The procession of Philadelphia police sped north along I-95 in the early-morning darkness. They were heading to pay respects to a fallen brother - a brother in blue.

At the wheel of Car 1 was Lt. John Hoyt. The 15-year veteran had volunteered to serve as commander of the contingent of Philly officers heading to Saturday's funeral for slain New York City Police Officer Rafael Ramos.

From his SUV, Hoyt led two large tour buses carrying about 100 officers, and four police SUVs loaded with more officers. A Philadelphia highway patrol squad also rumbled toward New York on its motorcycles.

"Not a show of force," Hoyt said, "but a show of unity."

Hoyt had known something bad was going to happen. He had said so in the weeks and days before Ramos and his partner, Wenjian Liu, were assassinated in their patrol car in Brooklyn on Dec. 20, shot by a gunman who targeted police.

The anti-police rhetoric of some of the protests after the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases was just getting too dangerous, Hoyt had said. People were calling for dead cops. And with his years on the job, Hoyt knew there were just too many lost souls who needed only a little push to do something crazy.

He was at a Christmas party Dec. 20 when his phone exploded with the news from New York. He left immediately, and headed straight to the 35th District in Olney, where he's a tactical commander.

That night, Hoyt assembled his officers, telling them to be careful, alert, not to take breaks anywhere they would be exposed. That night, he spoke of the "reality of right now" - in which police serve not only with the understanding of the possibility of death but labor and mourn under the threat of it.

Now, at the wheel, leading officers to mourn, Hoyt, a tall, broad-shouldered commander with a business degree from La Salle University and a master's in public safety from St. Joseph's, said all the noise and tragedy of the last few weeks had only strengthened his resolve and determination.

"I have never been prouder to be a police officer," he said.

The other officers in the SUV nodded in silent agreement.

Crowded into the back seat was Chris Godfrey, an 11-year veteran assigned to the 35th who had never before attended an out-of-state police officer's funeral.

"But this was different," he said.

Godfrey was also working the night Ramos and Liu were killed, he said, and when he went off duty at the end of his shift, he apologized to his partner for having been so out of it.

"I can't get it out of my mind," he told him.

There was Officer Brendan Bownes, an eight-year vet who walks a Center City beat.

He was on the beat the other day when a bunch of teenagers near Liberty Place gave him the "hands up, don't shoot" salute. Then a man at 16th and Walnut Street did the same thing to him.

"If it's not like someone giving you the middle finger, it's pretty close," he said.

Squeezed between Godfrey and Bownes was Officer Judy Kinniry, also assigned to the 35th.

Of Ramos and Liu, she said simply: "In the heat of things, they just got killed for being cops."

Hoyt steered the SUV off the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, leading the Philly buses through Queens streets choked with officers and patrol cars. An armored vehicle fell in behind the SUV. Two blocks from Christ Tabernacle Church, where Ramos' body lay, Hoyt reversed the SUV into a sliver of space on the sidewalk outside a laundromat.

As they waited for rest of the Philly officers to assemble, Hoyt and the others made small talk with Joe Morgante and Michael Callaghan, a couple of NYPD officers working a foot beat for the funeral.

They talked with the familiar ease of their fraternity.

Then, amid laughter, Capt. Joseph Fredericksdorf, commander of the 35th, said, "We've endured tough times. We'll endure this."

Morgante and Callaghan shook hands with the Philadelphia officers, who followed the crowds of police heading slowly up a hill to the cemetery a few blocks away where Ramos was to be buried. The service was to start. Organizers had set up large screens and speakers near a Getty gas station and a small park across from the cemetery so the service could be broadcast to the crowd.

Making their way through the clusters of police from all over, the Philly officers made the sad small talk of a department that has buried 10 of its own in the last seven years: the freezing temperatures of Officer John Pawlowski's funeral in 2009; the monsoon conditions of Officer Stephen Liczbinski's memorial in 2008.

In Queens, a soft, cold breeze blew. Violin music played from the loudspeakers. An American flag swayed limply from a pole in the park where the Philadelphia officers gathered.

The snap to attention for the national anthem. A prayer. The catching and gleaming of the sun off the thousands and thousands of badges affixed to the hats of officers climbing the hill toward the cemetery.

Eulogies. Vice President Biden, then New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The simple outline of a man emerged - a father, a husband, a man who kept a Bible in his locker but who also lived it in his heart. A cop for all the right reasons. A target for what he represented: good.

The sun grew warm. The NYPD helicopters chopped overhead. A dog barked. And with the eulogies from politicians came undercurrents of tension.

Of the NYPD's efforts to protect protesters' freedom of speech in recent weeks even as some hurled insults and false accusations, Cuomo said, "What a beautiful testament to their professionalism."

That prompted a long round of applause that sounded like crashing rain over the loudspeakers.

Then came embattled New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who many police believe fueled the protests and the poisonous environment with anti-police policies and remarks.

It took a moment for some to realize what was happening, but it was as though the vista of blue were a blind that had been flipped. Even the SWAT-style officers stationed on rooftops and the tops of trucks turned their backs.

And so did the Philadelphia officers, turning away from the screens and facing the bare trees and the flag, blowing now in the breeze.

Words today, but actions speak louder, Hoyt said of the politicians. He shook his head. We're heroes now, but where was this praise before last Saturday? They talk of community policing like it's some sort of theory. It's what we do. It's all we do. It's cutting through the noise and slowly building bridges of trust in the neighborhoods. He worried that 30 years of community policing was going down the drain in three weeks because of people who just wanted to fuel the fire.

"This time," he said, "it's not on us."

Soon came the slow drumming and the call to attention and the passing procession. All else still and silent.

"Look at that picture," said Fredericksdorf, the Philadelphia captain, as the thousands of officers on the hill fell out.

The Philadelphia officers made their way back down the hill, through the crowds, toward the cars and buses, back to their city.

215-854-2759 @MikeNewall

Staff writer Aubrey Whelan contributed to this report