Police, firefighters, political leaders and regular New Yorkers stood in long lines in icy rain Saturday and will gather again Sunday to pay tribute to Officer Wenjian Liu, one of two policemen gunned down in an attack that widened a rift between police and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
At the Brooklyn wake on Saturday, there was no visible evidence of the animosity on display Dec. 27, when many police officers turned their backs on De Blasio as he spoke at the funeral of Liu's partner, Rafael Ramos.
As De Blasio entered the funeral home alongside Police Commissioner William Bratton, officers saluted. Before the wake, Bratton had issued a memo urging officers to leave politics out of Liu’s wake and funeral.
“A hero’s funeral is about grieving, not grievance,” said the memo.
Police union leaders have accused De Blasio of ushering in a hostile environment toward police, which they say laid the groundwork for the Dec. 20 ambush of Liu and Ramos. The gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, posted online anti-cop statements before shooting the pair and later turning the gun on himself.
A meeting Tuesday between De Blasio and union chiefs failed to resolve their differences. Whatever anger remains, though, was kept under wraps Saturday.
Blue ribbons honoring police and handmade banners praising the NYPD dotted the wide, busy avenue leading to the funeral home. Inside, relatives of Liu, including his wife of just two months and many relatives flown in from China, sat vigil near Liu’s casket.
“Like Sept. 11,” one woman watching from across the street said as her eyes filled with tears. “Like Sept. 11” she repeated several times in a thick Russian accent before walking away.
Many New Yorkers have compared the gloom over the city and the scenes of officers gathering for wakes and funerals to the days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when scores of police and firefighters lost their lives.
“This is just like one of the saddest days in New York,” said Calvin Hunt, who was outside the funeral home with his 7-year-old son, Cameron, and 10-year-old daughter, Olivia. All three of them held up pictures of the slain officers.
Hunt described himself as an activist and said he had taken part in some of the marches called to protest the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police. But he said that did not make him any less sympathetic to the Police Department losing its own members to violence.
“They talk about black lives mattering,” he said, alluding to protesters who often held signs with that sentiment.
“Well, blue lives matter,” Hunt said, nodding toward the police in their blue uniforms. “All lives matter. Police lives matter.”
Despite the rain and frigid temperatures, the line outside the funeral home grew longer as the afternoon wore on.
The ceremonies honoring Liu were to combine the Buddhist traditions of his Chinese heritage with the ceremony of an NYPD service, including monks, bagpipers, the carrying of a casket draped in an NYPD flag, and eulogies from police, clergy and political leaders.
Liu came to the United States in 1994 from China with his parents. He graduated from the Police Academy in 2007. According to his parents, their only child had wanted to be a police officer since he was a teenager, driven in part by the 9/11 attacks.
Liu’s funeral was scheduled later than Ramos’ because several of his relatives traveled from China to be here.
Since the Ramos service, police who turned their backs on De Blasio have been accused of acting inappropriately.
But the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Assn., Ed Mullins, asked about the police action on CNN, said Saturday that the officers were exercising the same freedoms of speech that protesters alleging police brutality had expressed for weeks.
“They made a statement without breaking a single law or saying a single word,” Mullins said without saying whether he expected similar protests at Liu’s funeral.
In his memo, Bratton did not forbid officers from staging silent protests during Liu’s service, but he urged them to keep politics out of the event.
“I understand that emotions are high,” Bratton wrote. “I issue no mandates and I make no threats of discipline. But I remind you that when you don the uniform of this department, you are bound by the tradition, honor and decency that go with it.”