release that, after contacting the Philadelphia police department’s Attorney Armando Brigandi on November 10th, 2011 about his intention to protest in uniform, Brigandi “fully concurred that Section #4912 did NOT pertain to my intended action, nor would I be violating any other laws,” so long as Lewis “did not express an articulable intent and act of having legal law enforcement power.”

Lewis isn’t just being threatened by Ramsey, however.

The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police’s board of directors voted unanimously on a motion to potentially take away Lewis’ pension.

FOP President John McNesby. Photo from Philly.com

FOP President John McNesby has publicly stated: “I champion him for going up there and pleading his case, but he shouldn’t have done it in a police uniform. When he put the freaking uniform on is when he crossed the fucking line.”

McNesby goes on to say that if were up to him, Lewis “would be booted from the FOP and lose his retirement benefits.”

These are the same police administrators who allowed Tyrone Wiggins, an officer convicted of raping a 13 year old girl, to keep his pension until August of 2011 – 9 years.

After the protesters – including Lewis – return to Independence Mall by day’s end, the Philadelphia Police Department issues a new statement: They will be taking a “hands-off” approach to Ray Lewis and his uniform. It’s certainly a radically different stance than the one issued by Commissioner Ramsey before Lewis returned to Philadelphia, which said the department was “prepared to take any and all necessary actions” to protect the Philadelphia police insignia.

In a city where police administrators pick and choose which officers receive threats and punishments, and where figures in the Nutter administration may have waded into ethically murky waters in dealing with early Occupy Philadelphia for the sake of political expediency, sometimes it takes one person to just step off the curb, and call their bluff.


How to Radicalize a Moderate: The story of a former OP City Liaison

Dylan Hewitt and Monica Hartlove, both of Philadelphia, participate in the Occupy Philadelphia protest in front of City Hall on October 7, 2011. Photo by Metro Philadelphia.

Editor’s note: This account is a strong example of why systems of control often times backfire. It also exposes the truth that governments often use the law to their advantage, as the author’s experiences dealing directly with the city illustrate. The allegations made in this piece can be independently corroborated. You can follow Julia Alford-Fowler on Twitter: @jalfordfowler. - D.S.

In the mind of most American citizens, local government officials exist (at least the majority of the time) to serve and answer to the people who elected them. It is within this system of accountability that we rely upon to make sure our best interests are being served. While I had a healthy amount of skepticism, this was my held view until the fall of 2011. I believed that the Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, and his staff were in office to protect their citizens, myself included, and that the problems of this country were for the most part the result of unchecked corporate greed on Wall Street, amid a variety of other issues.

What follows is an account of how my thinking was transformed from this moderate view of a trust in those in power into one in which my faith in our government and specifically, those who govern, was destroyed. For me, the Occupy Movement started with a purpose of giving a voice to the voiceless and a way for all of us who were angry at the state of our country to come together and create real change. I believed that this could be accomplished through dialogue and negotiations. Over the course of the two month encampment in front of City Hall in Philadelphia, I saw the necessity of the people’s voice to override the restrictions set to us by our lawmakers. I saw first hand that these lawmakers who were put into office through corporate dollars often do not serve the people who cast the ballots, but instead work to protect the interests of those who funded their campaigns. I began to ask myself the following: What makes free speech free? Is it something that falls within guidelines dictated by the government (as in such guidelines as “time, place and manner”) or is it citizens finding their voices and expressing them how they see fit, especially if they are not causing harm to another person?

At 7:00 am on October 6th, I stepped onto Dilworth Plaza full of hope, love and passion. What was sweeping our country had inspired me to throw myself head first into something I had never tried before – activism. What had happened with the NYPD at Occupy Wall Street disgusted me, but that was New York and as far as I could tell, Philadelphia was going to be different. I had already been told that the city was looking forward to working with us, that they were excited about this showcase of democracy at the footsteps of City Hall and that they wanted to present Philadelphia to the rest of the country as “The Cradle of Liberty.” All they wanted in return was a small group of people to act as liaisons with them and for us to apply for a permit. Over the course of the day, a small group of people decided that I would start out being that “liaison”.

Richard Negrin, Deputy Mayor and Managing Director for the City of Philadelphia. Photo from his personal Twitter account.

