A Final Salute
At service for New York officer, praise and a call for unity.
NEW YORK - As Taps played and her husband's casket was placed in the hearse, the widow of Police Officer Rafael Ramos clutched a folded NYPD flag to her heart. Her two sons stood close, one of them gently touching the blue, white, and green banner that had covered his father's coffin.
The image of the stricken family might well have been the image of the city, which on Saturday buried the first of two police officers slain a week earlier.
Even amid the grieving for Ramos, though, the city was not able to completely put aside the political rancor arising from his death and that of his partner, Wenjian Liu.
Some of the thousands of officers who stood outside Christ Tabernacle Church, where Ramos worshiped for 14 years, turned their backs to the huge screens showing the service when Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke. A sign in the crowd read "God bless the NYPD. Dump De Blasio."
In separate eulogies, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, and clergymen alluded to the continuing rift among police union leaders, de Blasio, and protesters who in the weeks before the slayings held almost daily demonstrations alleging police brutality. Speakers said Ramos and Liu were targeted solely for their uniforms by someone whose actions had shaken efforts at reconciliation.
"We pray for a city that's broken, a city that needs to be healed," said Pastor A.R. Bernard, president of the Council of Churches of the City of New York.
In his eulogy, Bratton recalled his first police funeral in Boston in 1970, after antiwar activists fatally shot Officer Walter Schroeder. "Divisive politics polarized the city and country," Bratton said. "Maybe that sounds familiar."
"All of this city is grieving, and grieving for so many reasons," de Blasio said. "But the most personal is that we've lost such a good man, and the family is in such pain."
There was polite applause for the mayor, whose already tense relations with police union leaders took a turn for the worse after Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, shot Ramos and Liu to death Dec. 20 as they sat in their patrol car in Brooklyn. In the weeks leading up to the ambush, Brinsley posted online anti-police rants and invoked the name of Eric Garner, an unarmed black New Yorker whose death during an altercation with police fueled a protest movement demanding police reforms.
Leaders of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the Sergeant's Benevolent Association accused de Blasio of indulging protesters and creating a hostile environment that encouraged people like Brinsley. Scores of officers also turned their backs on de Blasio when he arrived at the hospital where Liu and Ramos were rushed the day of the attack.
Bratton made an impassioned appeal for an end to the divisiveness. "We don't see each other," he said. "The police, the people who are angry at the police, the people who support us but want us to be better - even a madman who assassinated two men because all he could see was two uniforms," Bratton said. "We don't see each other."
"If we can learn to see each other," he said, "we'll heal."
Thousands of police officers from across the country turned out for Ramos' funeral, mixing with civilians who crowded the streets around the church to watch the service on large screens. Many fought tears. Others wept openly. Blue ribbons tied to fences fluttered in the breeze, and despite the massive crowd, silence reigned on the streets as the service began.
Vice President Biden mentioned Ramos' unusual path into the New York Police Department, which he joined at the relatively ripe age of 37 after working as a school safety officer. His teaming with Liu, a newlywed with relatives in China, symbolized the melting pot of New York City and of the country, Biden said.
"So when this assassin's bullet targeted two officers, it targeted this city and it touched the soul of the entire nation," Biden said.
He and other speakers were loudly applauded as they praised the police department, which had not seen an officer shot dead on duty since 2011.
Liu's funeral has not yet been scheduled, as his family is arranging travel from China. The service for Ramos was preceded Friday by a wake that drew crowds several blocks thick and lasted late into the night. Justin Ramos, a college sophomore, wept as he addressed the wake, calling his father his "absolute best friend."
"What happened to my father was a tragedy, but his death will not be in vain," he said.
As Ramos' flag-covered casket was brought out of the church, Justin, his mother, Maritza, and his younger brother, Jaden, stood gripping each other's hands. Then, officers took the flag off the coffin and handed it to Maritza Ramos as police helicopters thundered overhead in a traditional formation indicating a fallen officer.
Before the hearse could pull away, a column of police officers on motorcycles, riding two abreast and numbering in the hundreds, roared ahead to guide it through the streets. They were followed by a slow-marching parade of bagpipers and finally the black car holding the casket, bound for the cemetery.