Chief-Leader
 Updated: 6:36 pm, Mon Jan 5, 2015


Murdered Officer Recalled As Caring, Kind and Emblematic of Most Cops

 

Hundreds Again Turn Backs as Mayor Speaks

By MARK TOOR and RICHARD STEIER

The Chief-Leader/Ellen Moynihan

‘HIS SPIRIT CONTINUES TO LOOK AFTER US’: Pei Xia Chen, the widow of Det. Wenjian Liu (inset), stands before his coffin as she exits the Brooklyn funeral home where services were held before he was taken to Cypress Hills Cemetery in Queens to be buried near his partner, Rafael Ramos. ‘He took pride that he was NYPD,’ she told the mourners, who included more than 20,000 cops standing outside on a gray, drizzly day, a significant contingent of which were officers from other departments as far away as California.

The Chief-Leader/Ellen Moynihan
UNFORGIVEN: Despite a directive from Police Commissioner William J. Bratton that cops should not turn their backs on Mayor de Blasio as hundreds had for the funeral eight days earlier of Rafael Ramos, the gesture was repeated when he gave his eulogy for the other officer, Wenjian Liu, killed by a madman as they sat in their patrol car outside a Brooklyn housing project Dec. 20.

In paying tribute to Wenjian Liu at his funeral Jan. 4, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said his initial reaction in considering the Dec. 20 murder of the Police Officer and his partner, Rafael Ramos, was to wonder why it was “the good ones” among cops who seemed to meet such tragic ends.

But then he realized, he told those inside the Aievoli Funeral Home in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and the more-than 20,000 cops ringing the nearby streets, “It’s the law of averages. Almost all of them are the good ones.”

‘Took Pride He Was NYPD’

Mr. Liu’s widow, Pei Xia Chen, who described her late husband as a “soulmate,” said, “One of his many passions is that he was a police officer. He took pride that he was NYPD.”

He performed his job, she continued, “with courtesy, with respect, and with the highest professionalism.”

Both he and Mr. Ramos were posthumously promoted to Detective after their assassinations by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a crazed man with a history of mental illness and criminal offenses who earlier that day had shot his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore before boarding a bus to New York.

    
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Earlier in the funeral service, Mayor de Blasio offered an anecdote about his dedication and caring, even as hundreds of cops watching on projection screens from outside the funeral home allowed their anger with him to once again intrude on the proceedings, turning their backs to his image as they had done eight days earlier at Officer Ramos’s funeral. They were defying a directive issued two days earlier by Mr. Bratton saying they should refrain from such actions on a day for “grieving, not grievances.”

The Mayor noted that a partner of Mr. Liu’s had spoken of the day when they were called to do “a lift,” picking off the floor an elderly man who had fallen in his apartment and couldn’t get up. Once they did so, he said, “At that point their job was officially done, but Detective Liu was not ready to leave.” He and his partner, Mr. de Blasio continued, having learned that the man was a Vietnam veteran, “listened to his war stories and [Mr. Liu] looked at his fading photographs.” They then helped the man to his bed and covered him with his blankets.

‘Lifted Us All Up’

That was how the slain officer dealt with those he encountered, the Mayor said, “lifting people in every sense, wrapping them in kindness. Detective Liu lifted all of us up.”

Referring to both the murdered cops, who are now buried near each other in Cypress Hills Cemetery, Mr. de Blasio said, “We all should live lives as good as them.”

The first speaker at the service, representing the Federal Government and the U.S. Justice Department, was FBI Director James Comey, who previously served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, which covers Manhattan, The Bronx, and several counties in the northern suburbs. He noted that one task he performs in his job is to call the families of all law-enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. In 2014, he said, he made 115 such calls, “a shocking increase” over the previous year.

He called Detective Liu “a person of great thoughtfulness and tremendous caring...I believe our obligation is to do good to honor this good man, and do everything we can to protect those who protect us.”

Commissioner Bratton had begun his remarks by saying that Mr. Liu “believed in possibility...the possibility of making a safer world. All cops do—it’s why we do what we do. It’s why we run towards danger when others run away.”