By 6:00 pm that day, I was sitting in the office of Richard Negrin, Deputy Mayor and Managing Director for the City of Philadelphia. During our conversation he said one thing in particular which struck me as unusual, but in the flurry of activity, I pushed it aside: If we get a few weeks into this and we need to boost publicity for the movement, they could help us stage an arrest.

A top-ranking city official just told me that they would be willing to set up a situation wherein 10 or so people lie down in the street and they would very politely cuff them and haul them away to jail.

In a later meeting with our small team of city liaisons, he repeated this statement and was echoed by Everett Gillison, Deputy Mayor of Public Safety and now Mayor Nutter’s chief of staff. Gillison confirmed this tactic, saying that it was something that they had done in the past and we simply needed to let them know how many people, at what time, and they would work with us to coordinate these arrests.

I should note that we never took the administration up on their offer.

Over the next two weeks I began to see a pattern in which the city was happy to have us there as long as they were able to subtly control our actions. When it came to the permit, the city was anxious for us to sign this piece of paper that would change our camp from a space that was a reclamation of public property for use by and service to the people of Philadelphia, to them granting us permission to be there under their oversight and control. Supposedly open-ended, once signed we could have access to electricity and protection from “other groups” trying to take over the space. At one point, Negrin called to warn me that we should sign immediately because the Tea Party had applied for a permit and they could only hold them off for so long. After checking around, I discovered that no one in the administration could confirm that this was the case. Once the permit was signed, we were given a long list of complaints from the city that we had to fix about the camp, which then dominated three weeks of daily General Assemblies. The pattern continued to build. As soon as we resolved one issue, the city would present us with another one, each of which would dominate endless hours of our time.

In regards to the “city liaison working group”, the General Assembly eventually voted to dissolve the working group and grant the role of communicating with the city on our behalf to the Legal Collective, which I then joined.

After the first and only meeting with the mayor and his staff, the General Assembly decided to answer the Mayor Nutter’s request for weekly meetings with a simple answer: No. We made clear that Occupy Philadelphia did not intend to cut off communication, and that continued emails and letters would be exchanged with the administration. I saw this as our group making the statement that we were going to protest on our terms, not theirs. I believed that as people of the United States, it is our right to do so. The government is supposed to be for the people and by the people. We would no longer tolerate a country in which our government’s voice is more important than that of the people who elected them. Additionally, we were demanding that all communications with the city be documented in order to protect our rights. As any meeting with the city in person was not allowed to be recorded, we refused to participate.

What happens when citizens decide they are no longer going to allow the suppression of their voices by the government? Shortly after we notified the Mayor’s office of our decision, on November 12th, there was a sexual assault at the camp. The following day, Mayor Nutter held a press conference which he used as a platform to attack Occupy Philly. He mentioned the assault in passing for only one sentence. During the conference he made the following statement, “Many of the people that we talked to in the beginning of this event and activity are now gone. They are no longer on the site.” The Mayor of Philadelphia blatantly lied. All of the people that the city had worked with from day one, myself included, were still there. The only thing that had changed was that we were no longer allowing ourselves to be controlled by a system that served to protect the status quo. Incidentally, this press conference was held less than a week after the Mayor’s reelection bid was secured.

The mayor’s main complaint against Occupy Philadelphia? Sanitation. How many times have you walked through the subway and it smelled of urine? Or walked through your neighborhood and stepped around broken glass? Where is the press conference condemning these issues?

Luckily for the city, they found a new pawn in the form of a recently established group, Reasonable Solutions. In reaction to the General Assembly’s earlier decision to resist eviction, the leaders of this group set up a meeting with city officials and applied for a permit for Thomas Paine Plaza, located directly across from Dilworth Plaza. When the city handed one proposed permit to them and one to Occupy Philadelphia, it was entirely restrictive. It allowed for a single canopy tent and was limited to the hours of 9am to 7pm. In effect, it negated the purpose of our protest – no occupation. While Occupy Philadelphia submitted an appeal, Reasonable Solutions did nothing. Shortly after we were notified that our appeal had been denied, the city held a press conference to showcase Reasonable Solutions signing the new permit. This gave the city every excuse to evict us without any further negotiation. Because a group that vaguely resembled Occupy Philadelphia had been willing to sign this permit, the Mayor could now say that they had done their due diligence, and to the common observer, they had.

