Change of heart in NYC after officers’ deaths

A group of NYPD highway patrol officers paid their respects at a makeshift memorial in Brooklyn on Thursday.
A group of NYPD highway patrol officers paid their respects at a makeshift memorial in Brooklyn on Thursday.CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS

NEW YORK — The ambush slayings of two New York police officers, coming five days before Christmas, have stunned the city into collective mourning. In an instant, criticism of the police seemed out of touch.

“Die-ins,” which had become a staple of demonstrations in Grand Central Terminal, City Hall, and elsewhere, suddenly struck a discordant note.

And as the city prepared to bury Officer Rafael Ramos on Saturday, Mayor Bill de Blasio asked the protesters to suspend their demonstrations until the officers’ funerals were over. Most, though not all, are complying.

A little more than a week ago, City Council members were taking to the streets in New York to block traffic in solidarity with the demonstrators demanding changes in policing. The council speaker opened a meeting of her fellow council members with a call to utter the protest mantra “I can’t breathe,” the final words of a Staten Island man killed by a police chokehold.

And last Friday, the mayor sat down with leaders of the demonstrations, heeding their appeal for a face-to-face meeting even as they vowed to continue disrupting the city.


The gestures served as an unabashed embrace by the city’s unabashedly liberal elected leaders, a sign that protest organizers, after weeks in the streets, had begun the process of channeling raw anger into real change.

Then, on Saturday, in the seconds it took to shoot two officers to death in Brooklyn, the ground shifted beneath the marching feet of the thousands of people who had made New York the center of protests over the killing of unarmed black men by police.

Ramos and Officer Wenjian Liu were gunned down Saturday afternoon as they sat in their patrol car at a busy intersection.

They were killed by a man who hours earlier announced his intentions on Instagram and invoked the names of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man killed by the chokehold in July, and Michael Brown, the man killed by the Ferguson, Mo., police in August. The gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, killed himself minutes later, according to the police.


On Thursday, police remained vigilant against any threats as the city readied itself for the wake and funeral for Ramos. Visitors are expected to pay their respects at Christ Tabernacle Church in Queens on Friday night. Vice President Joe Biden is expected to attend the funeral on Saturday.

Funeral arrangements for Liu haven’t been announced.

On Thursday, police said they had made a total of six arrests of people accused of threatening officers. A seventh man was arrested in Queens on gun charges after he was overheard making threats against police officers on his cellphone at a Queens bank, police said. He was not charged with making threats, police said.

In a holiday statement, Governor Andrew Cuomo mentioned the slain officers and urged people to ‘‘offer support to their families any way we can.’’

Cuomo, de Blasio, and de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, attended midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Wednesday night. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, delivering the homily, called for renewed faith in a city shaken by the killing of the officers and continuing demonstrations against the killing of Garner.

The Garner family observed a moment of silence Thursday and then prayed while serving meals and handing out toys with Sharpton at the Harlem headquarters of his National Action Network. Garner’s widow, Esaw, told the crowd that she shares in the suffering of the police officers’ families and would be happy to meet them.


Before the ambush of the officers, New York’s “die in’’ groups had already been grappling with their future, working on ways to retain the energy and diversity of the younger protesters while exploiting the organizational assets of established civil rights groups.

Now, they face an even more pointed test.

Though some groups were willing to stand down, others balked. Along with a protest Sunday, led by Justice League NYC, a demonstration was held Tuesday along Fifth Avenue. Another protest is to take place in Brooklyn on Saturday.

Joo-Hyun Kang, executive director of Communities United for Police Reform, said halting the protests because of the funerals would be misguided.

“It is wrong to connect the isolated act of one man who killed NYPD officers to a nonviolent mass movement,” she said. “Silencing the countless voices of New Yorkers who are seeking justice, dignity, and respect for all is a mistake.”

On Monday, the group Ferguson Action tweeted: “The NYPD wants to use this tragedy to silence this movement. Not gonna happen.”

Just how dramatic the turnabout has been in New York could be measured by a scene that unfolded this week at City Hall. There were no council members blocking traffic. There were no choruses of “I can’t breathe.”

Instead, there was unstinting praise for the police from the council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, who earlier this month had asked her colleagues to repeat “I can’t breathe” 11 times, for the number of times Garner said those words before he died in the encounter with the police.


“We are here to send a simple and direct message: that we unequivocally support, appreciate, and value our police officers, that we condemn any and all violence against them, that we must end hateful and divisive rhetoric which seeks to demonize officers and their work,” said Mark-Viverito, flanked by council members.