9/11 Made Him a Cop

He said the slain officer had originally planned to be an accountant, but that 9/11, which occurred when he was in his late teens, made him determined to become a police officer. Mr. Bratton said he himself was one of many cops who held that desire from an early age, where Mr. Liu and Mr. Ramos experienced the call when they were older, “but the pull was just as strong, because we all believe in the possibility of being part of something greater than us.”

Mr. Liu initially worked as an auxiliary cop, patrolling unarmed, and was undeterred, Mr. Bratton said, “when two of his [brother officers] were slain by a madman in Greenwich Village” eight years ago, not long before he was called to the NYPD as a rookie officer.

“He was a good man, he was a humane man,” the Police Commissioner said. “He was a New York City cop.”

He was followed to the podium by the officer’s father, Wei Tang Liu, who speaking in his native Chinese said, “Today is the saddest day in my life.”

'The Best Son'

He said his son, who was 12 when the family came here from China, would call him every day at the end of his shift “and say, ‘Dad, I’m coming home. You can stop worrying.’”

He concluded, “Wenjian, you are the best son. You are the best husband. Also, you are our police officer and our best friend.”

Among those in attendance were U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, Congressmen including Charles Rangel and Peter King, at least two of the city’s five District Attorneys and a large number of city and state elected officials.

Governor Cuomo, who had attended Detective Liu’s wake the day before, was unable to make the funeral because of preparations for the funeral of his own father, ex-Gov. Mario Cuomo, which was to be held Jan. 6. Cardinal Timothy Dolan had previously visited the Liu family at its home in Gravesend.

In concluding his remarks, Mr. de Blasio might have been alluding to his tense relationship with rank-and-file cops when he noted that New York has long been “the most tolerant of cities—a place where people of diverse backgrounds and occupations and races and creeds have lived together in harmony. But there have always been times when that harmony has been challenged, and the last few weeks have been one of those times.”

He continued, “As we start a new year, a year we are entering with hearts that are doubly heavy from the loss of Detective Liu and the loss of Detective Ramos, let us rededicate ourselves to those great New York traditions of mutual understanding and living in harmony.”

Asked at a press conference Jan. 5 about officers turning their backs on him, Mr. de Blasio said, "It's disgraceful to the families involved. That's the bottom line...It's also disrespectful to the people of this city."

In a meeting last week, Mayor de Blasio and the presidents of the five police unions could not figure out a way to bridge the gap between the Mayor and rank-and-file cops, but one union leader instructed Mr. de Blasio on how to behave during the next controversy involving the NYPD.

“At the end of the day, after better than two hours, we weren’t instilled with any confidence from de Blasio that he was supporting us,” said Edward D. Mullins, president of the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association. He called the meeting “a little disappointing.”

‘You’ve Lost the Police’

“You’ve lost the police force, they’re turning their backs on you,” Michael J. Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, told Mr. de Blasio, according to a union source. “Even cops from other jurisdictions turned their backs” at the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos, who was ambushed and shot to death in his patrol car along with his partner, Wenjian Liu, by a mentally-ill ex-convict who said he was avenging unarmed black men who have been killed by police.

The meeting came amid a sharp decline in police activity in the week since two officers were assassinated Dec. 20 as they sat in their patrol car in Brooklyn. News reports said traffic summonses and arrests for minor crimes such as drinking in public have dropped more than 90 percent compared with the same week in 2013. Narcotics arrests declined 83 percent. Felony arrests went down 40 percent.

Both the NYPD and the unions denied the drop was part of an organized slowdown, which would be illegal. Mr. Mullins said one factor was the staffing and additional overtime required at the almost-daily demonstrations protesting a Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner.

Mr. Mullins also said patrol cars were backing each other up on calls because of fears engendered by the murder of the two police officers, further depleting the time available for low-level enforcement. Low morale is a third factor, he said.

Still, Mr. Mullins said, officers are responding to calls for service. “The public needs to understand they will not be put in jeopardy of no police response,” he said in an interview. “The police are not turning their backs on the public.”

‘Targets of Execution’

“Any reduced activity is not union-sanctioned,” Mr. Palladino said in a statement. “However it is quite understandable. Cops have feelings too. They work hard then find themselves being maligned, vilified and on the verge of indictment. Now they are the targets of execution. That’s enough to make anyone hesitate regardless of your profession.”