Within a week, the city had us evicted. Late on the night of November 29th, roughly 400 riot cops, countless bicycle cops and what I counted as eight mounted officers on horses, all assembled to challenge approximately 100 protesters. At this time there was evidence that the evictions were being coordinated by both a series of nationwide conference calls between Mayors and later calls between Police Chiefs that were set up by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). The fact that this show of force to evict our camp was beyond excessive should come as no surprise given that our police commissioner, Charles Ramsey, is the President of the Board of Directors of PERF.

Protesters marching from City Hall after eviction. Photo by Dustin Slaughter

After we left the plaza following the final dispersal order, there was a group of 50 or so protesters (i.e. residents of Philadelphia) on the street and the sidewalk in front of Dilworth Plaza. At one point I turned to see the mounted police charging into the crowd, trampling the foot of a member of our media team. This incident was so shocking that my husband, who had been watching via livestream, called and pleaded with me to return home. Later, I sent the following tweet to Richard Negrin and Mayor Nutter:

Richard Negrin’s reply?

This video clearly shows the officers first moving people onto the sidewalk and then, once they are on the sidewalk, charging into the crowd and overtaking the sidewalk. Once I returned home I watched the rest of the events unfold via livestream and the ABC livefeed. What follows is the first hand account from friends who were on the scene: After this incident, the evicted protesters kept marching through the streets with chants of “You can’t evict an idea!”. As the march was beginning to wind down, the police kettled in half of the crowd, abused several of the marchers, including an African-American male who was punched in the kidney multiple times. Even if the kettled marchers were given a dispersal order, which they were not, they had no means of leaving. Instead they were told to get on the sidewalk or they would be arrested. They got on the sidewalk and were subsequently arrested.

When I started working with the city, I saw a purpose to it. I saw a chance to create dialogue between people that normally wouldn’t talk to each other and through these conversations we could create real change. Unfortunately, the conversations were short lived. Our General Assemblies were more often than not dominated with discussions about how to respond to the city and how to keep the tenuous relationship peaceful. We were acting out of fear, fear that what had been brought down on the heads of our compatriots in other cities would be brought down on ours. We forgot the golden rule of democracy, often attributed to Thomas Jefferson:

“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

From the beginning I made it my maxim that I would work with the city until they harmed my people. Early in the morning of November 30th, they harmed my people. I awoke to the fact that this sort of abuse of power had been occurring throughout this city, country and world for centuries and I was just beginning to join a fight that was vital, powerful, terrifying and righteous. While I may never understand what it is to risk my life in Syria, or to be threatened by police in the poorest neighborhoods in this country because of my skin color, I now see the danger of any government which has more power than that of its people. There is an inherent necessity for all of us to rise up, stand together, and make our voices heard through action.


A New Chapter for Occupy Philadelphia

Occupy Philadelphia General Assembly debates whether to stay and expand or move entirely in the face of City Hall renovations.

On a frigid Friday night at Dilworth Plaza, Occupy Philadelphia faces a crucial vote that may well determine, at least, the short-term direction of the movement. Nearly 100 supporters mill about beneath the cold stone facade of City Hall as they wait for tonight’s General Assembly to convene. The proposal up for a vote tonight: whether to defy a city order to disperse ahead of planned renovations to City Hall’s apron, and hold ground, with the intention of falling back to Thomas Paine Plaza across the street. The second proposal, which would only come up for a vote if the above was voted down, would be to move camp entirely.

After over five hours of contentious debate and amendments, it is decided to simply stay with no plans for expansion to any space beyond Dilworth Plaza. Occupy Philadelphia as decided to dig in and face down a police force and administration that, until now, has worked to build a widely-heralded relationship with the occupation, a relationship heralded as anomalous because of the stark lack of police violence when compared to cities such as Oakland.

The reasons to stay or move are fairly sound on both sides:

We cannot allow the city to lead this movement by even indirectly naming locations to which we can relocate. The city’s cooperation is also largely built on political calculation and a desire to avoid the negative publicity other administrations receive when occupations are cracked down upon.

