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Occupy protester's police uniform irks Philadelphia police, union

March 20, 2012|By David Zucchino
  • Ray Lewis, a retired Philadelphia police captain, has ignited a furor by wearing his old uniform to Occupy demonstrations.
Ray Lewis, a retired Philadelphia police captain, has ignited a furor by… (Joseph Kaczmarek / Associated…)

He's a real-life action hero to the Occupy protest crowd -- a gray-haired, mustachioed retired police captain who happens to love the Occupy movement, especially in Philadelphia.

Ray Lewis, 60, who served for 24 years as one of Philly's finest, has appeared in public to support Occupy protests in the city -- while wearing his old police uniform and cap. That hasn't sat well with current Philly cops who wear the uniform, or with the local police union.

The Philadelphia police department and the union have demanded that Lewis stop wearing his old captain's uniform to Occupy protests. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey put it in writing in November, telling Lewis to "immediately cease and desist" with the uniform, already.

But on Tuesday the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the department has performed an abrupt about-face. It says Lewis can wear his uniform to Occupy events after all.

"He will not be arrested," Lt. Raymond Evers, a spokesman for Ramsey, told the newspaper. "He's exercising his First Amendment rights, and we're fine with that."

So ... never mind -- except for the police union. The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 in Philadelphia still wants the long arm of the law to clamp down on Lewis if he continues to parade around Occupy events in his old uniform.

"If I was the city, I'd arrest him every time for impersonating a police officer," John McNesby, the union president, told the Inquirer.

Lewis gained national notoriety in December, when Time magazine published his photo, in uniform, as part of its 2011 "Person of the Year" tribute to "The Protester." Lewis described to the magazine how he felt when he was arrested at an Occupy Wall Street protest in New York in November: "Walking across that intersection handcuffed was the proudest moment of my life."

Lewis was arrested while carrying a sign that read: "NYPD Don't Be Wall Street Mercenaries."

On Monday, Lewis was standing across from City Hall in Philadelphia to protest efforts to keep him out of uniform at protests.

"They're threatening me, hoping they'll take away a white police captain's face from the Occupy movement," he told the Inquirer while dressed, of course, in full police uniform.

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david.zucchino@latimes.com

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