Hundreds of police officers gathered outside the funeral for a New York City officer shot dead with his partner in Brooklyn last week turned their backs as Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke inside, a mark of division in the city even amid the solemn dignity of the day.
DeBlasio, along with Vice President Joe Biden, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and ministers at the Christ Tabernacle Church in Glendale, Queens, movingly evoked the memory of Officer Rafael Ramos and his partner, Officer Wenjian Liu. Ramos' mother, wife and two sons listened in the church and tens of thousands of uniformed officers and onlookers watched on large screens outside.
Biden thanked Ramos' family for their sacrifice and said he hoped they could find solace in the way fellow officers were standing by them. He praised New York City for its courage and character during tragedies like 9/11 and Sandy, saying he was confident the city would pull through.
"That spirit is still alive and well in this city, and I'm absolutely confident it will guide you in the days and weeks ahead," said Biden, who attended the service with his wife, Jill.
Speaking directly to Ramos' two sons, Justin and Jaden, Biden said: "You have inherited an entire family. The men and women of NYPD will always be there as long as you are alive."
Biden's comments were met with applause, but when de Blasio began to speak, hundreds of officers turned their backs on him, as some had a week earlier in the hallway of Woodhull Hospital, where Ramos and Liu were taken after the fatal shooting. Despite the visible discord, de Blasio struck a conciliatory tone in his eulogy.
"[I] extend my condolences to another family, the family of the NYPD that is hurting so deeply right now, men and women feeling this loss so personally, so deeply, as their families feel the loss as well," he said.
Police union officials have criticized de Blasio's response to ongoing protests following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island, both at the hands of police. At Woodhull Hospital last week, Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said there was blood on many hands. "That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the mayor," he said.
In his remarks Saturday, de Blasio praised the NYPD and police everywhere, calling them peacemakers. "Those who are called to protect others are a special breed," he said.
Gov. Cuomo, speaking with vehemence about protestors who threw trash cans and screamed epithets at officers during marches after a grand jury cleared an officer in Garner's death, marveled at the NYPD's "discipline and professionalism."
He vowed to study a range of justice issues raised both by Garner's death and the two officers' killings, and like the other speakers at the funeral evoked the hope that New Yorkers would come together in the wake of these events. In New York, he said, "The knife of division breaks on the rock of unity."
Biden spoke lyrically about Officer Ramos, and about the task of policing New York. “This chaotic miracle,” he said of New York City, “stands as a beacon to the world in no small part because of the sacrifices the NYPD makes every single day.”
Of NYPD officers’ daily duties, he said, “When you patrol the streets of New York, you circle the earth.”
Biden, whose first wife and infant daughter died in a traffic accident 42 years ago this month, seemed to invoke his own loss in addressing the Ramos family. “The time will come when Rafael's memory will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes,” he said, adding, "I promise you."
Bratton drew the longest applause of the 90-minute service when he announced that he had named Ramos – who at the time of his death was about to complete his chaplaincy training – an honorary chaplain in the 84th Precinct, where he served. The commissioner also confirmed that the two officers had been promoted posthumously to detective first grade, which will enhance the benefits their survivors’ receive.
“Someday the tears will end. The memories will not,” said Bratton, telling mourners that he first attended a police officer’s funeral in Boston in 1970, during a period of civil unrest over both race and the Vietnam War. “Every time I attend a police officer's funeral - and I've attend too many - I always pray it will be the last,” he said. “And I know it won't."
As for Ramos and Liu, the two men, he said, now are standing guard “at the gates of heaven.”
Ramos will be laid to rest at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Funeral plans for Liu are still being arranged. He and Ramos were killed Dec. 20 while sitting in their patrol car in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
The gunman then shot himself to death at a nearby subway station.