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New York holds funeral for Officer Rafael Ramos

NEW YORK — New York police officer Rafael Ramos was eulogized Saturday as a man of peace and faith, an example for a city and nation divided over the treatment of African Americans by his brothers and sisters in blue.

A New York native of Puerto Rican descent who was gunned down a week ago with his Chinese American partner, Wenjian Liu, Ramos was a symbol of both the diversity and unity of the nation’s largest city, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told mourners inside the Christ Tabernacle Church in Queens. Outside, a sea of police officers watched on big screens set up for the ceremony.

“At the end of the day,” Cuomo said, “we are one. One people, one state, one community, one family. Somos uno. Somos uno. Somos uno,” he said, speaking in Spanish the words “we are one.”

The funeral comes amid a national conversation and protests across the United States about the treatment of African Americans by law enforcement. That followed the August shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict an officer in the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died in a police officer’s chokehold in July.

Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the man who shot Ramos, 40, and Liu, 32, as they sat in their patrol car before killing himself, had vowed on social media to “put wings on pigs.”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, the target of police officers’ anger for his comments about law enforcement’s treatment of blacks, offered his condolences but did not address the issue. Cuomo, however, praised police for preserving the right to free speech even as they were attacked physically and verbally.

“An attack on the New York Police Department is an attack on all of us. It’s an attack on our system of justice. We are a nation of laws. We are a state of laws,” he said.

Vice President Biden offered words of solace to Ramos’s family and the families of all police officers. Only after a tragedy like this one, he said, “do “people become aware of the sacrifice they make every single solitary day.”

“Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of American families stand and wait so their husbands and wives, fathers and sons can serve the rest of us. Police officers and police families are a different breed. Thank God for them,” Biden said.

“Those who stare down danger, those who sacrifice for all of us, that’s what he wanted to be,” de Blasio said.

Vice President Joe Biden and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio were among the many dignitaries that attended slain NYPD officer Rafael Ramos's funeral service in New York on Saturday. (Video: Christ Tabernacle Church)

A one-time graffiti artist who became a school safety officer and then a cop, Ramos was studying to become a lay chaplain in the weeks before his death. Police Commissioner William J. Bratton told mourners he had named Ramos an honorary chaplain of the 84th precinct, where he and Liu were stationed.

Thousands of police officers from around the nation, dressed in blue and wearing white gloves, filled a Queens street for blocks, watching the service on big screens. Some turned their backs when De Blasio spoke, a gesture that some police officers have adopted in recent weeks to express their sentiments about the mayor’s remarks. De Blasio has said he is worried about how police might treat his son, who is biracial.

“We don’t see each other, the police officers and the people mad at the police,” Bratton said. “If we can learn to see each other, then we will heal, as a department, as a city, as a country. And wouldn’t that be an honor to these officers lives.”

Police arrived by bus, car, train and plane from cities around the country and from the precinct around the corner. They included New Jersey state troopers, New York corrections officers, Delaware traffic cops and Los Angeles police officers. A Louisiana sheriff wore a cowboy hat.

“It’s important to be here because it’s an attack on the whole society,” said Anthony Pastore, a Long Island officer and veteran of the Marine Corps. “When I saw the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, all I thought about was the idea of voluntary compliance. When a police officer stops you, you don’t fight. You go through the process. You both stay calm. My guys didn’t have the luxury,” he said with tears in his eyes. “They were just executed. They never had a chance.”

Tens of thousands of police officers from around the nation and as far away as Canada are expected to arrive for the funeral of slain NYPD officer Raphael Ramos on Saturday. (Video: Reuters)

The streets of the working-class Queens neighborhood of Glendale were filled with police cars from precincts throughout New Jersey and Long Island. By 7 a.m. Saturday, the line of mourners stretched more than six blocks.

“It’s powerful to see,” said  Deacon John Cortes of the Christ Tabernacle megachurch and a former police officer who knew “Ralphy” for 14 years. They played softball together on the church team, the Kings.

“He was just so in love with his sons and this church and being in the community,” he said, as he sipped coffee outside the church. “And he was that kind of cop. He was here every Sunday. He wanted to play a role.”

Many police officers put a black line of tape over their badges, a sign of mourning. As Ramos’s casket moved through them  to the sound of bagpipes after the ceremony, many lowered their eyes and some raised their badges. Others wept behind sun glasses.

Dawn Wagard, the wife of a Brooklyn police officer, brought her three young children, all wearing NYPD hats and sweatshirts.  Her eyes welled as she watched the casket. “As the wife of a cop, you always, always wait for that call where he’ll tell you he’s off duty and on his way home, back to you. Safe,”  she said.

Ramos’s widow, Maritza, held the flag that had draped his coffin and his older son, Justin, touched it and his mother’s hand repeatedly, trying to hold back tears.

NYPD's helicopters performed a synchronized flyover over New York on Saturday, in a tribute to their fallen colleague, officer Rafael Ramos. (Video: The Washington Post)

Cortes said Ramos didn’t fit the stereotype of the white officer acting aggressively toward African Americans, an issue at the center of recent protests. “He was a Puerto Rican  kid who grew up on these streets,” he said. “This was a man who worked in our marriage ministry, counseling other young couples. He would say, ‘If you have an argument, just be kind. Don’t fight.'”

