NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City police officers saluted as Mayor Bill de Blasio and his police commissioner entered a Brooklyn funeral home on Saturday for the wake of a policeman killed in an ambush last month that deepened a rift between the mayor and the NYPD.
Ahead of the wake for Wenjian Liu, Commissioner Bill Bratton told officers to refrain from the “act of disrespect” seen at the funeral of Liu’s partner, Rafael Ramos, when thousands of officers turned their backs on de Blasio.
“A hero’s funeral is about grieving, not grievance,” Bratton wrote in a memo to be read on police roll calls over the weekend. The funeral is set for Sunday.
Liu, 32, and Ramos, 40, were shot to death on Dec. 20 as they sat in their squad car in Brooklyn. Their killer, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who killed himself soon after, had said he was seeking to avenge the deaths this summer of two unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers.
On Saturday, a few hundred mourners, most of them police officers in dress blue uniforms, lined up outside the funeral home on a frigid, snowy afternoon.
De Blasio and Bratton entered the funeral home together shortly after it opened, with officers standing guard by the entrance saluting both men as they went inside. The wake was closed to the public.
The killing of Liu and Ramos has frayed the already strained relations between the police force and de Blasio, who
sharply criticized the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” tactics when he ran for mayor in 2013.
The liberal mayor also offered qualified support for the wave of protests triggered by the two black men’s deaths in New York and Ferguson, Missouri, and has said he talked to his biracial son, Dante, about interacting with police.
Immediately after Liu and Ramos were shot, Patrick Lynch, the head of the city’s largest police union, expressed scorn for de Blasio, saying there was “blood on many hands.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, arrived at the funeral home later on Saturday. He shook the hands of police officers before entering.
As he left, Cuomo called for healing among New Yorkers, who he likened to a family.
“What makes New York strong is that we take our diversity and make it a strength and not a weakness,” he said. “We have to stop any fights within the family.”
Cuomo attended the wake two days after his father, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, died at age 82.
Last Sunday’s funeral for Ramos was among the largest in NYPD history, with more than 20,000 officers from around the country filling streets around the church.
When de Blasio began his eulogy there, many uniformed officers turned their backs on television monitors set up outside, in a gesture of disdain.
“AN ACT OF DISREPECT”
Bratton said that for the past seven days, the city and the country had focused on “an act of disrespect.” The commissioner called the action inappropriate and said it had stolen the “valor, honor and attention” that rightfully belonged to the slain officer.
The observances for Liu were taking place in Bensonhurst, a Brooklyn neighborhood with a large Chinese population where Liu lived with his wife of two months and his parents.
Sunday’s funeral is expected to draw tens of thousands of law enforcement officers from across the country.
Waiting by herself outside the wake, Winnie Liu, 62, held a bouquet of white flowers traditionally brought to Chinese funerals. She said she felt a kinship with Liu because she shared his last name and both their mothers’ surname was also the same, Lee.
“From the first day I felt that I was from the same family, so I‘m taking this very, very hard,” she said. “All the Chinese I know are upset; we feel together in pain, supportive of the family and the NYPD.”
Liu is believed to be the first Chinese-American New York City police officer killed in the line of duty.
In his memo, Bratton said he understood emotions were running high among the rank and file after Liu and Ramos were killed. He said his entreaty to the department was not a mandate and he was not threatening to discipline those who did not comply.
“But,” he said, “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.”
Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by David Holmes and W Simon