Retired PPD Captain (And Occupy Wall Street Protester) Ray Lewis Won’t Take Off His Uniform
As we reported earlier today, both Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and the Philly F.O.P. have demanded that retired PPD captain Ray Lewis—who has been among the protesters at Occupy Wall Street in New York City since mid-November—stop wearing his old police uniform at Occupy demonstrations.
But the 60-year-old Lewis, born and raised in the Holmesburg section of Northeast Philly, insists he won’t be bullied, even if his retirement benefits could be at risk. When PW recently caught up with him at Zuccotti Park, Lewis said that wearing his uniform was a crucial public statement he wasn’t about to abandon.
“I noticed the 1% trying to marginalize these Occupiers as out of the mainstream of America,” he said. “They were trying to tell mainstream Americans, ‘These are not your type, you can’t associate with them, their concerns are not your concerns,’ so they interviewed the guys with the pink hair and the tattoos and all of that. I realized what they were doing so I said, ‘I’m coming down there and I challenge Wall Street to marginalize me.’”
Since retiring from the PPD in 2004 after a 24-year career as a cop, Lewis and his wife have lived on a farm in the Catskills, which he said he’s in the process of turning into a nature preserve. “It’s very secluded—like a Thoreau Walden Pond thing—and I did not have any intention of coming back, but [the Occupy movement] is so overwhelming of a need, I was driven.”
Lewis arrived in New York City on the evening of Monday, Nov. 14—just hours before the NYPD forcibly evicted Zuccotti Park campers in the early morning hours of Nov. 15. Lewis wasn’t at the site when the raid occurred, but came the next morning to find the park empty.
“I was shocked,” said Lewis. “I was shocked that there was not more negotiation. “You never lose with more negotiation. This was all Mayor Bloomberg. This had nothing to do with [NYPD] Commissioner Ray Kelly, this had nothing to do with the white shirts. Mayor Bloomberg is the 14th richest person in this country. A man like that should not even have power. It was his decision. Bloomberg had all the time in the world to plan out the [eviction]. To come up with that operation was a disgrace.”
That’s when he decided to don his old uniform in solidarity with Occupy Wall Streeters protesting the eviction. On Nov. 17th (his 60th birthday), Lewis, in uniform, was arrested during a demonstration in Wall Street where he and others sat down in the street and refused to move, and was charged with disorderly conduct.
“Everything I saw that day, I would love to have had any of those officers working for me,” he says of the arresting NYPD officers. “What I saw, it was exemplary, professional conduct.”
Cease-and-desist letters from Commissioner Ramsey and the F.O.P. aside, Lewis said that he hasn’t been in contact with a single person from the PPD since he retired. “When I moved [to the Catskills] I was totally out of touch with everybody, and that was my choosing. I’m basically a loner, and I like the seclusion.”
Still, he said, his involvement with the Occupy movement shouldn’t have come as a shock to his old colleagues. “My orientation [as a police officer] was always empathy with people who were suffering,” said Lewis, who explained that he worked as a cab driver, factory worker and, after getting a B.A. in psychology, as an assistant therapist in Doylestown before joining the PPD for what he called “my most fulfilling job, where every single day you can go into disadvantaged neighborhoods and have a real, positive impact on people’s lives.”
Lewis said that while he had no plans to “do anything illegal” and face another arrest, he also had no intentions of taking off his uniform and protesting in civilian clothes.
Noting the mixed response from NYPD officers—ranging from subtle nods or winks to scowls and disdainful comments—to his uniformed protest, and acknowledging the criticism he’s received from some cops around the country, Lewis insisted that wearing his old uniform wasn’t a sign of disrespect but rather a way to demonstrate that the police are part of the 99%, too.
“I am supporting them,” he said. “All of them. Most of them don’t know it now, but hopefully, eventually, they will realize that I was fully in support of them.”
[Photo by Michael Alan Goldberg]