January 10, 2017 | 11:06pm
By Denis Hamill
|Steven McDonald (c.), with his son (r.), was a beacon of solace for families at funerals of cops killed in the line of duty. (EGAN-CHIN, DEBBIE)
After a punk with a gun left the NYPD’s Steven McDonald a quadriplegic, the heroic cop became a truly big wheel in this city.
I once said that to McDonald as he sat in his motorized wheelchair outside a courtroom where a dirtbag cop killer, whose name is best forgotten, was on trial. McDonald laughed. He had a dark, Celtic sense of humor about himself filled with New York irony and fueled by his enormous heart.
At wakes or funerals for cops killed in the line of duty, the families of the departed often found solace in the genuinely Christian words from McDonald, whose wheelchair was a throne of a true Prince of the City. Widows and kids of slain cops would flock to McDonald, who wore his crisp NYPD uniform proudly, sporting his gold detective shield earned in 1995 — after surviving three bullets in Central Park in 1986.
It was also McDonald who found it in his heart to forgive the shooter who put him in that chair.
“I feel sorry for him,” McDonald once said of his shooter, Shavod Jones, 15. “I forgive him and hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life.”
On the 25th anniversary of the shooting, McDonald had not become cynical.
“My simple understanding is that God has asked me to be a witness to do His will in this world,” he told the Daily News. “And I think that’s my life.”
And, man, what a life it was, packing in more meaningful miles and earnest words and deeds in the 30 years since the shooting than most able-bodied people could in two lifetimes.
McDonald met with mayors, governors, Presidents, Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela. He brought his message of forgiveness to Northern Ireland, Bosnia and the Middle East. He counseled troubled kids, encouraged rookie cops and helped a wounded city heal after 9/11.
But McDonald’s life as a cop was forged in the unforgiving New York of the crack-infested 1980s. In the year he was shot, police investigated nearly 2,000 murders. It was a time when 10-year-olds with TEC-9 semiautomatic pistols and teens with Uzis muled crack vials on the bloodied streets, subways, housing projects and parks of a city out of control with mindless violence. It was a time when a city columnist like me would get up in the morning and try to decide which of the five outrageous murders of the day to cover.
|McDonald forgave the man who pumped three bullets into him, offering a healing attitude to NYC at a time when the city faced an era of darkness. (THEODORAKIS, ANDREW/THEODORAKIS, ANDREW)
A time when evil druglords would reach the zenith of audacity by ordering the murder of a cop — any cop — from a Rikers Island jail cell. The contract led to the assassination of 22-year-old Officer Eddie Byrne in Queens on Feb. 26, 1988.
Byrne’s assassination would be the beginning of the end of the violent crack era of New York.
But the healing actually started two years earlier after the July 12, 1986, shooting of McDonald. That McDonald literally rose Christ-like from the dead after taking three .22-caliber slugs to preach a gospel of forgiveness and unity in New York had a profound effect on the cops and citizens of this hemorrhaging city. McDonald became the living embodiment of what could happen to any good cop doing his job on any tour in any precinct of the city. He also became a living legend as one of the most courageous people to ever don a police uniform. Because it might take even bigger guts to forgive your shooter than it does when you’re facing his gunfire.
I never met anyone who accomplished this mission of absolution with as much grace, humor and hope as Detective Steven McDonald.
There’s a reason why some people will always think of him as a superhero.
When Christopher Reeve was left paralyzed in 1995 after an equestrian accident, I called McDonald for some advice for Superman.
“A few years ago I was with my family at Planet Hollywood, and Christopher Reeve came through the crowd, over to us,” McDonald told me that day. “He was so gracious, so kind, so nice to my kids, who are Superman fanatics. He asked us about our lives, and I remember how encouraging he was. It was a very special moment for us. God, I’d love to repay that kindness if he or his family ever feels like talking. I’d tell him he’s always been such a role model. That he might be an even bigger and more important one now. Plus, he can still act, direct. He’ll learn he’s the same great human being, different set of circumstances. That’s all.”
That’s a man at peace with himself in life. That’s the kind of guy he was. Steven McDonald was too humble to realize that Christopher Reeve had come across Planet Hollywood to meet the real Superman in the room.
And now, like Christopher Reeve, McDonald is gone.
But the example he set in New York will outlive him. More than ever this unforgiving town could sure use some of Detective McDonald’s forgiving heart.