Ramsey Philly Chief
Police Repression and Disaster Capitalism
Mayor elect Michael Nutter recently named former Washington police chief Charles H. Ramsey as the new police commissioner, to take office along with Nutter. Charles Ramsey has a long and distinguished career heading police departments, most recently in Washington DC and previously in Chicago. Unfortunately these distinguishing characteristics have been repeated abuses of constitutional rights of citizens—especially against those attempting the exercise their right to free speech and dissent—and his predilection for declaring states of emergency during crime waves over which he presided.
Ramsey started his career in Chicago, home of machine politics and monumental police corruption, one of whose most authoritative law enforcement histories is entitled To Serve and Collect. He climbed quickly through the ranks in Chicago, surviving the tumultuous politics of graft and patronage that the windy city is so well known for. In 1983 there was a huge shakeup of the political order in Chicago with the election of Harold Washington—the city’s first black mayor and an enemy of the longstanding political dynasty of Richard J. Daley—which almost finished off the moribund Democratic machine, heavily divided along racial and ethnic lines. A fair number of Democrats switched to the Republican ticket at this time, including a longtime friend and ally of Ramsey, Terrance Gainer (currently U.S. Capitol Police Chief ), who would go on to join Ramsey in DC. Ramsey went on to serve as Commander of the Narcotics Section from 1989 to 1992 and then for two years as a Deputy Chief of the police force’s Patrol Division. In 1994 he was appointed Deputy Superintendent.
Ramsey stayed on with the Chicago department until 1998.
An article in the Asheville Global Report on the handling of the 1996 Democratic national convention by Chicago cops, describes how Ramsey as Deputy Superintendent in Chicago “...shaped DNC police strategy on the streets, which included police spying, illegal raids on gathering sites, routine harassment and arrest of suspected protesters in public spaces, destruction of activists’ video and film, and a consistent refusal to grant march permits --forcing protesters to the courts to fight for the right to peacefully assemble.” The courts in Chicago found in favor of many protesters after the fact, awarding settlements for their treatment in the hands of the Chicago PD.
During his tenure in Chicago, Ramsey also lobbied, along with other police commanders, for a revival of the so called “red squads”. The red squads—special police counterintelligence units intended to “neutralize” “anti-social” organizations—were explicitly outlawed in Chicago in 1975. Documents revealed that year by a class action suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Alliance to End Repression (a coalition of churches, women’s groups, civil rights organizations, and war veterans) - to disrupt and destroy law-abiding political and community groups. The grand jury investigation also revealed “a close working relation” between the military intelligence group called the Security Section, and the Legion of Justice, a local right-wing para-military terrorist group.
As reported by The Socialist Worker in a 2004 article, the Chicago Sun Times received internal police audits from 2002 that described how “...undercover officers infiltrated meetings and rallies of the Chicago Direct Action Network, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Autonomous Zone, Not in Our Name, and Anarchist Black Cross.”
This was not his only scandal while presiding over the Chicago Police. Ramsey helped create the controversial Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy program which was touted as a new alliance between citizens and police, but has been heavily criticized as an ineffective attempt to recruit informants.
Charles H. Ramsey retired from the Chicago police and was then appointed chief of the DC Metropolitan Police Department on April 21, 1998.
In DC Ramsey spearheaded such projects as extending the youth curfew, installing surveillance cameras, and instituting traffic stops which collected information of drivers, decried as a flagrant violation of privacy rights.
Ramsey got another chance to flex his muscles in 2002 with the World Bank / International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting in DC.
Another article from the Asheville Global Report, entitled “Police chief’s tactics no surprise, say activists,” the similarities between Ramsey’s handling of the 1996 Democratic Convention in Chicago to his handling of the 2002 International Monetary Fund / World Bank protests in Washington DC. (For the sake of disclosure, I was arrested at that protest in an unprovoked mass arrest in Pershing square.) Washington DC is currently facing hundreds of lawsuits for its violation of protesters constitutional rights in DC and has already doled out millions of dollars in settlements.
