Wall Street Journal
Dec. 25, 2014 8:57 p.m

Pilgrimage, Prayer for Two Slain New York City Police Officers


Bustle of Christmas Day Tempered by Memory of Killings of Officers Liu and Ramos


A prayer vigil and a wreath-laying ceremony on Christmas Day near a memorial in Brooklyn where two NYPD officers were killed.

They came on Christmas Day—from East Flatbush and the Bronx, from Texas and Washington, D.C., from halls of power and houses of worship—to a Brooklyn street corner where two police officers gave their lives.

Some lighted candles. Others left wreaths and bouquets of flowers under a tarp erected to shelter the improvised memorial.

Still more stood in line among the crowds just to whisper a prayer for Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu at the spot where they died.

“I came all this way just to pay my respects,” said 24-year-old Akilah Saunders, who traveled from her home in Washington. “I just prayed that their family gets through this holiday. Having to go through this isn’t right.”

Across New York City, the festive bustle of Christmas Day was tempered by the sorrowful memory of Saturday afternoon, when a gunman shot Officers Liu and Ramos at close range while they sat in their patrol car. They were the first officers to be fatally shot in the line of duty since 2011.

The shootings also exposed deep divisions in the city after it emerged that the alleged shooter, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, cited the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in social-media postings as a motive for the killings.

Messrs. Garner and Brown, both unarmed black men who died in violent confrontation with police in New York and Ferguson, Mo., respectively, have become central figures in a protest movement that says it wants profound changes in the policing of minority communities.

On Thursday, as the city prepared for the funeral for Officer Ramos, hundreds of people converged on the spot where the officers died.

And elsewhere, leaders marked their memory with calls for unity.

At a midnight Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, attended by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo , Cardinal Timothy Dolan said the light of Christmas was needed when “there’s a lot of darkness in the world.”

In his homily, Cardinal Dolan singled out Mr. de Blasio, who has weathered criticism that he fosters an anti-police environment that put officers at risk.

The mayor was drawn to God, the cardinal said, “as we face tensions and division in our beloved city, as you and so many other leaders try your best to invite us to dialogue, to listen instead of shouting, to work together instead of accusing.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan told parishioners: ‘There’s a lot of darkness in the world.’ 

Mr. de Blasio didn’t make other public appearances after the service. He and his wife, Chirlane McCray, were slated to travel to Connecticut for Christmas and return to the city on Friday, according to the mayor’s public schedule.

At the site of the killings, at Tompkins and Myrtle avenues, the memorial fills almost half the block under a gray tent—surrounded by metal barricades and guarded by uniformed police.

Wreaths and bouquets of roses and lilies and daisies were wrapped in plastic. There were teddy bears in NYPD T-shirts and police patches from as far away as Oakland, Calif. Hundreds of candles burned.

Sgt. Ken Carona of Port Arthur, Texas, arrived on Saturday with his wife and stepdaughter for vacation, but he said he has spent the entire trip fixated on Officers Liu and Ramos.

“I felt almost guilty that I’m here with my family on vacation and the families of these two officers have to suffer,” said Sgt. Carona, who handed out police patches from his department.

Some had more complicated views about what occurred and what it means for the future, saying they didn’t want to see the movement for change stopped.

“A lot of people have mixed feelings. They say it’s sad, but they want to see change,” said Daniell McClain, 39, a bus driver who lives in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn.

“I get pulled over by cops all the time. I feel like, I’m an honest person working for the city just like you,” added Mr. McClain, who is black.

Around noon, a group of Latino clergy members led a prayer vigil and a wreath-laying ceremony near the memorial.

Some threw their hands up to the sky, offering a special Christmas prayers in English and Spanish.

The ministers also prayed for the family of Mr. Garner, who died in July after being placed in an apparent chokehold by a police officer; authorities have said Mr. Garner was resisting.

In Harlem, the Rev. Al Sharpton led a moment of silence for the slain officers at the headquarters of the National Action Network, where he helped serve a holiday meal with Mr. Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, and his mother, Glen Carr. They were joined by the parents of Sean Bell, an unarmed man who died on his wedding day in 2006 in a 50-bullet police barrage.

Mr. Sharpton denounced “reckless demagogues,” who he said are portraying the protests he has led as an anti-police movement.

“We’re not anti-police. We’re anti-bad police,” he said. “We are against the shedding of any innocent blood.”

Mr. Sharpton said he spoke with Cardinal Dolan about “doing something big to bring the city together” after the new year.

Ms. Carr said she expected protests to continue but hoped they would be peaceful.

“We don’t want anybody out there protesting radically in my son’s name,” she said.

Write to Michael Howard Saul at michael.saul@wsj.com and Pervaiz Shallwani atpervaiz.shallwani@wsj.com