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Officers turn their backs on de Blasio at NY funeral

Some officers turned their backs as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke during the funeral for officer Wenjian Liu.
Some officers turned their backs as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke during the funeral for officer Wenjian Liu.(Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS)

NEW YORK — For the second time in just over a week, a sea of pressed blue uniforms filled some of New York’s streets as Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered a eulogy for a police officer killed because of the badge he wore.

And for the second time, hundreds of police officers crowded together in the rain turned their backs to television screens showing the mayor’s remarks outside a funeral home in southern Brooklyn.

The silent show of disrespect came even after a request from the police commissioner, William Bratton, that officers not let their anger with the mayor distract from the funeral and the grieving family. And it came despite a meeting convened by de Blasio last week with police union officials in an effort to defuse the tension.

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RELATED: 12/29: Bratton calls police officers’ protest of de Blasio ‘inappropriate’

On Sunday, the mayor praised the slain officer, Wenjian Liu, as an example of a brave and kind New Yorker who came to the city from China and followed his dream to join the Police Department.

“We had lost a man who had embodied our city’s most cherished values,” the mayor said. “Detective Liu’s dream was clear and it was a noble one: to don the blue uniform, to pin on the badge, to dedicate himself to protecting and serving the city he loved.”

As he spoke, police officers from New York as well as some of those who joined them in mourning from around the country turned their backs.

Once de Blasio finished his remarks and Bratton started speaking, nearly all the officers who had their backs to the mayor turned around again into formation.

Liu and Ramos, killed on Dec. 20 and posthumously promoted to detective, were shot in their parked patrol car in Brooklyn by a man who had announced on social media his intention to kill police officers.

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Their murders shook a city already roiled by weeks of protests about policing practices and devastated an already demoralized Police Department.

On Sunday, more than 10,000 police officers and other mourners filled the closed streets around the Aievoli Funeral Home in southern Brooklyn, along with throngs from the Chinese-American community to which Liu belonged.

Blue bows adorned trees and telephone poles. Firefighters hung giant flags from the side of a building along with a banner of support. On a bagel shop storefront across from the funeral home, a message written in Chinese read: “Officer Wenjian Liu will live in our heart forever.”

The director of the FBI, James B. Comey, spoke during the ceremony, which began shortly after 11 a.m., as did Liu’s father, Wei Tang Liu, who tearfully delivered his remarks.

“No words can express my sadness,” Liu said, in Chinese. “He called me every day before he finished work, to assure me that he is safe, and to tell me, ‘Dad, I’m coming home today, you can stop worrying now.’ ”

Wenjian Liu, known as Joe to many of his colleagues in the 84th Precinct where he last worked, came with his parents to the United States from China at the age of 12. An only child, he studied in the city’s public schools. His father worked in a garment factory.

As an adult, Liu, 32, was proud of his work in the Police Department, his family said.

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The funeral was believed to be the city’s first for a Chinese-American officer killed in the line of duty, prompting the increasingly diverse Police Department to draw on its growing knowledge of ceremonial rites and to adapt its own traditions to the desires of the grieving family.

The formal police ceremony, with its choreography of bagpipes and motorcycles, pallbearers and helicopter flyover, followed a private Chinese ceremony led by Buddhist monks in a smaller room, where offerings were made Saturday and again Sunday morning under a photograph of Liu.

The protests further tore at the rift between the mayor and some rank-and-file members of the Police Department. It came after officers in all 77 police precincts largely did not write tickets for vehicle or criminal infractions for the week after the shootings and made 66 percent fewer arrests than during the same week in 2013, a stark difference that union leaders denied orchestrating.

On Friday, Bratton sent a message to all officers, which was to have been read at every roll call citywide through Sunday. He urged them not to make “grievance” a part of the “grieving” at Liu’s funeral, saying it “stole the valor, honor, and attention that rightfully belonged to the memory of Detective Rafael Ramos’s life and sacrifice.”

But Bratton stopped short of ordering officers not to protest: “I make no threats of discipline.”

Liu’s funeral had been delayed so that family members in China could obtain travel documents to come to New York.

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During the funeral, his wife, father, and other relatives delivered moving tributes to Liu, describing the love he had for his family and for his badge.

“To me, he is my soul mate,” Liu’s wife, Pei Xia Chen, said. “Wenjian is an incredible husband, son, co-worker, and friend. My best friend.”