Retired Captain Ray Lewis – who served for 24 years in Philadelphia's police force – has become an iconic figure within the Occupy movement. In both New York and Philadelphia, Lewis has legally donned his uniform on a regular basis during Occupy protests.
He's worn it while belting out mic checks at Zuccotti Park and marching on Wall Street. He's worn it while holding sharp-tongued signs and chanting with Occupiers before financial institutions in Manhattan and Philadelphia.
However, as William Bender of the Daily News reports, the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police is looking to expel Lewis from its union for his support of Occupy and for, specifically, wearing his uniform during protests.
As Bender reports, this is a union from which it is nearly impossible to be expelled:
IT’S USUALLY TOUGH to get kicked out of Philadelphia’s Fraternal Order of Police.This is no small matter. Lewis, if expelled, would likely be stripped of all his union benefits, including life insurance policies and free legal assistance the union offers members.
You really have to screw up.
Worse than, say, the cop who allegedly beat his girlfriend with a closed fist and left her a voice mail threatening to “stomp your f---ing heart out.” Or the officer convicted of child endangerment for pointing a loaded Glock at a kid who changed the radio station in his truck at the Police Academy.
Or the cop who allegedly forced a suspect to perform oral sex on him in his police cruiser.
The local FOP, which represents about 14,600 current and retired officers, went to bat for all three of those guys in arbitration hearings. In recent years, the union also has stood by cops accused or convicted of other transgressions, including drunken driving, assault, sleeping on the job and lying during a police investigation.
And for what? For legally wearing his uniform in public at Occupy protests, an act that apparently is far more obscene than forcing suspects to perform oral sex or pressing loaded guns to the temple of a child.
We had to dig into the books to see what we could do and couldn’t do,” said FOP pension director Henry Vannelli, who made the motion to refer Lewis’ case to the union’s grievance committee. “We don’t want that guy around.”We don't want that guy around.
This has become about retribution, about punishing and disgracing an officer with a pristine record for daring to demonstrate that there are many in uniform – both past and present – who support Occupy Wall Street.
This is about the powerful trying to bully someone who represents that very power:
“He’s not respecting the uniform,” union president John McNesby said. “People died for that uniform. It’s not Halloween.”The irony here is that the mere suggestion of arresting Lewis for wearing his police uniform is the true act that disrespects the uniform Lewis consistently wears.
Not only should Lewis be punished by the union, McNesby said, he “absolutely” should be locked up every time he sets foot in Philly with his uniform on.
It is the actions of the FOP – its current investigation into Lewis and its hypocrisy in supporting true criminals – that are disrespecting the uniform.
And this is something that Lewis himself is implicitly intoning:
On Thursday, with two documentarians in tow, he was protesting outside the Police Administration Building and FOP headquarters, asking...McNesby to explain why he wants to infringe on his First Amendment rights. [When] a retired police captain stopped by to offer his support, he said.Holding people accountable is apparently something the FOP is not accustomed to doing. Which is all the more reason why Lewis, and those like him, must be supported.
“Would you want me arrested if I was protesting cops losing their health care?” Lewis asked. “If I wore this uniform to a cop’s funeral or my mother’s funeral, would they want to arrest me for impersonating an officer? No, it’s because I want to hold corporations accountable.”
For his rights are our own.
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