New York Daily News

February 27, 2014


 

Denis HamillHamill: Even in death, rookie cop Eddie Byrne's assassination in Jamaica sparked the beginning of a safer city


Officer Eddie Byrne was sitting outside in the middle of the night protecting a witness testifying against a crack lord when he was gunned down. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton came in the middle of the night to remember the sacrifice he made for a better city.

VIC NICASTRO
Officer Eddie Byrne was killed 26 years ago while the guarding home of a witness against dealers supporting the crack epidemic of the 1980s.

The symmetry was bittersweet.

Just before 1 a.m. on Wednesday, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton went back to the streetcorner where Officer Eddie Byrne was assassinated on Feb. 26, 1988, some 26 years ago.

Right there on the corner of 107th Ave. and Inwood St. in Jamaica, Queens, Byrne was sitting in an NYPD radio car in the middle of the night, guarding the home of a brave witness against local crack dealers. The home had been firebombed several times, and the city seemed lost to the violent gangbangers of the crack scourge.

Then came a milestone moment in New York City history.

Four cowards with automatic handguns, assassins hired by a sociopathic, jailed crack mogul named Pappy Mason, crept up on the 22-year-old police rookie about 3:30 a.m. They opened fire into Byrne’s young head.

Byrne’s crimson blood coursed down his NYPD blue uniform and rushed across the city like a ferocious river of outrage. Citizens of every stripe implored their police to take back the city from the bad guys who were dropping 2,200 murder victims a year on our streets.

Not even uniformed cops were safe in New York City.

Twenty-six years later, after a minute of silence, Bratton spoke to cops and citizens gathered around a floral memorial to Police Officer Eddie Byrne, NYPD shield No. 14072, of the 103rd Precinct.

“A little over 20 years ago, in January of 1994, right after being sworn in as police commissioner under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, I came to the 103rd Precinct with Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple to honor this brave police officer, Ed Byrne, whose assassination was the beginning of the taking back of this city,” Bratton said.

“I addressed the roll call in the 103 as I did again tonight, 20 years later, to pay tribute to this brave young man who gave his life protecting this city. To say again that his short, young life meant something. That Eddie Byrne counted. He mattered. Just like every one of you count. Like every one of you matter every time you put on that uniform. . . . You matter because you are the guardians at the gate. Like Eddie Byrne, whose life and death still has meaning.”

Cops applauded. They applauded Eddie Byrne. They applauded Bratton. But the cops should have applauded themselves. The rest of us should applaud them, too . Because if you lived and raised kids in this city during that crack epidemic, as I did, you should know that these cops, cops like Eddie Byrne, helped give the citizens back the greatest city on Earth.

“The beginning of the end of the bad old days started right here,” says Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence John Miller, pointing to the curb where Byrne’s cruiser had been parked. “The monsters who did this assassination were rounded up within days. Commissioner Ben Ward started letting (uniformed) cops make drug busts. When Bratton and Maple took over in 1994 and introduced the ‘broken windows’ concept, they let cops be cops and the city was turned around.”

VIC NICASTRO
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton made the unusual late-night trip to Jamaica, Queens to remember Eddie Byrne.

Now 20 years later, Bratton was back on the corner where Eddie Byrne was assassinated, thanking the cops who continue to guard the gate.

“In the past, most commissioners would only come if we did the memorial in the daytime,” Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch told me.

But Bratton said he wanted to do it in the early-morning hours, closer to the time Byrne was shot.

“That’s total respect,” Lynch said.

The slain cop’s relatives agreed .

“It means a lot that the commissioner and all these cops are here tonight,” said Larry Byrne, Eddie’s older brother. “It eases the pain to know that people remember that Eddie’s life and death made a lasting difference in the city.”

But it did not make it any safer for another rookie cop guarding the city. Before this Feb. 26 would end, Bratton would rush with Mayor de Blasio to the hospital bedside of Officer James Li, fresh out of the Police Academy. He was shot in the line of duty in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, trying to stop a fare-beater on a city bus.

Fortunately, Li was expected to survive his leg wounds.

Hours earlier, while honoring Byrne , Bratton told me, “What I love about this memorial is that it’s not an official NYPD function. It was started by the 103rd Precinct cops. They never forget. None of us ever should. What started here, and what the late Jack Maple helped continue with CompStat in the 1990s, has given us a much safer city.”

When asked, Bratton said crime stats since Jan. 1 are looking great.

“We had one 10-day period without a single homicide,” Bratton says. “The beginning of that safer New York started right here on this corner 26 years ago. In Eddie Byrne’s honor, I’ll make sure it continues.”

No better legacy.