New York Times
December 24, 2014


Across New York, Mourners Find Ways Big and Small to Honor Slain Officers

By WINNIE HU and MARC SANTORA

Among the traditional white roses and flickering candles at the memorial for the two slain New York City police officers were baskets of poinsettias, evergreen wreaths, three potted Christmas trees and a menorah tied with blue balloons.

Amid the city’s customary pre-Christmas bustle, on Tuesday New Yorkers made gestures large and small to commemorate the officers who were shot in their squad car on Saturday afternoon. At the site of the killings, at the corner of Myrtle and Tompkins Avenues in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, a constant line of mourners gathered by the growing memorial, which was sheltered from a cold, steady drizzle by a black tarp. Many clutched bouquets or gifts. Others bowed their heads in prayer for Officers Wenjian Liu, 32, and Rafael Ramos, 40, of the 84th Precinct. A cardboard poster displayed their photos beneath a message scrawled in black marker: “We all mourn with you.”

Felicia Oquendo, 61, a retired UPS administrator, rode two buses from her home in Maspeth, Queens, and put off cooking Christmas Eve dinner for her family so that she could pay her respects in person. Ms. Oquendo, who did not know the officers, said she had not been so deeply moved since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when she went to ground zero two weeks later to pray for the victims.

“It just tugged at my heart and I had to come,” she said. “You don’t look at them like strangers; it’s like they’re family. On Christmas Eve, I’ll be drinking my eggnog and eating but they’re going to be in my heart — not just them, but all policemen, all of them.”

At 2:47 p.m. Tuesday, the exact time the officers were shot on Saturday by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, many police officers, city workers and residents fell silent wherever they stood. In the 84th Precinct, dozens of their friends and colleagues wore green armbands and bowed their heads.

Hours later, at 9 p.m., some of the city’s buildings and landmarks dimmed their lights at the request of Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Our city is in pain,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. “We ask all New Yorkers to turn their thoughts to our shared identity as New Yorkers and to honoring the memories of the two fine men we lost.”

Mr. de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, visited the sidewalk memorial in the morning. Ms. McCray placed a bouquet of white roses on the pavement.

On Monday, the mayor had called on people to suspend demonstrations and political debate so attention could be paid to the families of the officers. But his words went unheeded by 200 protesters who marched north from Midtown on Tuesday evening, carrying signs calling for the firing of Police Commissioner William J. Bratton and an end to “racist police terror.” The crowd paused at 116th Street and Lexington Avenue for a moment of silence.

“We mean no disrespect to anybody,” Yari Osorio, an organizer, said. “But we’re out here to say it’s ridiculous, it’s outrageous, it’s insulting for anybody to ask us to stop these protests.”

The gathering continued to 125th Street and Amsterdam Avenue for a brief rally.

The killing of Officers Liu and Ramos came at a moment of heightened tension between the police and communities across the country, after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed man in Ferguson. Mo., and the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man, during an arrest. After a grand jury did not indict a police officer in the death of Mr. Garner, waves of protesters have been demonstrating in the streets of New York.

While the protests were mostly peaceful, the focus of much of the demonstrators’ anger has been directed at police officers, calling for reforms but also, at times, lashing out with vicious, personal invectives directed at officers.

Before the gunman arrived in New York on Saturday morning, he had made clear on social media sites that he wanted to kill police officers.

In his mind, the police said, the protests over the Garner case served as some sort of inspiration.

But when Emerald Garner, Mr. Garner’s daughter, visited the memorial to the officers, she delivered a powerful rebuke to anyone who wanted to use the memory of her father as an excuse for violence.

Some of the outpourings of sympathy were substantial: Bowdoin College, where Officer Ramos’s son Justin is a student, has offered full financial aid and has set up a fund to collect donations for the family. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. planned to attend the funeral of Officer Ramos on Saturday. But there were also many more small, heartfelt expressions. In Times Square on Tuesday morning, Steve Norred, 50, and his wife, Heather, 41, stopped to thank an officer. Others gave hugs.

Judy Linden, a retired nurse, spotted a policeman on the sidewalk as she exited the G train station in Brooklyn where the gunman killed himself. She went over to console the officer, who thanked her. “I intend to say it to any individual officer I see,” she said, “so they know there’s one more person who appreciates what they’re going through and feels very bad about it.”

At Evil Olive, a pizzeria across the street from the 90th Precinct station, officers have not paid for a slice since Saturday, Reggie Thomas, the manager, said. The pizzeria did not charge for officers’ meals on Saturday night, and since then, other customers quietly paid officers’ tabs along with their own.

“We’re all sorry for what they’re going through, so we’re sharing with them,” Mr. Thomas, 41, said.

On Staten Island, at the Rocco Laurie Middle School, where Officer Ramos once worked as a school safety agent, staff members raised $1,000 to give to his family at the wake. They also arranged for a Brooklyn deli to deliver breakfast to the 84th Precinct.

“The staff knows him, they knew him very well,” Peter Macellari, the principal, said of Mr. Ramos. “There were discussions all weekend long regarding what we would do for them, for his family. That was his primary concern in life; he was always speaking about his family.”

Scott Joyner, 27, a supervisor at Magnolia Bakery, spent his day off Tuesday standing alongside the officers at the memorial instead of shopping for holiday presents. Mr. Joyner said he had demonstrated against police actions in three protests at Union Square since the grand jury decision on Eric Garner.

But on Tuesday, he said, he felt it was important to stand up for the two fallen officers.

“All lives matter at the end of the day,” he said. “Black lives. Police lives. Every life matters. We need to come together and be more united. Hopefully, the holidays bring us back together.”

Reporting was contributed by Dan Glaun, Elizabeth A. Harris, Mike Isaac, Matt Krupnick, Nate Schweber, Jeffrey E. Singer and John Surico.