Or:

Staying at Dilworth simply to force a confrontation with an oddly gentle–at least with the occupation itself–police force and city administration won’t play well with the public, and makes us look like we’re standing in the way of construction jobs.

There are variations on these arguments, but those two are the crux of the debate.

An observation even a casual observer of this movement has noticed since it began on September 17th: nonviolently confronting a city administration and its police force can grow a movement. One need look no further than New York City, Boston and Oakland, where occupations have bravely held their ground to assert their First Amendment right to a redress of political grievances. In light of what these other occupations have accomplished in this vein, I think it’s important to highlight differences with those occupations and that of Occupy Philadelphia. The latter is a very different situation, and here’s why.

Unlike Philadelphia, most of the occupations mentioned above weren’t facing an administration that went out of its way to forge a working relationship with their respective encampments. The Philadelphia police department has been as civil as any police force to date since the movement began. And perhaps the defining difference with Philadelphia: the construction project. The city has been touting it as a job creator, and one that will employ union workers.

Political radicals have played a crucial role in getting the Occupy movement off the ground. After all, it was a small group of New York City anarchists, with supporting roles played by other parties, that spearheaded Occupy Wall Street. Without their nerve, others might have folded under intense police harassment. And these radicals had every right to challenge the NYPD: after all, without demanding their right to peacefully organize in a public space, the movement may not have taken off as it did.

But will Occupy Philadelphia’s defiance have the same effect?

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (@Michael_Nutter) held a press conference on Sunday, and it was important for a couple of reasons: the inaccuracies contained in his statement, as well as the tone and language which framed the argument the administration will use to justify clearing Dilworth Plaza. We will simply look at the language Nutter used in framing his argument against the occupation. False statements will be examined in a separate post following this one.

Mayor Nutter’s full statement on Sunday, November 13th:

“I’ve asked you here today because of my very great concern about dramatically deteriorating conditions on Day 39 in our engagement with Occupy Philly on City Hall apron, also known as Dilworth Plaza.

Occupy Philly has changed. We’re seeing serious health and safety issues playing out on almost a daily basis.

Occupy Philly is fractured with internal disagreement and disputes. The people of Occupy Philly have also changed and their intentions have changed…and all of this is not good for Philadelphia.

When I met with representatives of Occupy Philly on Wednesday Oct. 5 in my office, I made it clear to them
that the City would in fact protect their free speech rights and that we wanted to cooperate with them,
But I also said that the life of the City must go on: it is our daily business that must be conducted and not be impeded.

And I pointed out to them that day that there is a major project planned for Dilworth Plaza, that it’s been in works for a number of years now – a $50 million remake of Dilworth Plaza into an open, green, vibrant space…built by the 99 percent for the 99 percent.

And they told me that they would be peaceful, that they would not be disruptive, that they would obey the laws of the City of Philadelphia and that they would communicate with us regularly and they only wished to express their free speech rights.

On Oct. 11, the City sent a letter to Occupy Philly representatives, setting out a series of public safety and public health concerns that had quickly arisen, including the following: Combustible structures near historic City Hall; The lack of an emergency fire lane near the building; And a growing problem with litter, public urination, defecation and graffiti.

Unfortunately, Occupy Philly did not respond to our growing public safety and health concerns.

Finally, two weeks ago, on Sunday Oct. 30, a group of Occupy Philly leaders met with my staff and me at the American Friends Services Committee offices at 15th and Cherry. It was a cordial exchange of views and concerns.

The following day, the City of Philadelphia sent an email to the group asking for weekly meetings, which we had discussed the previous day when we met, so that we could better understand each other’s issues, concerns and requirements, and so that we could work together to identify possible sites for relocation or even other programs and activities that we could work on mutually to address some of the concerns the group has had here in Philadelphia and across the nation.

We also described in that Oct. 30 meeting, two additional pending maintenance related projects: the removal of scaffolding from the tower area and a separate project requiring a scissor lift to make repairs to a number of City Hall windows that actually look down on the Occupy Philly location.

It’s now two weeks later, and there has been no response to our concerns … none whatsoever!

Instead, what’s abundantly clear now is that Occupy Philly is in violation of the terms of its permit, which requires it as an organization to observe our city ordinances.

Let me describe just a few of the issues:

Into this highly combustible environment – with tents and wooden pallets, bedding and waste – we know that some are using cooking stoves, candles, lanterns and of course there has been widespread smoking with the potential for fire and tragedy.

