Even if you were not among the more than 20,000 police officers and spectators in Queens last Saturday for the funeral of police officer Rafael Ramos, you could tell it was a special moment in the city’s history. Without seeing the sea of blue uniforms, a blue day, a blue mood was evident in the sky when the helicopters flew over in a missing-man formation and when the top of the Empire State Building radiated the color.
Also in the sky above the gathering, earlier in the morning, was a plane with a trailing banner denouncing the mayor: “De Blasio, Our Backs Are Turned To You.” This message would be acted out by a number of police officers assembled outside the church when Mayor Bill de Blasio arrived.
When the mayor was given the microphone and stood at the podium, his posture was stooped, his voice grave and his grief unmistakable.
“Our hearts are aching today,” he began slowly, his words measured. “I feel it physically, I feel it deeply. New York City has lost a hero, a remarkable man because of the depth of his commitment to all round him. On behalf of all the 8.4 million New Yorkers … I extend my condolences.”
Most of his words were devoted to Ramos, his faith, family and a future that was cut short Dec. 20, 2014, when he and his partner, Wenjian Liu, were shot point-blank by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who then reportedly took his own life. The outpouring of sadness swept across the nation, and that was the reason so many officers were in attendance.
Thousands surrounded Christ Tabernacle Church in Glendale. The church only seats approximately 850 people so it was necessary to set up screens outside for viewers to watch the proceedings. Before de Blasio spoke, there were words from Vice President Joseph Biden, there representing the Obama administration. “When an assassin’s bullet targeted two officers, it targeted this city, and it touched the soul of an entire nation,” Biden said. He then cited words carved on a gravestone in Ireland: “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory that no one can steal.”
Far less poetic but equally heartfelt were the words from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He told the Ramos family that they were not alone. “Every New Yorker stands with you today,” he said.
During his eulogy, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton touched on some of the simmering discontent, particularly the recent protests after the non-indictment of officers who killed unarmed Black men in Ferguson, Mo., and on Staten Island.
“Rafael Ramos was assassinated because he represented all of us,” the commissioner said. “Even though, beneath the uniform, he was just a good man. And he was just your dad,” he added, directing his comment to Justin and Jayden Ramos, the officer’s teenage sons. Rafael Ramos’ widow, Maritza, was unable to hold back her tears.
“And maybe that’s our challenge,” Bratton continued. “Maybe that’s the reason for the struggle we’re in—as a city, as a nation. Maybe it’s because we’ve all come to see only what we represent, instead of who we are. We don’t see each other. The police, the people who are angry at the police, the people who support us but want us to do better, even a madman who assassinated two men because all he could see was two uniforms, even though they were so much more.”
One of the most stirring moments occurred when Bratton, holding aloft a medal, announced that Ramos, who was studying to become a minister, was appointed an honorary chaplain at the 84th Precinct where he served. It brought a thunderous round of applause.
When the officer’s body was brought from the church, thousands of officers stood saluting, while two buglers played taps as helicopters roared overhead. Then came the procession accompanied by bagpipers and drummers. It was a long procession but not longer than the 40 years Ramos shared with us.
Meanwhile, the protests that the mayor and commissioner asked to be suspended until the funerals were over—with Liu’s funeral awaiting the arrival of family members from China—continued regardless, though peacefully. The organizers expressed their condolences for the fallen officers but said that the shootings had nothing to do with their demands for police reform.
“Mayor de Blasio did not start these demonstrations, and he cannot end them,” one of the participants charged.