USA Today

De Blasio speaks at funeral; officers turn their backs

7:56 p.m. EST December 27, 2014

Elizabeth Weise and David McKay Wilson

NEW YORK — Vice President Biden honored Rafael Ramos at the slain New York police officer's funeral Saturday.

He spoke of Ramos and his partner, Officer Wenjian Liu, who were shot and killed 7 days ago, ambushed as they sat in their squad car.

"Being a cop was not what they did. It was who they were," Biden said.

Motioning to a sea of blue, police officers from across the USA seated in the church where the funeral was held, Biden said, "It's who you are."

"You all joined for essentially the same reason. There was something about you that made you think that you could help. That you had a duty." That duty, Biden said, was to the rule of law.

The sentiment was echoed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"We are a nation of laws. We are a state of laws. We are a city of laws," he said.

"You represent those laws. No one, no group is above the law. The threats against New York's police are an insult to law-abiding New Yorkers and they will not be tolerated."

Ramos started out as a school safety officer but had a dream of becoming a police officer, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "He couldn't wait to put on that uniform. He believed in protecting others."

"Those that are called to protect others are a special breed," he said.

Then, speaking in Spanish, de Blasio told the Ramos family and New York that he "was one of your best sons. ... He was a man of much faith and a brave police officer."

As de Blasio spoke, hundreds of officers outside the church turned their backs in a sign of disrespect. Some have said de Blasio contributed to a climate of mistrust toward law enforcement amid anti-police protests.

At a hospital after the Dec. 20 shooting, the police union's president, Patrick Lynch, and others turned their backs on the mayor. Lynch blamed the mayor then for the officers' deaths and said he had blood on his hands.

Speaking to CNN just after the funeral, Lynch said: "The feeling is real. But today is about mourning. Tomorrow is for debate."

A recurring theme at the funeral was the divisiveness caused by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner on Staten Island, and how the nation must overcome it.

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," Biden told the mourners, quoting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Although some in the nation might "fear diversity, we celebrate it," Cuomo said. "Yes, we have questions" arising out of recent cases, but with study and reflection those can be overcome.

William Bratton, New York City police commissioner, also spoke and announced to applause that he was appointing Ramos an honorary chaplain of the 84th Precinct in New York. Ramos had been studying to become a lay chaplain when he was killed.

He kept a Bible in his police locker, Biden said.

The NYPD announced Friday that Ramos and Liu had been posthumously promoted to the rank of first-grade detective.

The promotions commonly are given to police killed in the line of duty. They carry with them increased benefits for the families of the slain officers.

Outside the church, police helicopters circled overhead as thousands of uniformed officers thronged the Glendale Queens neighborhood to show their respects to Ramos.

A rumbling phalanx of motorcycles led the funeral procession down Cypress Hills Street to the cemetery. Next came a long procession of buses and city emergency vehicles filled with NYPD officers.

Deputy Sheriff Matt McAllister of San Bernardino County, Calif., had arrived on a red-eye flight from Long Beach courtesy of JetBlue.

"We're here to support our brothers and sisters in the NYPD," he said. "We are a brotherhood."

The officers streamed in across the USA. Many were in their dress blues with commendation medals on their jackets, wearing white gloves.

A huge Christmas wreath with shiny ornaments hung over the entrance to Christ Tabernacle Church in a repurposed brick building on Myrtle Avenue in Queens. The street was closed to traffic.

An organist played Silent Night in the bright morning sun on a Saturday morning unseasonably warm for late December

On Friday, an overflow crowd of police, family, friends and dignitaries had packed the church for an eight-hour wake. Six police officers carried Ramos' flag-draped casket into the church as other officers saluted and stood at attention outside the entrance.

By early evening, hundreds of additional mourners had filled the streets outside to hear speakers eulogize Ramos and watch the memorial on giant video screens. Joining Ramos' wife, Maritza, and two teenage sons, Justin and Jaden, were Cuomo, de Blasio,Bratton and Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

"What happened to my father was a tragedy, but his death will not be in vain," said Justin Ramos, a student at Bowdoin College in Maine. "My dad was a hero. He touched so many lives and will continue to do so."

He said his father was his rock and his "absolute best friend."

Ramos' sister, Cindy, wept as she expressed her love for her brother.

"Even though I didn't say it as much as I should, I love you from the deepest depths of my soul," she said. "My brother, my heart aches so much right now. Please pray for me as I know you always did. Help me understand why God took you from me so soon."

Pastor Ralph Castillo said Ramos was a beloved member of Christ Tabernacle 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.

Ramos, who was 40, served as an usher at Christ Tabernacle and was part of the church's marriage and life group ministries.

As the funeral ended Saturday, thousands of people stood outside silently, at attention, as they awaited the casket. Two trumpeters playedTaps.

When the cortège left the church, 12 police helicopters flew in formation above it and two trumpeters played a mournful rendition of My Country, 'Tis of Thee.

Ismaaiyl Brinsley gunned down Ramos and Liu. Brinsley had posted messages on social media about his intent to target police officers and earlier in the day in Baltimore, he wounded an ex-girlfriend.

After the rampage, Brinsley killed himself in a subway station.

The site where the police officers were shot on Brooklyn's Myrtle Avenue has been transformed into a shrine for the fallen men. Piles of bouquets, Christmas wreaths, teddy bears and candles mark the spot.

It has drawn fellow police officers, family, friends, ministers and ordinary New Yorkers for prayer and reflection.

Funeral plans for Ramos' partner, officer Liu, are pending until family members can make arrangements to travel from their home in China.

David McKay Wilson also reports for The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News.Contributing: The Associated Press