By Madina Toure
In what Police Commissioner Bill Bratton called “one step toward righting a wrong,” the street in front of the Police Academy in College Point has been renamed to honor Patrolman Phillip Cardillo, who was shot inside a Nation of Islam mosque in Harlem in April 1972. Cardillo was 31.
Bratton called Monday’s ceremony to rename the street the first “public memorial” for Cardillo, condemning the inaction by politicians at the time of Cardillo’s death. Neither Mayor John Lindsay nor Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy attended Cardillo’s funeral 43 years ago.
More than 1,000 people turned out for the street renaming, including many retired officers, top NYPD brass and cadets.
At the end of July, the City Council unanimously voted to approve the co-naming of 28th Avenue to commemorate Cardillo, who had been on the police force for five years with the 28th Precinct in Harlem.
Cardillo’s death marks the only unsolved murder of a police officer in the city’s history.
“It was a shame then and it’s a shame now,” Bratton said. “It was wrong to give politics jurisdiction over an active crime scene. It was wrong then that neither the mayor nor the police commissioner attended Phil’s funeral. It was wrong to allow political pressure to interfere with a murder investigation.”
Due to racial tensions, police brass released a dozen suspects in the mosque’s basement without identifying them and moved the investigation to the 24th Precinct on Manhattan’s West Side in response to an angry crowd that gathered at the scene, according to NYPD Confidential. Lindsay and Murphy avoided the funeral after the botched NYPD investigation.
Speaking through tears, Cardillo’s son, Todd, said the street renaming “has been a long time coming. I’ve always been told growing up he’s a hero,” he said.
City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), who introduced the bill seeking the street renaming, said Cardillo’s death was a reminder of the sacrifices police officers make to keep people safe.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a street renaming like this,” Vallone said.
In April 1972, Cardillo and his partner, Det. Vito Navarra, were lured to the mosque at 102 W. 116th St, by a false report of an officer who needed help. When they entered the mosque, the officers were overwhelmed and attacked by a crowd inside. During the fray, Cardillo was shot and killed with his own gun.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said the new street would allow young generations of officers to understand Cardillo’s sacrifice.
“They’re going to learn as they train to work for the city of New York and learn about him and mistakes made by the city that need to be rectified,” Katz said.
U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), whose father served in the NYPD for 21 years, said the police force has become better since Cardillo’s death because of his sacrifice.
“The disgusting politics that took place in 1972 should never be tolerated in this city or any other city again,” Crowley said.
Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, commended retired officers who attended Cardillo’s funeral and assistant district attorneys who worked on the case for coming to the street renaming, noting that many people do not understand police officers’ work.
“They’re all here today,” Lynch said.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour