Nine years ago, Ray Lewis told the Northeast Times that he moved to Mechanicsville to be as far removed as possible from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
As a Philadelphia police captain, he had to maintain his home in the city, but the tiny Far Northeast enclave offered him a slice of peaceful country living. In fact, he liked it so much he even served as president of the Mechanicsville Civic Association.
But Lewis sold his house in 2003, and the following year he retired from the police force.
Then last week, he ended up on the front lines of the nation’s latest, most publicized urban conflict — the confrontation between New York City police and the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
New York’s finest arrested Lewis last Thursday during a demonstration in now-notorious Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, in the shadow of the city’s financial district and barely a block from the National September 11 Memorial. Lewis wore his old Philly PD captain’s dress uniform throughout the episode and apparently was an active participant in the protests.
Several YouTube postings document his pinch, which features rank-and-file New York cops in riot gear leading him away with plastic zip-ties binding his wrists.
A widely published photo of Lewis shows him sitting on a sidewalk with his back to a building, wrists tied at his back and under police guard. Information on the specific reason for his arrest was not immediately available. His custody status is unknown.
Other YouTube clips posted to the site a day or two before his arrest show Lewis holding protest signs and being interviewed about his reasons for joining the Occupy movement.
“They’re trying to get me arrested and I may disappear,” Lewis told one amateur interviewer. “I’m not going to go to (state) prison, but as soon as I’m let out of jail, I’ll be right back here and they’ll have to arrest me again.
“I’m (the police’s) worst enemy, especially with the white shirts, the bosses. Some of the fellow cops, they maybe think, ‘That guy, he’s got a point. But (with) the bosses, I’m their number one enemy.”
Lewis’ arrest was widely reported as one of the key events of an eventful day for Occupy Wall Street, which declared Thursday its “Day of Action.” Hundreds of protesters staged sit-ins at several intersections around the New York Stock Exchange reportedly in defiance of police, who arrested about 170.
Another news media star of the day also hails from Philadelphia. Photos of a bloodied Brandon Watts, 20, led reports in the New York Daily News as well as the Daily Mail, England’s second-biggest selling newspaper.
Watts reportedly claims to have been the first Occupy activist to set up camp in Zuccotti Park on Sept. 17.
But accounts of Lewis’ sensational arrest quickly made him the headliner in countless print and broadcast news reports and on the Internet. His online videos have gone “viral,” as they say.
In one of the segments, he holds up two handmade signs directed at New York City police. One states in all capital letters, “NYPD, Don’t Be Wall Street Mercenaries.” The other states, “NYPD, Watch Inside Job Then Join Us.”
Inside Job is a 2010 documentary film critical of the role of the financial services industry in the nation’s ongoing economic crisis. Director Charles H. Ferguson has accused the financial industry of engaging in systematic corruption.
Lewis explained his view to an interviewer: “You have to get rid of corporate America. You have to get rid of the power that they have. You have to greatly control every transaction and what’s going on there and basically you have to make them impotent, because as long as they have the power they’re going to continue to exploit and manipulate the working class.”
He counts the rank-and-file police among the exploited and manipulated, despite their conflicting role with Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.
“All the cops are, they’re workers for the [nation’s richest] one percent and they don’t even realize they’re being exploited,” Lewis said.
In a separate video, Lewis said, “I’m trying to let [police] know, ‘You’re one of us.’ And these bankers up here, they’re cutting [officers’] health care, they’re cutting their pensions, they’re cutting their salaries and [officers] don’t even know it. They’ve got to become aware of that.”
The Northeast Times has not been in contact with Lewis — a former commander of the 25th Police District in North Philly — since he sold his place in Mechanicsville and retired from the force. But in the 1990s and early 2000s, he rarely hesitated to speak publicly about issues close to his heart.
He lived in the neighborhood for about 17 years and served for many of those years as the civic association president. He fought against chronic illegal dumping in nearby Benjamin Rush State Park and Poquessing Valley Park. He fought to ban small-game hunting in Rush Park after, he claimed, shotgun pellets fired by a wayward hunter wounded him in the back as he stood in his back yard one day. He was not seriously injured in the shooting.
Lewis took part in efforts to block further residential development of Mechanicsville in the 1990s and often weighed in on planning and construction of the Byberry East Industrial Park by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation as well as plans by the now-defunct Fairmount Park Commission to develop hiking trails and recreational facilities in the nearby parks.
Nine years ago, Lewis said he hoped to keep Mechanicsville as rustic and peaceful as it was when he moved out of Holmesburg in 1986.
“I just walked into a Realtor and said, ‘I want something inside the city limits and as country as possible,’” Lewis told the Northeast Times in 2002. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org