Tens of thousands of police officers from across the nation packed a church and spilled onto Queens streets Saturday to honor Officer Rafael Ramos as a devoted family man, aspiring chaplain and hero, though an air of unrest surrounding his ambush shooting was not completely pushed aside.
While mourners inside the church applauded politely as Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke, thousands of officers outside turned their backs on him to protest what they see as his support for anti-cop protesters.
The rush of officers far and wide to New York for Ramos’ funeral reminded some of the bond after the Sept. 11 attacks and Superstorm Sandy. About 26,000 police officers attended, some of who have come in from across the country. Vice President Joe Biden promised that the “incredibly diverse city can and will show the nation how to bridge any divide.”
Still, tensions were evident when officers turned away from giant screens showing de Blasio, who has been harshly criticized by police union officials as a contributor to a climate that culminated in the killings of Ramos and his partner, Wenjian Liu.
Sgt. Myron Joseph of the New Rochelle Police Department said he and fellow officers turned their backs spontaneously to “support our brothers in the NYPD.”
An airplane on Friday hauled a banner offering a preview of what happened the next day. The banner read: “De Blasio, our backs have turned to you.” Former officer-turned-activist John Cardillo said Friday that retired and current officers paid to have the banner flown.
A de Blasio spokesman called the banner divisive.
In a statement, de Blasio’s spokesman said: “The Ramos and Liu families, our police department and our city are dealing with an unconscionable tragedy. Our sole focus is unifying this city and honoring the lives of our two police officers.”
In his eulogy, de Blasio said hearts were broken after the shootings.
“All of this city is grieving and grieving for so many reasons,” de Blasio said. “But the most personal is that we’ve lost such a good man, and the family is in such pain.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised the sea of blue mourners for their professionalism at recent rallies over police conduct when protesters insulted them, and Biden spoke passionately about the effects of the officers’ deaths.
“When an assassin’s bullet targeted two officers, it targeted this city and it touched the soul of an entire nation,” the vice president said.
At a hospital after the officers’ slayings, the police union’s president, Patrick Lynch, and others turned their backs on de Blasio, whom Lynch said had “blood on his hands.” After the funeral, the two exchanged nods as they exited the church.
When the Ramos family arrived for the funeral, the elder son — wearing his father’s NYPD jacket — was hugged by a police officer.
Ramos, a 40-year-old married father of two, was studying to become a pastor and kept theological texts in his locker, his commanding officer said.
Police Commissioner William Bratton said Ramos had been made honorary chaplain of the police precinct where he had worked.
Bratton said in his eulogy that Ramos and Liu would be “partners for all time.” Speaking to Ramos’ children, he said: “We are here because your dad was assassinated. It’s a different word than ‘murdered.’ It makes the crime intentional and symbolic. Your dad was assassinated because he represented something.”
Officer Dustin Lindaman of the Waterloo Police Department flew from Iowa to attend the funeral.
“He’s one of our brothers, and when this happens, it affects everyone in law enforcement — it absolutely affects everyone,” he said.
A block from the church, retired NYPD Officer John Mangan held a sign that read: “G-d Bless the NYPD. Dump de Blasio.”
“If the mayor really wanted to do the right thing, he would have gotten into an NYPD car and rode around Bed Stuy to see the difficult jobs these cops do every day,” Mangan said.
After the officers’ deaths, the gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley killed himself. In online posts shortly before the attack, he had referenced the killings of Brown and Garner, both of whom were black, by white police officers.
Funeral plans for Liu haven’t been announced. They have both been posthumously promoted to first-grade detective.