Retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray “Occupy” Lewis: Legalize Marijuana & Marriage Equality, Ban Fracking
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PHOTO: Diane Fornbacher
I’ve run into the incomparable Ray “Occupy” Lewis at Occupy demonstrations and a few Smokedown Prohibition Philadelphia protests at which we both spoke. I’m always grateful and honored to see him at these functions inspiring people with his views on cannabis legalization, marriage equality, women’s reproductive rights, free speech and the reasons we ought to be against fracking.
He’s a 24-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department and wears his pressed and complete uniform at every public event. This move has occasionally ruffled some brass feathers but “Cap’n Ray”, as he’s affectionately referred to by hundreds of protesters, always comes out on top.
Lewis, who TIME Magazine honored with a full page photo in their Protester Person of the Year issue, sat down with me in Philadelphia at the Liberty Bell a few weeks ago to share with Ladybud Magazine what he’s been up to and where he plans to go next.
DIANE FORNBACHER: Why did you become involved with the Occupy Movement?
CAPTAIN RAY LEWIS: I am a retired Philadelphia Police Captain. I retired ten years ago but I came back out of retirement and the relative privacy of my secluded mountain home because the Occupy Movement peaked my interest.
I consider the marijuana legalization movement to be part of the Occupy Movement. I first got involved in the Occupy Movement in Zuccotti Park, New York City. I strongly believe in legalizing marijuana due to what I saw during my career as a police officer in Philadelphia.
When I talk about my career and the experiences I had, most of the violence I witnessed during my time in law enforcement was alcohol-fueled. So many accidents were alcohol related and none of those– fighting, accidents, any of that –none of it was caused by marijuana.
DF: What do you think about medicinal cannabis?
CRL: I’ve read quite a bit about how much it relieves pain, especially among cancer patients and that it has a lot of promise in many other areas. The reason we don’t know about how much more cannabis could do is because the United States government won’t give adequate funding to research it. Busting people who use cannabis is a major drain on the police department resources.
DF: Last we spoke, you mentioned you were going to a demonstration in New York City for reproductive rights and marriage equality, so you’re obviously in favor of both. Why do you support either?
CRL: I have a strong sense of justice and that drove my career.
Marriage equality is another issue that has everything to do with justice. Who is anyone to tell somebody they can’t love and marry someone else? Would that person want to be told they have to get a divorce because another person doesn’t like that they’re married to a certain individual? No, it’s absurd!
Unfortunately, this comes down to Christian Fundamentalists. They’re very controlling people. They also want to control a woman’s body, who you love, marry or what you watch on the internet. They want to control all these things about people’s lives and they have absolutely no right to.
DF: Where else have you traveled recently and what other causes do you support since you joined up with Occupy in 2011?
CRL: Well, I’ve concentrated on helping movements in New York City, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. Those are basically the three places I travel to the most.
The causes for my visits are varied but they all fall under the Occupy Movement. I’ve gone to DC several times to support the global warming climate change awareness actions.
I’ve made some trips to Binghamton and Albany, NY to help ban fracking. That’s a very dangerous way to get gas up from under the ground. It’s poisonous to the air, ground and water.
I am very involved in the anti-fracking movement. I’ve participated in demonstrations and am trying to get local officials elected who do not believe fracking is a viable or acceptable option. Any issue– social, economic, or environmental –wherever there’s an injustice, I want to try to be there.
DF: You were arrested in New York City by the police during demonstrations with Occupy. How were you treated by police officers up there? Were you treated with respect?
CRL: They treated me like every other individual, which to me was professional. That is not to say they act that way all the time but that day I was arrested, they did act professionally.
As I was sitting in jail, one officer whispered in my ear that I had the balls of an elephant. He had to whisper that. He didn’t want anybody else to know that he admired what I was doing.
There was another officer, a petite young lady, who saw while checking my ID that it was my birthday. She felt sincerely sorry she was arresting me on my birthday. To me, it didn’t even matter. One day is the same as any other. When the man next to me who was also being arrested heard this, he shouted ‘Mic check, mic check” and announced “it’s Captain Lewis’ birthday!” and they all start singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. A hundred and fifty people getting arrested and they were singing and laughing. That was really a beautiful moment.
DF: You’re wearing your Philadelphia Police Department uniform and every time I have seen you at Occupy or Smokedown Demonstrations you’ve also donned it. You’ve got your pins, stripes and pens all in order on your pockets, badge shined up, hat on perfectly straight. I noticed in the spring that the Philadelphia Police were kind of eyeing you up because of it. Have you spoken with any currently employed police officers here in Philly, and do any of them have an issue with you wearing your uniform at these things?
