An Occupy protest staged on Independence Mall Monday raised an interesting question: Should a retired Philadelphia cop be allowed to wear his uniform while protesting?
Raymond Lewis, a retired Philadelphia police captain, has done just that. Dressed in full uniform, Lewis joined the protesters as they marched through Center City from the Liberty Bell to the Comcast Center. There they petitioned Comcast to add the Middle Eastern-based news station, Al-Jazeera English, to its basic subscription plan.
Lewis’ opponents claim that since he no longer holds any type of authority, he should be arrested for impersonating an officer.
Lewis says his choice of dress is protected under the First Amendment, and is meant to do no harm.
“I’m not pretending to have official authority. I’m not ordering anyone to do anything,” Lewis said. “And here’s the key … if I wore this uniform to the funeral of a fallen officer, I would have to be arrested for that also, because I’m doing nothing different.”
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey disagrees. He has issued Lewis a cease and desist order — claiming that retired officers no longer have the “authority or license” to wear the official uniform for any purpose.
Jay Lancaster, a tourist from Maryland, said he and his family were confused Monday afternoon to find out that the uniformed officer that they saw on Independence Mall wasn’t actually on duty.
“Older people like myself that are law-abiding citizens have a tremendous respect for that uniform,” Lancaster said. “It should mean that that man is somebody in authority that I can trust, and it turns out he’s just using it for whatever political cause that [the occupiers] seem to be advocating.”
Lewis first became a figurehead of the Occupy movement in New York in November. He was arrested then, in his Philadelphia dress blues, for disorderly conduct. As a result of a deal made after that detainment, Lewis can avoid further penalty as long as he avoids another arrest for six months.
That seems to be a fate Lewis is determined to tempt.
Although he wasn’t arrested Monday, Lewis already has plans to join another protest in uniform Wednesday, this time at City Hall.
Whether he’s arrested then, Lewis feels his cause — exposing what he sees as the injustice of corporate greed —is worth it.
“I don’t want to sit in a jail cell for who knows how long,” he said. “But this cause is so great that every cell in my body is screaming out that what I’m doing is right.”