Tag Archives: protest

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.


Al-Jazeera English’s Danny Schechter: “A Happy ‘News’ Year”

OWS protesters attempt to enter Zuccotti Park on New Year's Eve 2011 in Lower Manhattan. Photo courtesy of Newsone.com

Editor’s note: As editorial writer Danny Schecter (@Dissectorvents) points out in the following opinion piece, New Year’s Eve in New York City’s Time Square was a surreal spectacle. While Lady Gaga kissed Mayor Michael Bloomberg, “the NYPD, a force he [Bloomberg] recently had the temerity to call his ‘private army’, pepper sprayed an attempt by Occupy Wall Street to regain the park [Zuccotti Park] they had been forcibly ousted from a few miles downtown.”

He goes on to note:

“”Happy New Year” has become a mantra of good cheer and smiles all around but it’s a sentiment that’s strangely disconnected from any deeper reality.

Would so many millions be cheering if they had any inkling of what lies ahead, as one really bad year foreshadows one that may be even worse?”

Indeed. In a society that has been warped by celebrity culture, and that has swallowed what Benjamin DeMott calls “junk politics”, the only thing the masses can do is watch an oligarch kiss a media-created fantasy like Lady Gaga during a thoroughly-commercialized event in Times Square, while the country plunges head-first into what many are predicting to be a very bleak year.

Meanwhile, the 68 Occupy Wall Street protesters who know perfectly well that this country is living in an illusion are brutally arrested and will continue to be villified by many in the media who either choose to ignore what the Occupy movement represents or truly cannot fathom what it means.

Schecter’s piece is republished here under Al-Jazeera’s Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License agreement.

New York, NY – Who doesn’t love fireworks, especially on New Year’s Eve, when it’s out with old and in with the new?

Who knows how much all these crowd-pleasing explosives cost as they ricochet from loud celebrations all over the globe?

And who cares? Many partygoers got too drunk to think about it.

Here, in New York, the great ball drop in Times Square has blown up into a major spectacle with celebrities galore that is followed by entertainment specials on every network.

We had Lady Gaga kissing Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the NYPD, a force he recently had the temerity to call his “private army”, pepper sprayed an attempt by Occupy Wall to regain the Park they had been forcibly ousted from a few miles downtown.

Sixty-eight activists became the first arrestees of 2012.

Mayor Bloomberg and Lady Gaga kiss in Times Square to bring in 2012. Photo courtesy of Mamapop.com

“Happy New Year” has become a mantra of good cheer and smiles all around but it’s a sentiment that’s strangely disconnected from any deeper reality.

Would so many millions be cheering if they had any inkling of what lies ahead, as one really bad year foreshadows one that may be even worse?

The hunger for happiness and the ability to deny reality is pervasive, and permeates borders everywhere.

Somehow there are those who know how truly absurd it is to celebrate when your life is about to turn for the worse. But, even if many did know, would they know what to do?

As Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes, “Could there be a single phrase that explains the woes of our time, this dismal age of political miscalculations and deceptions, of reckless and disastrous wars, of financial boom and bust and downright criminality?”

Maybe there is, and we owe it to Fintan O’Toole. That trenchant Irish commentator is a biographer and theatre critic, and a critic also of his country’s crimes and follies, as in his gripping book, Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger.

He reminds us of the famous saying by Donald H Rumsfeld, the former United States secretary of defence, that “There are known knowns… there are known unknowns… there are also unknown unknowns”.

But the Irish problem, says O’Toole, was none of the above. It was “unknown knowns”.

Given the degraded state of American media, we can’t assume that a TV-addicted audience of young people can know how bad it is or will become.

These partying crowds would have to wait a day to hear the BBC predict the downturn that awaits Europeans:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe was experiencing its “most severe test in decades…

France’s President Sarkozy said the crisis was not finished, while Italy’s president called for more sacrifices.

Growth in Europe has stalled as the debt crisis has forced governments to slash spending.

Protesters across Europe strike and demonstrate against severe austerity measures. Photo courtesy of SFGate.com

The leaders’ New Year messages came as leading economists polled by the BBC said they expected a return to recession in Europe in the first half of 2012.

Liberal economists like Paul Krugman at the New York Times have dismissed any talk of recession. He says the right word to use is depression. Politicians who believe that it takes confidence to promote a recovery want to stay positive, even though critics call this confidence-hype a “con game”.

“These realities will only be more obvious when gas goes to $5 a gallon… when more students drop out because they can’t afford the loans or tuition.”