On Oct. 28, we had a small fire in that location in which a nylon tent went up in flames.

This past Friday, the Fire Marshal and a Haz-Mat team supervised the removal of a known propane tank that was Gerri-rigged to a small heater and a hurricane lamp. We are quite sure, unfortunately, that many more such units are hidden in tents throughout their encampment. In spite of the presence of porto-potties, the problem with public urination and defecation remains a significant health threat. In short, conditions there are unsanitary and that also includes food distribution.

Friday night, the Occupy Philly general assembly voted against moving from Dilworth Plaza:
Occupy Philly is now purposely standing in the way of a nearly 1,000 jobs for Philadelphians at a time of high unemployment. They are blocking Philadelphians from taking care of their families.

We’ve seen the rise of new groups as a part of this movement like the Radical Caucus, which is bent on civil disobedience and disrupting city operations; Many of the people that we talked to in the beginning of this event and activity are now gone. They are no longer on the site. They are no longer on the scene. And Occupy Philly has refused to engage in active, regular discussions with us. This change in behavior is no accident. It is a direct result of the fact that this movement has changed and the people have changed.

In recent weeks, there have been numerous reports of thefts and assaults in the Occupy Philly space. In addition, between Oct. 6 and Nov. 11, there have been 15 EMS runs related to the Occupy Philly site.

And then last night shortly before 8 pm, a woman reported an alleged sexual assault in one of the tents. This incident is also under investigation.

These conditions are intolerable. Occupy Philly is not acting in good faith, and it’s now abundantly clear that on many levels this group is violating a range of city ordinances and the terms of their permit.

Of necessity, we are now at a critical point where we must reevaluate out entire relationship with this very changed group.

Occupy Philly has changed, so we must change our relationship with them – things have changed.

Very soon, we must prepare for the renovation project of windows in City Hall on the west side. It is a project that is vital to the safety of our city employees and Occupy Philly members who are directly below. It will require a number of tents and structures to move.

We do not seek confrontation with Occupy Philly. As a matter of fact, I have expressed almost every day my very strong belief in many of the issues and concerns that the original Occupy Philly individuals that I met with have raised: Issues related to unemployment, poverty, bank lending, homelessness, the rights of people to express themselves.

Again, we do not seek confrontation with Occupy Philly. We prefer cooperation but these issues of public health and public safety must be addressed, and addressed immediately.

Misconduct is not about free speech, and the behavior we’re now seeing is running squarely into the needs of our City government that also represents the very real 99 percent. As Mayor of the City of Philadelphia, I represent the 99 percent also.

Our responsibility is bigger than Occupy Philly, our responsibility is to all of the citizens, all of our public employees, to the entire city and the region.

And so for all the reasons I’ve enumerated including public safety concerns, I have asked Police Commissioner Ramsey to increase the uniform police patrol in the area where Occupy Philly is as well as establish structured and strategic positioning and deployment of officers on a regular basis in that location as well.”

The administration has begun to build a case against Occupy Philadelphia. Nutter is also deftly using the language of the Occupy movement, in addition to his administration’s record of cooperation with the encampment, to create a rift between the occupation and the public. And at this point, the Nutter administration has the upper-hand, framing the encampment as standing in the way of construction that would benefit “the 99%”, ignoring safety concerns and even attempting to drive a wedge between this so-called “Radical Caucus” and the rest of the occupation. This is Nutter’s fight to lose at this point, and I’m concerned that the result of Friday’s vote will be problematic for the occupation. Just imagine how much more difficult it would have been for the administration and police to shut down the occupation, had they voted instead to occupy an abandoned school or clinic closed by budget cuts.

At this moment, it is difficult to see why staying at Dilworth Plaza is a good strategy.

The Project is posting a counter-point to Nutter’s press conference, which will be posted very shortly.

The Project will continue to bring you reports and editorials on the #Occupy movement, with emphasis on events from @OccupyPhilly. If you have photos, writing, artwork or music with a focus on the Occupy movement or with protest culture in general, don’t hesitate to send it to DGP. We’d love to share it with the world. Thanks so much for your continued support and and if you’re new to the Project, welcome!


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