Friends, relatives and colleagues of Rafael Ramos, a policeman gunned down with his partner, gathered on Friday for his wake outside a church where dozens of officers saluted as his flag-draped casket was carried inside.
Uniformed city police officers hoisted Ramos's casket on their shoulders as they made a solemn entrance into Christ Tabernacle Church in the Glendale section of Queens, N.Y. Targeted for their uniforms, Ramos, 40, and his partner, Wenjian Liu, 32, were slain last weekend while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The two officers had been reassigned from another precinct following complaints about violent crime from residents at a housing project.
The execution-style killing was so swift, according to the city's police commissioner, that Ramos and Liu may never have seen their assailant, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, who shot himself and died in a nearby subway station soon after the attack.
Brinsley, who was black, wrote online before the shootings that he wanted to kill police officers to avenge the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, unarmed black men who were killed by white policemen in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri, respectively. The deaths of Garner and Brown and the decisions by grand juries in the two cities not to indict the officers responsible ignited protests across the country, renewing a debate about race in America and bias in police treatment of minorities.
The killing of Ramos and Liu further frayed bonds between New York City's police union and the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office on Jan. 1. Over the last few months, as demonstrations in New York City over police tactics gained strength, de Blasio expressed some support for the protesters, while police union leaders accused the protesters of stirring up loathing for police.
Shortly after Ramos and Liu were killed, police union officials said de Blasio and the protesters had "blood on their hands." When de Blasio held a press conference about Ramos and Liu's deaths, some police officers turned their backs to him to express their anger.
On Friday morning, as the wake for Ramos was under way, a small plane flew over the Hudson River trailing a banner that read, "DE BLASIO, OUR BACKS HAVE TURNED ON YOU." The advertising company that arranged the banner declined to reveal the names of the people who paid for the message, telling the New York Daily News that they preferred to remain anonymous.
"This is a time to think about the families and honor our fallen officers," de Blasio said in a statement released in response to the banner. "Dividing people won't help our city heal. We'll continue to stand with responsible New Yorkers who are doing the right thing in a time of pain."
Protest leaders expressed horror at the killings, saying they could not be held responsible for the actions of a man described by officials in New York as emotionally troubled. Brinsley shot and wounded his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore before traveling to Brooklyn.
Draped in the New York Police Department's green, white and blue flag, Ramos's coffin was carried into the church by police officers in dress uniform shortly after noon, as colleagues from his Brooklyn station house stood saluting. Ramos had been on the force for two years and was raising two teenage sons with his wife, Maritza, according to the church and city officials.
Thousands of police officers from departments around the country are expected to join U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and city and state officials for Ramos's funeral service at the church on Saturday.
"Today we weep with the Ramos family, the New York City Police Department and our nation as we mourn the loss of our dear brother," Pastor Ralph Castillo said before the start of the wake. "We loved Rafael Ramos. We loved the way he served people, we loved his faithfulness and the way he served people, and we're going to miss him a great deal."
Police have not yet announced details for Liu's funeral. Federal officials are helping some of his relatives in China travel to the United States.