Mayor de Blasio attends wake for fallen NYPD officer

Josh Einiger Image
Saturday, December 27, 2014
Wake held for fallen NYPD officer Rafael Ramos
Thousands of police officers arrived for the wake and funeral of Rafael Ramos, one of the two NYPD officers who were assassinated last weekend in Brooklyn.

NEW YORK -- Mayor Bill de Blasio, heavily criticized by police for his handling of protests critical of them, on Friday attended the wake of an officer shot to death with his partner in a brazen daytime ambush.

Hundreds of police officers, politicians and community members attended the daylong remembrance for Officer Rafael Ramos at the Christ Tabernacle Church.

The wife and two sons of a policeman gunned down along with his partner in a brazen daylight ambush were joined at his wake Friday by hundreds of uniformed officers, including dozens who saluted as his flag-draped casket was carried into the church.

There was a somber salute, but no one said a word.

VIDEO: City mourning fallen NYPD officer at wake

The daylong tribute to Officer Rafael Ramos occurred at a Queens church where friends and colleagues spoke of him as an embodiment of the selfless, compassionate and heroic nature the New York Police Department wants its finest officers to project.

People waiting to attend the wake stood outside for hours in the cold, and the sea of blue heading inside was a clear sign that Ramos' death has resonated in communities near and far.

"He was studying to be a pastor. He had Bible study books in his locker, which is rare for a police officer, but that goes to show you the type of man he was," NYPD Capt. Sergio Centa said before entering Christ Tabernacle Church.

Ramos was dressed in full dress uniform in an open casket, Nassau County Police Benevolent Association President James Carver said. His funeral is scheduled for Saturday. Vice President Joe Biden is expected to attend, along with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Police union officials have criticized de Blasio, saying he contributed to a climate of mistrust toward police amid protests over the deaths of black men at the hands of white officers. Union officials have said the mayor's response, including his mention of how he often fears for the safety of his biracial son in his interactions with police, helped set the stage for the killings.

But de Blasio, who has praised officers for their service both before and amid the protests, has stood solidly behind the department since the Dec. 20 slayings of Ramos and Officer Wenjian Liu as they sat in their patrol car on a Brooklyn street. The shooter, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, later killed himself.

After the killings, de Blasio called for a temporary halt to demonstrations against police after grand juries in Missouri and on Staten Island declined to charge white police officers in the deaths of two black men.

He denounced as "divisive" a demonstration that took place anyway and on Thursday tweeted a thank you to police for arresting a man accused of threatening to kill officers. Still, on Friday an airplane hauling a banner insulting the mayor organized by a former police officer-turned-activist flew above New York City.

Pastor Ralph Castillo said Ramos was a beloved member of the church.

"Whether he was helping a mom with a carriage or bringing someone to their seats, he did it with so much love and so much vigor and so much joy," Castillo said.

In the evening, hundreds of additional mourners were expected to spill into the streets outside the church to hear speakers eulogize Ramos and to watch on giant video screens. Police Commissioner William Bratton, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and other politicians had arrived for the ceremony.

Ramos was a long-standing and deeply committed member of the church, where he served as an usher, family and friends said.

"We feel sorry for the family, and nobody deserves to die like this," said fellow churchgoer Hilda Kiefer as she waited to enter the wake.

His compassion was in contrast to the emotionally disturbed loner who killed the officers.

Investigators say Brinsley started his rampage by shooting and wounding an ex-girlfriend in Baltimore. He also posted online threats to police and made references to high-profile cases of unarmed black men killed by white officers.

The killings ramped up emotions in the already tense national debate over police conduct. Since Ramos and Liu were killed, police in New York say they have arrested seven people accused of threatening officers.

Liu's funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.

Ramos celebrated his 40th birthday this month. He joined the NYPD in 2012 after working as a school security officer.

The lifelong Brooklyn resident was married with two sons: a 13-year-old who is in middle school and one who attends Bowdoin College in Maine.

The Silver Shield Foundation, a charity founded by the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, has set aside $40,000 for the education of Ramos' sons. Bowdoin College said it will cover Ramos' older son's education costs as long as he remains a student there.

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a charity created after 9/11, says it will pay off the home mortgages of the two slain officers.

Meanwhile, Centa said he's instructed officers at the 84th Precinct where Ramos and Liu worked to be vigilant on patrol.

"Things we took for granted maybe a week or two ago we can't take for granted anymore," Centa said. "You may be in your car and see someone walking up the street toward you. You have to be prepared. You never know. It's a scary time for the police department right now."

"A guy who dedicated his life to helping others, studying to be a pastor, before coming a police officers, he worked for school safety, you know, protecting kids in school," said Centa.

Ramos' church pastor said Ramos and his family were dedicated volunteers and regular fixtures at mass.

"It's one thing to pray for something in another part of the country, it's another when it hits this close to home. And so, as a church and as a community, praying for our city, praying for our nation," said Pastor Ralph Castillo, of Christ Tabernacle Church.

And by their show of support, it is very clear that to the thousands out there who never met officers Ramos or Liu, what matters now is respect and understanding, even if it feels like it's too little too late.

"And that we appreciate all the officers and what they do for us, and how they keep us safe when we need them they're there. Unfortunately, not everybody understands it and appreciates it," said Laura Hatton, a Glendale resident.

Officers Ramos and Liu were shot in their patrol car Saturday by a man who later shot himself. More than 25,000 are expected at Saturday's funeral for officer Ramos.

In a holiday season that for so many has been so badly out of tune, Christine Kim stood for hours at the shrine to Ramos and Liu, serenading New York's finest on Christmas night.

"We are very safe, even when we are sleeping, they are not sleep, they working, you know? So police man job is really hard," said Kim.

On Christmas night, the Ramos family prayed at the memorial and walked a line of officers, thanking every one.

"This family is destroyed - wow, it's just crazy," said family spokesman Juan Rodriguez.

Investigators said the shooter, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, was an emotionally disturbed loner, who started off his rampage by shooting an ex-girlfriend in Baltimore. He also posted online threats to police and made references to high-profile cases of unarmed black men killed by white police officers.

The killings ramped up emotions in the already tense national debate over police conduct. Since Ramos and Liu were killed, police in New York said they've arrested six people accused of threatening officers. A seventh man was arrested Thursday on gun charges after a bystander overheard him making threats against police officers and talking about guns in his home.

According to the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, about 500 officers from Nassau County will be attending Ramos' funeral.

Liu's funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.

Wake and funeral related closures:

On Saturday, beginning at 7 a.m. and lasting until 1 p.m., Myrtle Avenue between Fresh Pond Road and Cooper Avenue, 67th Street between Myrtle Avenue and Cooper Avenue, and 67th Place between Myrtle Avenue and Cooper Avenue will be closed to vehicular traffic.

There will be no parking, and pedestrian traffic will be limited.

Additionally, there will be no parking on Central Avenue between Myrtle Avenue and 73rd Place, Otto Road between Cypress Hills Street and 69th Place, and Metropolitan Avenue between Fresh Pond Road and 73rd Place.

Meanwhile, JetBlue has announced it will offer free flights to law enforcement agencies wanting to send representatives to attend the funeral.