Thousands of police used the funeral of a murdered officer to air their dispute with Mayor DeBlasio in Queens on Saturday.
More than 20,000 police officers from as far away as Pearl, Miss., and San Francisco gathered outside Christ Tabernacle Church in Queens on Saturday for the funeral of Rafael Ramos, one of the two NYPD officers who were murdered as they sat in their squad car a week earlier. Many in the crowd in blue outside turned their backs on Hizzoner’s televised image as he eulogized their slain colleague.
City pols had asked anti-police brutality demonstrators to stop protesting until both officers have been buried, and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association union, which helped organize an earlier back-turning protest inside the Bedford-Stuyvesant hospital where the officers’ bodies were carried, had said it was not giving interviews until the second funeral is over. But the union’s head Pat Lynch appeared on CNN that afternoon, and stopped short of supporting or condemning the protest.
“We have to understand the betrayal that they feel. But today we also come to bow our head in mourning, and tomorrow we’ll debate,” he said, then abruptly walked out on the interview.
Lynch said on the night of the murders that protesters have blood on their hands for supposedly inciting violence against the police, and that Mayor DeBlasio does, too. DeBlasio has taken a hands-off approach to the marches that have gripped the city for the past month following grand jury decisions not to indict the officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island. Police unions have also been embroiled in contract negotiations with City Hall since May.
NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan was inside during the funeral but condemned the cops’ act of protest in the street.
“It is disappointing because today is all about Officer Ramos,” he said. “We’ll hash all that out at a later time, but right now this is about celebrating the officers and their families.”
Ramos’s wife and two sons joined the widow of his fallen partner, Wenjian Liu, to hear remarks from Vice President Joe Biden, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, and the mayor.
“I’m sure I speak for the whole nation when I say to you that our hearts ache for you,” Biden said.
The Veep spoke of his own life tragedies, specifically the loss of his wife and daughter in a 1972 car crash.
“I know from personal experience that there is little anyone can say or do to ease the pain,” he said.
He was followed by the governor, who denounced recent threats against the NYPD, saying that “an attack on the NYPD is an attack on all of us.”
Cuomo vowed his support and said “75,000 police officers and National Guardsmen statewide have your back every step of the way.”
When it was DeBlasio’s turn to speak, he kept his comments brief, but solemn.
“Officer Ramos put his life on the line every day so other New Yorkers could live in peace, so they could live in safety,” he said. “That is what he believed in. His life was tragically cut short, but his memory will live on in the hearts of his family, his congregation, his brothers and sisters of the NYPD, and literally millions of New Yorkers. We will not forget.”
The mayor was about a minute into his remarks when the first of the officers turned their backs to a video screen that was set up outside the church for the overflow crowd. Others officers followed suit until nearly the majority of those in uniform on the street had joined in the protest.
It was a repeat of last Saturday, when dozens of officers turned their backs on the mayor as he made his way down a hallway at Woodhull Medical Center, where the bodies of Ramos and Liu were taken after they were shot and killed by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a transient with a history of mental illness who called the murders retribution for the killings of Garner and Brown. Brinsley killed himself moments later.
Pallbearers carried Ramos’s casket out of the Christ Tabernacle Church, where he was an usher, for full honors, including a fly-over by a dozen helicopters. A motorcade led by 300 motorcycles made its way towards Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn for his burial.
Deputy Chief Steven Silks, commanding officer of Patrol Borough Queens North, was overwhelmed by the scene following the funeral.
“This is unprecedented, wow,” he said, surveying the crowd of officers from all over the country. “They’re here from L.A. and Texas and a lot of those motorcycles are from New Orleans. They are from coast to coast and Canada and it’s greatly appreciated that they came.”
Many in the crowd came by bus caravan from Boston, explained Sgt. Steven Dearth of the Hingham. Massachusetts Police Department, calling the murders an act of terrorism.
“We had our own experience with domestic terrorism with the marathon bombing, but assassinating police officers is a whole different animal,” he said. “I’ve got to say I’ve been to too many of these funerals.”
The huge throng of law enforcement personnel was slow to break up, as many of the cops exchanged unit patches on their way to waiting buses. Meanwhile, the residents of Glendale, Queens were getting their neighborhood back.
One neighbor sat on the front steps of his 67th Street home, enjoying a cigar as the departing vehicles clogged Central Avenue.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love the NYPD, but we’ve been on lockdown for two whole days,” Warren Isaksen said. “A lot of our residents are really fed up that we couldn’t use our cars to go grocery shopping. We had helicopters all night long with searchlights lighting up our bedrooms. We love them, but we’re glad it’s over.”
Workers at the Manna Deli on Central Avenue were sorry it was over.
“We’ve never had a morning quite like this,” Sean Teng said.
As the only deli for several blocks, it was jammed, according to Teng’s colleague.
“It was unbelievable. We had to resupply several times this morning,” Long Chen said. “And it was fun to meet those guys. The amount of support they showed for each other was truly remarkable. And I’ve never felt safer in my life.”