CSL: Interestingly, the Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and John McNesby from the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police both wrote scathing letters ordering me to stop what I was doing.
McNesby threatened my pension and then Ramsey illegally ordered me to stop wearing my uniform. He had no legal right to tell me to stop.
The “troops” or patrol officers got a hold of that letter. It’s interesting though because all the cops I run into and cops that I’ve worked with and other commanders that know me, they all come up and talk to me and say “Hey, how ya doin, Ray?” because they all knew that I was a good guy.They might not be doing what I’m doing but they understand that there are things wrong with this country. They all talk to me because they knew me personally.
The guys who never knew me, the blue shirts, I’ve tried talking with them but they’ll just turn their heads away from me. They’ve been brainwashed by the police commissioner that this man is disgracing the uniform.
DF: What woke you up to fighting for civil rights and environmental issues?
CSL: About two weeks before I went down to join Occupy for the first time, I was watching a documentary called ‘Inside Job’ about the financial collapse of our country, and about how these billionaires ripped off the people. After watching that, I got up and furiously wondered aloud, “Why doesn’t somebody do something?” and then I walked past a mirror and I saw Some Body.
A few days later, I read about Occupy on the computer and I thought “Occupy? What the heck is that?” and I read about hundreds of people sleeping in a park. I read what others were saying about these people, that they were nothing but dirty, screaming hippies who wanted nothing but handouts, and they have no agenda.
I did some more research and I found out that that they had a Declaration of Occupation. It was put out by the Occupiers of Zuccotti Park and it’s 23 bullet points and every one of them is against corporate America and I agreed with every single one.
Also, the date of that was September 29th; Zuccotti Park got started September 17 , so in 12 days with all that confusion and then organizing, they got out a Declaration of Occupation.
I knew that I was somebody who should get involved. The media was disparaging these individuals and making them look dirty, only filming a few individuals who were shaggy and unkempt. I said to myself “Hey, I can play a role in this. Let them call me a dirty hippy who needs a bath” if I went down in a sharp uniform. All these things together made me go down to Occupy.
DF: Today was the first time you met Neill Franklin, the Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). What did you make of his story?
CRL: Oh, he’s tremendous, absolutely! I thought he was very impressive looking, his appearance, experience, everything. A good appearance really helps to get a message across I think. He’s in good shape, very neat clothing, no shirt tails hanging out, no dirt stains or anything like that. His clothes are pressed, clean. He’s doesn’t have a big beer belly or anything hanging out.
DF: You were here at Smokedown Prohibition when NA Poe was violently arrested, practically at both your feet and mine, in the Spring for simply utilizing free speech and engaging in peaceful civil disobedience. What were your impressions of the police response and how the crowd reacted that day?
CRL: Well, there are a lot of ways to become involved. Protesting and civil disobedience are effective options just like lobbying, showing up to hearings and testifying.
I did hear people making disparaging comments out of shock from what happened and my opinion on that is it does nothing positive for a cause. It only breeds hostility. If you are going to engage in civil disobedience, you have to be civil and the people around you have to be civil as well.
When you smoke cannabis in public, you have to expect the police are going to arrest you. There will be repercussions. When the police come, you smoke the joint and pass it, put your hands behind your back and you get arrested.
I’m not even in favor of going limp. I’ll tell ya why – when I got arrested in Zuccotti Park, I walked with the police across the intersection, everybody else went limp. When you go limp, you make the police’s job harder. They were only doing their jobs there.
I’ll admit that I was doing civil disobedience. I’ll admit that I knew I was going to be arrested. When you do something like passive resistance, the cops have to drag you. Dead weight is heavy. You gotta use 2-3 officers. Show respect, say “I knew I was gonna get arrested but let’s respect each other” and walk with them. Fight later in court.
DF: What have you got planned for the rest of the summer?
CRL: Anti-fracking in New York and to help stop the Constitution Pipeline. I’ve been spending a lot of my time on that in particular. Shortly, I’ll be joining an election committee to get more local progressives elected in my own town.
DF: Do you have anything you want to say to people, not just of this country but to the people of the world about the situations in which we find ourselves — with the environment, degradation of rights, just so much going on. Saying “I want war to end” – it’s such a big statement. How does one start smart, locally?
CRL: Do like I’m doing in upstate NY and get involved in local politics. Anyone can get involved in that because all politics are local. You can make changes in each and every little town. People have to be involved politically, there’s no doubt about that, but events like Smokedown Prohibition are good to build solidarity among the people. It’s letting people feel like they’re not so isolated, that there are others out there just like them.