In an interview on Democracy Now after the mass arrests in DC in 2002, Mark Goldstone of the National Lawyers Guild stated,
“...that the government of the District of Columbia was actually defending and facing more lawsuits for false arrests and for police misconduct and for police brutality than they had gotten convictions for criminal charges in the five-year period since 1999.” He goes on to describe what he calls, “...the Ramsey plan, which is named after the Chief of Police, Charles Ramsey in which they were arresting people for their thoughts, and not for their actions, and I analogized it to the Tom Cruise movie called “Minority Report,” where people were arrested for pre-crime.”
During Ramsey’s watch in DC, there was a general drop in violent crime in DC, which coincided with a period of accelerated gentrification. A Washington Post article No Wonder Some D.C. Folks Feel Abandoned from 2004 details the process by which a housing project controlled by drug dealers called Sursum Corda was bulldozed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “The buildings have failed inspections, which gives HUD the right to foreclose, which in turn would allow the owners to pay off their mortgages and flip the properties to market-rate units, adding them to the wave of gentrification now sweeping Washington’s core.” In that case, a crime-ridden neighborhood was merely removed along with all its residents.
It is natural, in a chaotic situation, to desire safety. In her new book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein explains how a radical vision of capitalism put forward by the late economist Milton Friedman has been put into effect through what Klein refers to as the “shock doctrine”. The shock doctrine relies on catastrophe, either artificial or natural, to stun a society. While a population is still reeling from this disaster (read: hurricane Katrina or the shock and awe military campaign, or in our case a crime emergency), the disaster capitalists attack, pushing through a radical societal transformation. Appropriately enough, Friedman’s policies are also referred to as the Chicago school of economic thought since Friedman was an influential professor at the University of Chicago. Friedman’s doctrine, the aforementioned radical societal transformation, entails what Klein refers to as a “holy trinity” of privatization, deregulation, and cuts to social spending.
In New Orleans we can currently see the impacts of Chicago School economics with the demolition of public housing now occurring and the recent firing of unionized teachers and dismantling of the public education system and its rapid replacement with privatized, non-union charter schools which did not rehire most of these experienced teachers. Philadelphia too is experiencing a drastic economic transformation: a wave of new development and a reversal of white flight, a wave of gentrification, and the displacement of entire neighborhoods. Ramsey’s appointment seems timely indeed.
Yet, despite Ramsey’s experience, his appointment was not to the liking of the Philly Police who had picked their own candidates for the post from within the Philly Police Ranks. Another mitigating factor was that Ramsey declared crime emergencies four times during his eight years in DC. His use of “crime emergencies” to contravene Police Union contracts in DC did not endear him with the Police Union there. He also used those emergencies as a pretense to lengthen youth curfews and install CCTV cameras.
While the evidence of coordinated repression of protesters throughout Ramsey’s career appears anecdotal, Ramsey himself is quoted by one Washington Post reporter as stating, “I’ve had people from [the special operations division] also go to Quebec City, Genoa, Sydney, New York, Seattle, Salt Lake City,” Ramsey said. “We share police tactics, but more importantly, we learn tactics used by demonstrators that may be used against us.” Clearly these are not rogue cops or a bunch of bad apples here.
Unfortunately the truth travels a bit slower than cops on horseback. The shambling bureaucracy of legislation cannot keep pace with the battle in the streets. Ramsey knows this, and he is—if nothing else—a skilled manager of public opinion. There is a certain similarity to the shock doctrine here—that the higher ups know what they are doing is unconstitutional yet they strike when the opportunity presents itself, falsely arresting large groups of protesters with the knowledge that while the courts may fine the city later, no one can stop them now. Ramsey and his militarized police force clear the streets, pull down the banners, silence the most outspoken critics of corporate dominance and globalization, of Chicago school economics in their purest form. Ramsey has displayed clearly where his true allegiance lays.
On a recent appearance on The Countdown with Keith Olberman, Naomi Klein stated that our accounting for the wrongdoing of the disaster capitalists is usually conducted after the fact—when the dust has cleared. We only know what has happened once it is too late to stop it.
Watching Michael Nutter ride into the Mayor’s office on his “stop and frisk” horse, it seems that the citizens of Philadelphia are traumatized, and are still reeling from an extremely violent year. Lets just hope that we are not so blinded by our desire for revenge or an easy solution that we will accept the replacement of one set of gangsters, the drug dealers and their minions, with another set of gangsters, the bankers and real estate brokers and their footsoldiers in blue.