Police officers and their proponents have criticized Mr. de Blasio for showing what they consider a lack of support after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict an officer who used a chokehold on Mr. Garner in July when he resisted efforts to arrest him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. Mr. Garner died of a heart attack shortly after he was subdued.

Tensions worsened after the murders of Officers Ramos and Liu. The shooter, who killed himself afterwards, had said on social media that he was taking revenge for Mr. Garner and other unarmed black men killed by police. At Mr. Ramos’s funeral, thousands of officers turned their backs on televised images of Mr. de Blasio giving a eulogy. His speech at a Police Academy graduation ceremony Dec. 29 was met with scattered boos.

At the meeting with the union chiefs, Mr. de Blasio blamed the news media for the perception that he wasn’t supportive of police, saying, “Everything I say good about the police never gets printed,” according to the union source. “He was pointing at the media as he’s done in the past,” the source said.

At that point, Mr. Palladino told him that he needs to be more careful with reporters, the source said. Next time there’s a controversial issue involving police, Mr. Palladino said, he “needs to come down right in the middle” and send the message, “Let the justice system decide.”

‘Watch Yourself’

The media will “get in on everything you say, the inflection of your voice, your body language as well,” Mr. Palladino told the Mayor, according to the source.

Mr. de Blasio replied, “That’s going to be a challenge,” the source said.

Mr. Palladino said the Mayor needed to do what the union leader had done during the controversy over the fatal shooting of Sean Bell during an undercover operation in 2006—“take a step backwards and measure every word,” according to the source.

To the question of “how do I get the cops back,” Mr. Palladino said, “Words alone won’t do it,” the source said. “Everybody is suspicious that any kind words he has for the police have to do with politics,” the source said.

“He didn’t offer up any ideas,” the source said of Mr. de Blasio. “He did more listening that speaking, and deferred to [Police Commissioner William J.] Bratton when questions came up about tactics” for dealing with demonstrators.

A second source said the union leaders questioned why the protesters were allowed to block traffic. Mr. Bratton responded that he was trying to avoid confrontations that could result in injuries to officers, the second source said while pointing out that confrontations and injuries occurred anyway.

Lobbying Other Unions

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and a leading critic of the Mayor, asked Mr. de Blasio about reports that his staff had contacted leaders of non-police unions and asked them to weigh in on the dispute on the side of the Mayor. Mr. de Blasio “pretended he didn’t know too much about it,” the second source said.

Mr. Mullins criticized City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for wearing a T-shirt that said, “I can’t breathe,” the second source said. Mr. de Blasio responded that she felt passionately about the issue and was exercising her First Amendment right to free speech.

“Police officers also have free-speech rights,” Mr. Mullins said in the interview, adding that by turning their backs on the Mayor they broke no laws or NYPD rules.

After the meeting, the unions and Mr. de Blasio’s office issued statements indicating a lack of progress.

“There were conversations on a number of issues, but no resolution on any,” Mr. Lynch said on behalf of all five unions. “Actions speak louder than words and we’ll see what happens.”

‘Productive Dialogue’

“Today’s meeting focused on building a productive dialogue and identifying ways to move forward together,” said de Blasio press secretary Phil Walzak. “The Mayor and Police Commissioner remain committed to keeping crime in New York City at historically low levels, supporting the brave men and women in uniform who protect us every day, and finding ways to bring police and the community closer together.”

A PBA official who asked not to be identified said Mr. de Blasio had blown “a perfect opportunity.” He should have said that while people may not be happy with the grand jury’s decision, they should respect it because the grand jurors are the only people who have seen and heard all the evidence.

“Had he done that, the police would have been behind him,” the official continued. “But what did he say? Two hundred years of racism, and I told my son, don’t trust the police.”

Separately, the Mayor’s Office announced jointly with Ms. Mark-Viverito that two streets will be named for the slain officers in the Brooklyn neighborhoods in which they lived.

Ridgewood Ave. between Shepherd Ave. and Highland Pl. will be named Detective Rafael Ramos Way, and West 6th St. between Avenue S and Avenue T in Brooklyn, will be named Detective Wenjian Liu Way. The bill will be introduced and voted on in the Council later this month.