By Bill Parry
Mayor Bill de Blasio met with the heads of the police unions in College Point in an effort to defuse the tension that hovered over the funeral of a slain cop last weekend when thousands of officers turned their backs as he eulogized their fallen brother.
De Blasio left the 2-1/2-hour meeting with police without commenting Tuesday. While PBA President Pat Lynch said he thought the talks helped to move things in a “positive direction,” none of the union officials would take any questions after the session ended at the new Police Academy.
A spokesman for the mayor said, “Today’s meeting focused on building a productive dialogue and identifying ways to move forward together. The mayor and police commissioner remain committed to keeping crime in New York City at historically low levels, supporting the brave men and women in uniform who protect us every day, and finding ways to bring police and the community closer together.”
The mayor had hoped extending an olive branch might help bridge a growing divide after he heard boos and catcalls Monday at a ceremony for nearly 900 new graduates of the Police Academy at Madison Square Garden.
“You’ll confront all the problems that plague our society, problems that you didn’t create,” de Blasio said. From the audience, someone shouted back, “You did!” Prompting some applause as well as laughter.
The mayor’s comments at the Madison Square Garden event were his first since Saturday’s funeral for slain Officer Rafael Ramos that drew over 20,000 police officers from New York and every part of the United States. The majority turned their backs to the outdoor screens as de Blasio delivered his eulogy at the Christ Tabernacle Church in Glendale.
The mayor did not offer a reaction to the silent protest, choosing instead to keep the focus on Ramos’ funeral and the services for his partner, Wenjian Liu, next weekend. In an answer to a request for comment, a spokesman for the mayor said,“The Ramos and Liu families, our police department and our city are dealing with an unconscionable tragedy, our sole focus in unifying this city and honoring the lives of our two police officers.”
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton called the police protest a “stunning show of disrespect” during a national television appearance Sunday morning.
“That funeral was held to honor Officer Ramos, and to bring politics, to bring issues into that event was very inappropriate and I do not support it,” Bratton said on Meet the Press. “He is the mayor of New York, he was there representing the citizens of New York to express their remorse and their regret at that death.”
When the uniformed officers began to turn their backs on the mayor, they were joined by hundreds of officers from around the country and Canada, who were part of the overflow crowd outside the church.
“It’s been a difficult year for law enforcement and every department in the country is feeling the pressure,” Deputy Sheriff Evan Wagner of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department said. “I’m based in East Compton and we’ve been subject to some low blows from the community as well. Cops are realists. You don’t go to these funerals thinking everything’s going to change. We go because we’re happy with the solidarity that comes with standing together.”
Serge Courtemanch of the Lavalle PD, outside of Montreal, came after his partner was killed in the line of duty last year. Darren Brown of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police traveled from Manitoba, where three of his men were killed in an ambush.
Several hundred made their way to Glendale in bus caravans from Boston. Sgt. Steven Dearth of the Hingham, Mass. Police Department said, “We had our own experience with domestic terrorism with the Marathon Bombing, but assassinating police officers is a whole different animal. I’ve got to say I’ve been to too many of these funerals.”
Ramos and Liu, both promoted to detective by Bratton, were ambushed in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn as they sat in their squad car Dec. 20. They were shot and killed by Ismaaiyl Brinsley in retaliation for the deaths of two unarmed black men by police. The gunman later killed himself.
Vice President Joe Biden was the first to speak at the Ramos funeral, saying, “When an assassin’s bullet targeted two officers, it targeted this city and it touched the soul of the entire nation.”
He was followed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who denounced the recent threats against the NYPD, and said “an attack on the NYPD is an attack on all of us.” Cuomo followed with a vow of support and pointed out that “75,000 police officers and National Guardsmen statewide have your back every step of the way.”
When it was de Blasio’s turn to speak, he kept his comments short but to the point. “
“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 casket of Rafael Ramos was then taken out of 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 burial.
The huge throng of officers was slow to break up, many of them exchanging unit patches as they made their way to waiting buses. Meanwhile, the residents of Glendale were getting their neighborhood back.
Walter Isaksen watched the outgoing traffic jam from the front steps of his home at 71-06 67th Street. “Don’t get me wrong, I love the NYPD, but we’ve been on lockdown for two whole days,” he 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.”
Sean Teng and Long Chen, two workers at the Manna Deli, at 65-04 Central Ave., were sorry it was over.
“We’ve never had a morning quite like this,” Teng said.
As the only deli for several blocks, it was jammed, according to Chen. “It was unbelievable, we had to resupply several times this morning,” he 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.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.