With attendance of Saturday’s service easily exceeding the capacity of the church, television screens were set up for those outside. Streets around the church were closed, and the crowd gathered behind barricades. Some held up photographs of the slain officers. One man had a sign reading, “God bless the NYPD.” Some houses had handwritten signs that said: “We honor you. We respect you.”

The deaths of Ramos and Liu have put a chill on protests that in recent weeks turned the city into the heart of a police reform movement. The city’s progressive council members and de Blasio had been pressuring the Police Department to retrain officers and talk openly about the use of force on African Americans.

But now, New York is a city of anguish and anger, for neighbors and even family members who fall on different sides of the debate.

On Friday, mourners attended a daytime wake and a closed memorial service for Ramos’s wife, Maritza, and their two sons.

Ramos’s older son, Justin, made remarks Friday at the eight-hour wake. “Dad, I’m forever grateful of the sacrifices you made to provide for me and Jaden,” he said, referring to his younger brother, as officers gathered on the sidewalk and watched on television screens.

Memorial funds have been set up for both officers, and both have been now promoted to the highest rank of detective, which will increase their family’s benefits.

“It really is a brotherhood,” said New Orleans Police Capt. Michael Glasser said Friday outside Christ Tabernacle.

Police came from the 84th Precinct, at the end of the Brooklyn Bridge, where Ramos and Liu left last week to police a public housing project that had seen a spike in crime. More than a dozen giant flower arrangements were set up inside Christ Tabernacle. An arrangement with Ramos’s shield number spelled out in roses and lilies was placed on top of the hearse.

Ramos was a regular on these Queens streets of garden apartments and modest homes, in a largely immigrant neighborhood. His church of 14 years served as the heart of the community, with members who  hail from Spanish-speaking countries.

Ramos had planned to come to Christ Tabernacle the night he was killed. He was becoming a lay chaplain and graduating from a community-crisis program.

Some neighbors held white roses for “a humble man,” who had an “infectious smile” and worked as a church usher, “willing to help at any capacity, helping people to their seats, moms with their baby carriages or the elderly in and out of our elevator,” according to a church statement.

His Facebook cover photo read: “If your way isn’t working, try God’s way.”

Ramos was once an East New York graffiti artist, his childhood friend Israel Marrero told the media. As Ramos grew older, he said he wanted to help young people by becoming a police officer.

“It was a very tough, dangerous  neighborhood,” said Marrero. “He just wanted to do good. We always teased him about that.”

This week, Ramos was remembered as a family man and ardent Mets fan, who enjoyed watching games with his sons.

His 13-year-old son, Jaden, wrote on his Facebook page the night his father was killed: “It’s horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. I will always love you and never forget you.”

At the memorial service Friday, the slim teenager said: “Dad, you were my best friend. I’ll miss you with every fiber of my being. You are my hero.”

On Saturday morning, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway was backed up with police officers from across the country and other mourners who pulled over and gotten out of their cars just to pay tribute.

“It’s always like this, we could be miles from the church but we would still drive hours,” said Roy Omess, a Westchester, N.Y., corrections officer who drove down with his department. “We don’t care if we just stand outside. This is what we do.”

Jet Blue said it provided free flights from across the country for about 670 law enforcement officers to attend Ramos’s funeral. The airline has said it will also provide transportation for Liu’s services, which are still being arranged to accommodate members of his family, many who still live in China.

A rift has developed between New York’s mayor  and the police department due to comments he made after the grand jury’s decision in the Garner case. De Blasio in a speech on the need to change police procedures said he feared for the life of his teenage son, who is biracial. New York police officers took offense, and after the slaying of Ramos and Liu, some blamed de Blasio.

Tensions have been high since the shooting, with police across the country investigating threats and making arrests. New York police have arrested six people accused of threatening officers since Ramos and Liu were slain. Brinsley had referred on social media to cases of white police officers killing unarmed African Americans. A seventh man was arrested Thursday on gun charges after a bystander overheard him making threats against officers and talking about guns in his home.

With threats to police continuing online, there was also a high level of security at Saturday’s service, with officers on rooftops watching the crowd through binoculars, canine units moving among the mourners and helping to check parked cars and Emergency Services Unit officers patrolling with assault rifles.

Ramos’s captain, Sergio Centa, said it was “a scary time for the police department right now. You just tell them to be safe, go out there in pairs and be extra cautious.”

De Blasio asked demonstrators to suspend protests, saying they were deeply divisive during a period of remembrance for the officers. But demonstrations continued. Activists have said that the man who shot the officers was mentally ill and expressed regret that his actions overshadowed their message.

A plane trailing a banner reading “DE BLASIO, OUR BACKS HAVE TURNED TO YOU” flew Friday over the Hudson River. Police officers said in an online statement that they  felt betrayed by the mayor.

“It is our opinion that Mayor de Blasio’s dangerous and irresponsible comments about his and his wife’s concern for their son’s safety at the hands of the NYPD fueled the flames that led to civil unrest, and potentially to the deaths of PO Wenjian Liu and PO Rafael Ramos, as well as the continued threats against NYPD personnel,” the statement said. “The Mayor shows us no respect, and encourages the public to follow his lead.”

Ramos’s family, however, said they supported the mayor attending the services.

Ramos will be buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Police officers and family members gathered on Friday for the wake of one of two officers who was shot dead by a man who said he was avenging killings of unarmed black men by police. (Video: Reuters)