New York police shooting: thousands turn out for the funeral of Rafael Ramos

Gulf between police and mayor exposed as officers turn backs

Andrew Buncombe
Saturday 27 December 2014 17:52 GMT
A painting of Rafael Ramos, one of the New York police officers killed by a gunman
A painting of Rafael Ramos, one of the New York police officers killed by a gunman (Reuters)

A sea of blue descended on the Christ Tabernacle Church in New York on Saturday to say farewell to one of the two police officers murdered “execution-style” a week ago by a lone gunman.

But as officials such as Vice President Joe Biden honoured Rafael Ramos and other members of the New York Police Department, the gulf that has developed between the force and the city’s civilian leadership was starkly underscored when officers turned their backs to the church when Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered the eulogy.

The stunning image of this act of defiance and disrespect, broadcast live, was as powerful as the words of purported unity and togetherness that accompanied it. It echoed a similar action by officers when Mr de Blasio attended a press conference last week at the Brooklyn hospital where the officers’ bodies had been taken.

“Your husband, and his partner, they were a part of New York’s finest, and that’s not an idle phrase,” said Mr Biden, addressing his comments to Mr Ramos’s widow, Maritza. “I believe that this great police force of this incredibly diverse city can and will show the nation how to bridge any divide. You’ve done it before and you will do it again.”

Mr Ramos, 40, and his partner, Wenjian Liu, 32, were shot last Saturday afternoon as they sat in their patrol car, parked on a Brooklyn street, while they enjoyed a meal break. Officials have said they doubt they even saw their killer, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who approached their car, took up a shooting stance and then shot them in the head.

The 28-year-old fled from the scene, pursued by other officers, only to shoot himself shortly afterwards at a nearby subway platform. Earlier in the day, he had shot and wounded his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore and posted messages on social media suggesting he wanted to kill police officers.

In the aftermath of the shootings, Mr de Blasio has faced criticism from officers’ associations who have said he has done insufficient to support the police amid a national controversy surrounding the deaths of black suspects at the hands of the police.

“There’s blood on many hands tonight,” Patrick Lynch, the leader of the largest police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said after last week’s deaths. “That blood starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the mayor.”

A number of cities across the US have seen protests over the deaths of a series of black suspects and the decisions not to charge the officers involved. Anger in New York was triggered, in particular, by the death of Eric Garner, a 46-year-old black man who died after being placed in a so-called choke-hold while being detained by officers investigating alleged illegal cigarette sales.

Earlier this month, prosecutors announced they were not going to charge the officers involved in the death of Mr Garner, who had three children. The protests, which were largely peaceful, followed those in Ferguson, Missouri, after the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown. The officer involved in his death this summer was also cleared of any wrongdoing.

A painting of Rafael Ramos, one of the New York police officers killed by a gunman
A painting of Rafael Ramos, one of the New York police officers killed by a gunman (Reuters)

“Our hearts are aching today. We feel it physically,“ Mr de Blasio said on Saturday, stressing the contribution made by the NYPD. When he entered the church, he had acknowledged Mr Lynch, one of his most vociferous critics.

“All of this city is grieving and grieving for so many reasons,” he added. “But the most personal is that we’ve lost such a good man, and the family is in such pain.”

A spokesman for the NYPD told the Associated Press that the funeral service held for Mr Ramos in the Queens borough was most likely the most heavily attended in the force’s history. Officers had travelled from across the US, and from abroad. Both Mr Ramos and Mr Liu were stationed at the city’s 84th precinct. The funeral plans for Mr Liu, originally from China, have yet to be announced.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told the service that New York’s police force included officers who had moved to the city from more than 50 countries and who spoke 64 languages. The citizenry they served included people from every country on earth.

Mr Ramos, whose police shield bore the number 6335, was of Puerto Rican descent. He had two sons, Jaden and Justin. Justin, who wore his father’s police jacket to Saturday’s service, had the previous day spoken of Mr Ramos at a eight-hour wake. “Dad, I’ll miss you with every fibre of my being,” he said.

Mr Ramos’s first job had been as a school safety officer, those gathered on Saturday were reminded. Yet he had wanted to do more to serve others and strove to be a police officer. The Washington Post said that childhood friends of Mr Ramos had nicknamed him Pote, which translated, imperfectly, as “can of goodness”.

He did not just keep “a bible in his locker”, said Mr Biden, but carried one in his heart. He had been studying to become a chaplain and had just completed the necessary course. William Bratton, the New York Police Commissioner, told Saturday’s congregation that Mr Ramos had been named an honorary chaplain at his precinct.

Commentators have said the tension currently existing between the NYPD and the Mayor’s office had not been seen for many, many years. A number have said Mr de Blasio has more to do to heal his relationship with the force.

On Saturday, Mr Biden, the Vice President, sought to smooth things over by suggesting the force and the city of New York had on previous occasions rebounded from darkness and adversity.

He was cheered when he claimed the force was the best in the world. He said: “When an assassin’s bullet targeted two officers, it targeted this city and it touched the soul of an entire nation.”

After the all the words and tears and reflection, six officers carried the flag-draped casket of Mr Ramos into a waiting hearse. Buglers played Taps. The coffin containing the body of a man who had been targeted and murdered because of a job he had always wanted to do, was then driven to the Cypress Hills Cemetery for burial.

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