The NYPD marked the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Police Officer Edward Byrne early Sunday morning at the South Jamaica corner where he was killed in the line of duty on Feb. 26, 1988, as he sat in a patrol car protecting a family who had enough of the drug gangs that ran the neighborhood streets.
The family home had been firebombed twice after the father agreed to testify against drug kingpin Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols, and Byrne was alone in the marked police cruiser when a car pulled up alongside at 3:30 a.m. Two gunmen opened fire, striking the 22-year-old rookie from the 103rd Precinct five times in the head, dying later that morning at the old St. Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica.
Byrne had only been on the job for seven months.
On Sunday, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell joined Mayor Eric Adams, police brass and officers from the 103rd Precinct at a solemn observance and at the location of a murder that changed the course of the war on crack in New York City and the nation.
“Thirty-five years ago, Police Officer Edward Byrne was stolen from the Department and this City,” Sewell said. “Like many of you here he was a protector, a guardian, who willingly put himself in harm’s way for others. It was a very dark chapter in this city, and those who stole him from us believed they were sending us a message. They were telling us that we should be intimidated that they owned this street, that they owned the neighborhood.”
The mayor was born in Brooklyn, but his single mother of six moved the family to South Jamaica in the late 60s.
“This was my neighborhood. This is where I grew up as a kid. I saw the devastation of crack cocaine and the names of the people who were part of Fat Cat’s crew,” Adams said. “They had no regard for anyone. They were dangerous and violent.”
Adams compared Byrne’s killers to the same criminal element that has tormented the city during the recent crime wave, including the fatal shootings of Police Officers Wilbert Mora and rookie Jason Rivera in Harlem a year ago.
“Now, the same level of enemies that we are facing that took the life of Officer Byrne took the lives of Officer Moore and Officer Rivera,” Adams said. “That’s what this fight is all about.”
Kenneth Byrne recalled how officers at the 103rd began the annual tradition of gathering at the location of his brother’s murder every year since.
“The first time I attended this event, I was 20 years old, and I stand here decades later, and I see so many familiar faces. Many of you traveled long and far to come back to this. Many of you retired from the Department long ago, yet you still come back,” Byrne said. “And I see many of the new faces among you who are new to the Department.”
He reiterated remarks the Commissioner delivered earlier as the NYPD reunited before a memorial to Byrne back at the 103rd Precinct house.
“She said you have a tough job, and I think it’s the toughest job in the city,” Byrne said. “And for this, my family is eternally grateful. Stay safe.”
PBA president Pat Lynch drew a direct line between the officers from the 103rd who first gathered to remember their friend on the first anniversary of his murder to the young men and women of the NYPD today.
“Police Officers from the 103rd converged on this corner once again to bow their heads, laid some flowers and said, ‘we won’t forget.’ And that was a message that we won’t forget you, Eddie,” Lynch said. “We won’t forget you, the Byrne family, but it’s also a second message to anyone who ever raised their hand to a New York City police officer. Same words, different meeting. We will not forget.”
Deputy Inspector Eric Robinson, the commander of the 103rd Precinct, thanked the Byrne family.
“We cannot begin to appreciate the depths of the pain felt by the Byrne family as they’ve laid the ultimate sacrifice on the altar of freedom,” Robinson said. “ For far too long the drug gangs acted with impunity. These cowardly thugs thought they ran the streets, that they ran the world and had little to fear from the police.”
But the Byrne assassination changed everything and impacted law enforcement across the country. Former President George H.W. Bush carried Byrne’s shield with him when he campaigned in 1988.
“The outrageous event of that dark night sparked a revolution as neighborhoods across the country banded together against the very element that had him living in fear and for the first time in years, the police had true support in the communities as we stood together after this tragedy. The shocking and disgraceful murder became the rallying cry for change,” Robinson said. “I want to salute the members of the 103 that started this tradition many years ago, long before we had the mayor and the big bosses standing on this corner.”
He acknowledged retired Det. Jake Caputo, who poured his life savings into creating a vintage patrol car as a tribute to the slain rookie.
“A group of Eddie’s brothers and sisters came together to honor his sacrifice and ensure we will never forget,” Robinson said. “This small group of cops blazed a trail for the rest of us. Thank you to those pioneers, many of which are here tonight for showing us the way.”