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 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.