A gunman "assassinated" two NYPD officers sitting in a patrol car in Brooklyn on Saturday, just hours after posting virulently anti-police rhetoric on social media.
Authorities say the killer, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, walked up to the officers’ vehicle before adopting a shooting stance and opening fire. The suspect then ran into a subway station, where he turned the gun on himself.
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said the officers had no opportunity to defend themselves and may not even have seen their attacker. Both policemen were rushed to hospital but could not be saved. The officers were Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.
At an emotional press conference Saturday evening, Bratton said that the two officers were “quite simply assassinated,” adding that “they were targeted for their uniform.”
Police are still investigating Brinsley's motive, and Bratton said that he seemed to have "a very strong bias against police officers," noting social media postings in which Brinsley is purported to have bragged about his intention to kill.
Bratton made reference to the protests over police killings of unarmed black men that have swept the country over the past few months, saying there has been "a very anti-police, anti-criminal-justice-system, anti-societal set of initiatives underway."
"Some people get caught up in these and go in directions they should not," he said. The NYPD is currently attempting to determine whether Brinsley attended any protests.
The incident comes amid tension between Mayor Bill de Blasio and members of the NYPD. De Blasio and the president of the police officers' union, Patrick Lynch, have been locked in a public battle over treatment of officers after the grand jury's decision not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo for the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island.
Just days ago, Lynch suggested police officers sign a petition that demanded the mayor not attend their funerals should they die on the job. On Saturday, some officers turned their backs on de Blasio as he walked into the hospital where Ramos' and Liu's bodies were taken. At a news conference, Lynch said there is "blood on many hands," explicitly blaming the mayor and protesters.
At Saturday’s press conference, de Blasio praised police officers. "They are a foundation of our society, and when they are attacked, it is an attack on the very concept of decency," he said. He described the killing of the two officers as "an attack on all of us."
The shooting took place in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. A weapon has been recovered, he said.
Police in Baltimore had already been seeking Brinsley before the shooting because he was believed to have shot and seriously wounded his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore earlier in the day.
The shooting comes at a time when police are being heavily criticized for their tactics. Several officers in New York City have been assaulted during otherwise largely peaceful demonstrations.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network, said in a statement that he would hold a press conference on Sunday to express "our outrage and condolences to the families and the police department."
"I have spoken to the Garner family, and we are outraged by the early reports of the police killed in Brooklyn today," he said. "Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in connection with any violence or killing of police is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases."
His comments come amid media reports that the gunman may have cited the Garner death in anti-police messages posted on Instagram before the incident. Bratton said those postings were "apparently" authentic and written by Brinsley.
In one such post, which includes a photograph of a handgun, someone who appears to be Brinsley writes, "I'm putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours [...] let's take 2 of theirs."