De Blasio Appeals for Unity at NYPD Funeral but Police Turn Backs Again

The sea of blue uniforms – made up of thousands of police officers from throughout the US – was long and deep, extending for hundreds of metres down 65th street.


The crowd stretched so far it was impossible to ascertain just how many police officers turned their backs in protest as New York City mayor Bill de Blasio stood inside the Aievoli Funeral Home in Bensonhurst to give detective Wenjian Liu’s eulogy. Groups turned sporadically but the majority appeared to remain facing the screens as De Blasio began his oration.

Detective Liu, 32, had “walked a path of courage, a path of sacrifice, and a path of kindness”, the mayor said. His story was “a classic New York story” – arriving in the city from China at the age of 12 and working his way up through the public school system before eventually landing a job with the force, “protecting and serving the city he loved”.

Liu was shot dead with his partner, Rafael Ramos, two weeks ago, as they sat in their patrol car on a street corner in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood. The gunman, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, shot himself dead shortly afterward.

The ambush killing and its aftermath has strained already difficult relations between police unions and de Blasio, who union leaders have said contributed to an environment that allowed the killings by supporting anti-police protests following the deaths last summer of Eric Garner on Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The sea of blue uniforms – made up of thousands of police officers from throughout the US – was long and deep, extending for hundreds of metres down 65th street.

The crowd stretched so far it was impossible to ascertain just how many police officers turned their backs in protest as New York City mayor Bill de Blasio stood inside the Aievoli Funeral Home in Bensonhurst to give detective Wenjian Liu’s eulogy. Groups turned sporadically but the majority appeared to remain facing the screens as De Blasio began his oration.

Detective Liu, 32, had “walked a path of courage, a path of sacrifice, and a path of kindness”, the mayor said. His story was “a classic New York story” – arriving in the city from China at the age of 12 and working his way up through the public school system before eventually landing a job with the force, “protecting and serving the city he loved”.

Liu was shot dead with his partner, Rafael Ramos, two weeks ago, as they sat in their patrol car on a street corner in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood. The gunman, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, shot himself dead shortly afterward.

The ambush killing and its aftermath has strained already difficult relations between police unions and de Blasio, who union leaders have said contributed to an environment that allowed the killings by supporting anti-police protests following the deaths last summer of Eric Garner on Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Brinsley, an emotionally troubled man who shot and wounded his ex-girlfriend before shooting the two officers, posted messages on social media that mentioned Garner and Brown.

De Blasio’s emotive eulogy ended with a direct plea: “As we start a new year,” he said, “a year we’re entering with hearts that are doubly heavy, let us rededicate ourselves to those great New York traditions of mutual understanding and living in harmony. Let us move forward by strengthening the bonds that unite us, and let us work together to attain peace.”

But backs had already turned, as they had at Ramos’s funeral in Queens last week. A loan civilian protester held aloft a placard that read: “God Bless the NYPD: Dump de Blasio.”

The NYPD commissioner, Bill Bratton, who with FBI director James Comey also spoke at Sunday’s funeral, had issued a request for officers not to turn their backs on the mayor once again.

“A hero’s funeral is about grieving, not grievance,” the commissioner wrote in a memo, earlier in the week.

Before the funeral began, officers attending gave mixed responses when asked about such police protests.

“It’s not our fight,” said detective sergeant Dan Vierra, who had travelled to the funeral from Ceres in central California, “but we do represent the brotherhood of law enforcement and if they feel strongly enough in their plight against the mayor we would have to agree with them because they’re in the same uniform we’re in.”

But detective Calvin Laughlin, an African American officer from Piscataway, New Jersey, predicted De Blasio would be saluted, as he had been at the wake for Liu on Saturday. 

“What he said was true,” Laughlin told the Guardian. “It needed to be said, and some people took it the wrong way. In every profession there is 1% bad apples – doctors, teachers, police officers. But I’ve been 20 years in the job and I love to serve.”

Following the protests, the Guardian requested comment from more than a dozen NYPD officers. All declined but one echoed the message on the protester’s placard. “Dump de Blasio,” he said, before declining to elaborate.

The crowd may have been divided on loyalty to the mayor but all united as Liu’s widow, Pei Xia Chen, spoke.

“He was fearless in and out of work,” Chen said, through tears. “He spoke about how much respect he had for the law.”

She described Liu as a “a caring son, a loving husband and a loyal friend” and paid homage to his dedication to the Chinese community in Brooklyn.

“You are an amazing man. Even though you left us early I believe [you are] still with us,” she continued. The couple had been married just two months.

As Chen’s speech drew to a close, crowds inside the funeral home and on the streets broke into applause. About a dozen Asian American officers stood close to the entrance to the funeral home. Two broke into tears.

Officers from Liu’s 84th precinct lined the road as his coffin was carried out. Three helicopters flew overhead and Chen appeared in the doorway, clutching a framed photograph of her husband. She watched as six gloved officers carried the coffin to the hearse. The last post played on speakers.

Chen then took her seat in a stretch limousine that held other members of Liu’s family. A long procession of police motorbikes sped past, representing forces across the state. Liu’s father, who had also addressed the funeral in Cantonese through a translator, thanking the NYPD, the mayor and president Obama for their support, could be seen looking out of the window. 

He stared into the distance, not at the motorcade that continued to drive past.

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