In 2011, veteran Philadelphia police officer Ray Lewis became a mascot for the non-hippies at Occupy Wall Street. Last week he brought his colorful brand of activism to Ferguson.
Photos by the author
In 2011, when Middle American thought of the Occupy Movement as a smorgasbord of drum circles, a photo emerged of a former police captain being arrested by the NYPD. That was Ray Lewis, 23-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department. The Occupy Movement turned him into some sort of legitimized and uniformed social advocate. He’s since traveled to various protests across the US, including the recent unrest in Ferguson. I caught up with him across the street from the QuikTrip where Mike Brown was killed.
VICE: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen in Ferguson?
Ray Lewis: Last night I saw officers not wearing name tags or badges. It’s unfathomable to me that officers, while being investigated, and with international attention, are still breaking the law. I can’t believe it. Officers on site are allowing it. That’s unheard of. If I ever saw that, the officer would be off the street in a second.
You’ve never seen anything like that before?
My officers knew better. They’d never think of doing something like that. The thing is, there’s no accountability. They get away with it here. That shows me one thing—it shows that nothing gets done to them.
Who did you see doing that?
It was the dark blue uniforms—either Ferguson or highway patrol. Speaking of which, I’ve got the St. Louis police right over my shoulder here. I don’t know what they’re doing, but I’m standing right next to CNN.
What do you think the solution in Ferguson is?
Well, Police Chief Jackson has got to go. He will go. That’s one of the ways they’ll persuade the citizens. They’re going to have to get rid of his top commanders and get new guys to come in. They’ll know that they have to do the job right. But [these officers] are going to say, “Now nobody is going to cover for me." They’re going to try and undermine the new command. It takes time to get around that.
The new commanders need to designate an officer as a community-relations officer. He’s got to interact. The people get to know the officer, and the officer gets to know the people. Right now there is no interaction.
At Chief Jackson’s press conference where he announced the name of the officer [who shot Mike Brown], there were around 12 officers behind him—all white. If he had intermingled with the community in his four years, he’d have had 12 black people back there.
Do you think affirmative action could work in police departments?
I’m not saying you have to have affirmative action, but you can accomplish the same thing by doing this: You have to have a police force that’s representative of your community. That does not just mean race. That means ethnicity, gender, and even sexual preference. You’ve got to advertise in black neighborhoods, over black radio stations, in gay magazines. Once you put this out there you’ll have people going Hey, I didn’t know the police were hiring. They don’t do that here.
What do you think of the militarization of police?
It’s appalling. I saw two huge armored personnel carriers the other night, and it sent chills up my spine. Loaded with officers. Someone can pop up with a machine gun.
Here you have a protest that’s very peaceful. You don’t need cops driving up and down the street. It’s an insult to the community. It’s not just a slap in the face to the community; it’s a punch in the face.
And the body suits they have, they look like robots. When you look like robots, you’re going to act like a robot. Your sensitivity is reduced. If you start dressing a police force like an occupying army they’re going to start acting like an occupying army. And we all know how occupying armies act. Look at the atrocities that this country has committed in occupied countries that we’re in now. You lose perspective.
Did you see any militarization in your experience?
Oh, no, none whatsoever. Almost every problem, if you follow it back far enough, goes to corporate America. They saw what was happening in other countries, and then they saw what was happening with Occupy, and that woke them up; [they realized] that if economic times get worse we might have more people rioting and we might not be able to deal with it. Let's make sure the police are armed.
The other way they make money is that eventually this equipment is going to become outdated, and they’ll need new equipment. There’s going to be pressure on police departments to stay modern. Plus they’ll need maintenance. Who supplies this maintenance? Corporations. They’re going to make a fortune off this.
Have you ever seen Inside Job?
Yeah, the one narrated by Matt Damon? Exactly, that motivated me. I got up, I said to my wife, “Why doesn’t somebody do something?!” I passed a mirror and I saw somebody. A week later I read about the Occupy movement. Here’s a movement already in progress, and not only that, but I’ve got the uniform.
The media were casting the Occupiers as dirty, filthy screaming hippies. Well, let them tell me to get a bath. Let them tell me to get a job. Boy, [the police] hated my guts down there.
What other causes have you protested for?
I’ve been in Philadelphia a number of times for pro-marijuana and gay-rights rallies, rallies against fracking and companies that are destroying the air and water and raping the land. I’m very environmentally conscious in my protests.
Are you hopeful for the future of America?
No, not at all. We’re going to get climate change, and it’s going to change the earth, and it’s going to be too late to do anything about it. We’re past the tipping point.
In 20 to 30 years, this country is going to be drastically changed, if it even exists. Everyone is going to be fighting one another for survival, the food that still exists, and the water that hasn’t evaporated. People think there will always be a Walmart, they’ll always have a big screen TV and an SUV. It’s very short-sighted.
You can find Captain Ray Lewis on Facebook.
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