Police officers representing cities throughout the United States were on hand Saturday as Officer Rafael Ramos, 40, one of the police officers shot in New York by a man seeking to avenge the recent deaths of unarmed black men during police confrontations, was laid to rest. The visiting police numbered in the tens of thousands and lined the streets for blocks surrounding the church and filling the church itself for what became one of the largest funerals in the NYPD’s history. Although speakers made an effort to remain apolitical, as the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, rose to deliver his eulogy midway through the service, thousands of the officers present turned their backs.
Although the NYPD does not provide estimates on the attendance of officers’ funerals, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that about 25,000 people were expected to attend. A few officers in attendance booed the mayor upon his arrival, and some protesters had signs, but by and large, according to CNN, the displays were small and the officers remained for the most part polite.
Standing in Christ Tabernacle Church, behind the coffin containing Ramos’ body, de Blasio recalled that the slain officer “believed in protecting others,” calling those and others like him a “special breed.” The church is located in the Glendale neighborhood of Queens where Ramos made his home along with his wife, Maritza, and their two sons, Jaden and Justin.
The silent protest, performed by officers in uniform watching the services on big-screen TVs outside of the church, came right after de Blasio began speaking to an assembled crowd which included a host of dignitaries, including Vice President Biden. The protest echoed the actions of NYPD officers last week when the mayor arrived at the hospital in which Ramos and his partner, Wenjian Liu, were pronounced dead on Dec. 20 after having been shot in Brooklyn while on duty and inside of their patrol car. The public displays against de Blasio by police stem from the support the mayor has offered for demonstrations against the shooting of unarmed black men by police.
Police and police supporters across the country see the ambush-style deaths of Ramos and Liu, 32, as a touchpoint around which to rally in the face of nationwide protests which have accused police of racism. Vice President Biden addressed the police protests during his speech, offering up his belief that the NYPD, which represents an “incredibly diverse city” will find a way to “bridge any divide,” thereby serving as an example for communities across the U.S.
In his speech, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo shared that the NYPD contained officers from over 50 countries who speak 64 different languages. He pointed out that although the department itself was the target “of false and abusive tirades” by protesters on an almost daily basis, the police still recognized and “protected the right of free speech.”
Ramos had been employed as a safety officer in a school before deciding to join the force. He served as an usher at his church regularly and was almost finished with the coursework necessary to be a police chaplain. During the funeral, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced that not only had Ramos been posthumously awarded the position, but both he and Liu had been made detectives.
Ramos was remembered by those who knew him as devoted to Christ Tabernacle Church. They recalled that he stayed in close touch with his loved ones, calling them often to check in on how they were doing. Although the family of Ramos welcomed Mayor de Blasio’s attendance at the funeral, many officers outside of the church who had not participated in the silent protest said they understood the reason for the action.
By Jennifer Pfalz