Attorney Max Gardener, who runs popular “boot camps” for bankruptcy and foreclosure defence lawyers, knows the personal details of the avalanche of distress among the Middle class. He is skilled at fighting back, but is not optimistic in his New Year’s predictions, which include:

The unemployment rate will not drop below 7.00 per cent at any point during the year and will be above 8.00 per cent for at least half of the year. With our educational system in disarray, and technical skills at an all-time low among US workers, the fact of the matter is that all of the good jobs are in China, India, Vietnam, Brazil, Thailand and Argentina.
One of the top 10 United States banks will fail or be forced into a takeover by the end of the year. My best guess is Bank of America. BOA will be forced into liquidation under the too big to fail provisions of the Dodd Frank Act. The FHFA as conservator of BOA may impose the Chapter 13 principal reduction programme for all loans and serviced by the Bank.
The number of homes in foreclosure will double or triple from 2011 levels and home values will drop by another 15 per cent to 20 per cent by the end of year. I do not expect to see any real recovery in the housing market until at least 2022.

Ok, maybe this is all boring stuff that glazes over most minds. It’s certainly not as much fun as reading about Hollywood scandals.

These realities will only be more obvious when gas goes to $5 a gallon, when more cities plunge into darkness to save money on electricity, or when more students drop out because they can’t afford the loans or tuition.

As the Movie Biz is reporting one of its worst years, food prices are rising although some of this is invisible because of new packaging techniques that permit selling fewer of a product for more.

It is no wonder then that politicians don’t want to sound like bad news bears and talk about any of this because they know they can’t do anything. Politicians can’t tell markets what to do.

They prefer to demonise Iran perhaps in the hope that a new war will divert public attention and get keep the military-industrial complex generating new jobs. They are always on the prowl for new threats to exploit.

President Obama has now written off the possibility of doing anything new while planning to wage war on the Republican Congress as his campaign focus. The Republicans, meanwhile, are still battling each other, determined to prevent the rich from paying a fairer share of taxes.

As the New Year comes in with a bang, we are seeing our politics recede with a whimper, with signs of paralysis and stalemate all around. Even Lady Gaga can’t help us now.

News Dissector Danny Schechter is a blogger, author and filmmaker. His latest DVD is Plunder: the Crime of Our Time. He also hosts News Dissector Radio on ProgressiveRadioNetwork.com. Comments to Dissector@mediachannel.org


Art is Resistance: US Day of Rage artwork

I was fortunate enough to conduct an email interview with Alexa O’Brian (@carwinb) this week. O’Brian is an organizer for US Day of Rage. While I’m distilling her words into an editorial (and what inspiring, wise words she shared with me) on this very green, yet rapidly growing grassroots movement, I came across some awesome artwork from Michael Parenti (@exiledsurfer). Check this stuff out and be sure to share it with others. And while you’re at it, what grievance(s) will get you out into the streets on Sept 16th? List them in the comments and we’ll tweet them. We need more resistance art like this!

Bradley. Manning.

More art can be found on Parenti’s website here. All images are released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


US Uncut Olympia Occupies Capital Building, National Protests Planned for this Weekend

Activists, including members of a grassroots network called US Uncut Olympia, held week-long demonstrations at Olympia, Washington’s state capital building, culminating in the occupation of the capital rotunda for 3 days. According to the blog, Occupy Washington, there were 50 activists who staged the act of civil disobedience. Their actions were aimed at proposed budget cuts to a variety of public programs. Austerity measures like this are taking place all over the country, as conservative governors and state legislatures roll out unmitigated assaults on the working and middle class.

Also from Occupy Washington: “The proposed budget removes the basic support framework for the most vulnerable members of our community including seniors, people with disabilities, low income families, students, and single parent families. At the same time, the budget includes over $8 billion of lost revenue in corporate tax exemptions [emphasis mine]. Those inside are demanding an end to this dichotomy, effective action from the legislature to close tax loopholes, and restoration of basic services. Their rallying cry is, ‘No more cuts until fair taxation!’”

The activists were forcibly removed by state police on Saturday night.

Their rallying cry, “No more cuts until fair taxation!” echoes similar calls from their national counterpart, US Uncut, which is a network of citizens dedicated to exposing corporate tax evasion, and highlighting the effect this missing revenue has on community education, low-income healthcare, and other vital public services.

Since its inception almost two months ago, they have staged well over 150 protests and acts of civil disobedience, including occupying and shutting down major bank branches owned by Bank of America, and other corporations. US Uncut has drawn their inspiration from UK Uncut, who began pushing back against their own country’s austerity measures.

Actions in over 30 U.S. cities are planned for the weekend of the 15th this month, timed with the arrival of Tax Day on the 18th. Telecommunications company Verizon is expected to be the focus of US Uncut’s efforts, where “bail-ins” will occur in stores, and in tandem with UK Uncut, who will focus on Vodafone, Verizon’s sister company.

Not having paid federal income tax in two years, Verizon made over $12 billion in profits last year, and were it not for tax loopholes the company exploits, it would have owed $4 billion in taxes. That amount, for instance, would have made every single proposed budget cut in Pennsylvania unnecessary, where millions of dollars in cuts to public education and low-income health care are being proposed by Governor Tom Corbett.

To learn more and get involved with your local US Uncut chapter, visit their website.