Police Funeral: It All Comes Back
I can still hear fists smashing against lockers in the back room of a precinct station, after the murder of a colleague.
The wail of a bagpipe. People crying.
New York had another police funeral on Wednesday, for the second officer shot down by a man emerging from a bedroom in a narrow hallway. A family disturbance. You never know.
The cold-blooded shooting of two young New York officers, Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora, touches me because I once entered an apartment right behind two officers, answering a similar call about a disturbance.
This was in November of 1976, when I was on the Metro staff at the Times. My bosses suggested I do a feature on NYPD officers who commute from the suburbs to patrol the city streets and stores and homes – the same issue kicking around today.
I was no stranger to police stories in the city. In 1973, I had covered the terrible standoff in Bushwick, Brooklyn, when four young men killed an officer and took over a sporting goods store under the el. Some police officers wanted to storm the store and shoot the men but the standoff was defused by negotiating tactics advocated by a top officer, Benjamin Ward, who later became the first Black police commissioner.
I was in the station house when enraged cops expressed their anger by punching their lockers. Later, I covered the funeral at a sad church in Brooklyn. It feels like yesterday.
For my article in 1976, I don’t remember how I was introduced to a detective and officer who worked as a team in Jamaica, Queens, where I grew up. Now I was living in Nassau County, just like a lot of cops,
The two officers – experienced and verbal – were willing to escort a reporter on a shift on a cold, dark evening in late November. They soon were busy:
A fellow officer had cornered several young men suspected of shoplifting in a five-and-dime store near Jamaica Ave. I was neither armed nor wearing any kind of protection, as I followed the two officers.
I can still see the lone cop, standing guard on two or three young man in a corner. I cannot envision a gun, but he must have had one out because the young men were standing against a wall, restive but taking no chances, yet.
I can still see the huge drops of sweat pouring down the single cop. He was quite heavy, and I was concerned he would keel over at any moment. (The officer and suspects were Black, and the two officers who escorted me were white.) The suspects were loaded into a police car, and “we” went on our way.
Another major call was about a disturbance in an apartment – a man and a woman, anger in the air, but no violence in progress. The two officers took a low-key approach, asking a few questions, softly, casually, non-judgmentally, urging the woman to stop insulting the man, telling the man to “be cool.” One of them “suggested” the man pack up and leave, which he did. But when you enter an apartment, you never know.
At some point, the two officers and I stopped for Romanian skirt steaks along Hillside Ave., and I learned more about the two – the detective from Queens, the officer originally from England. Neither displayed a harsh edge, like military occupying a foreign land, nor did they act like social workers, trying to right all the wrongs. They were, how can I say it, professional.
Things got more tense later in their shift – a radio call about a fight in progress near Merrick Ave. The two officers were the first on the scene, learning that a stabbing had just happened during a card game on the hood of a car. One officer tried to apply a tourniquet on one wounded man, the other apprehended a suspect bleeding from the face.
The gathering crowd did not threaten the officers but nobody helped attend to the two bleeding men, either. There was an allegation of cheating on a 50-cent bet. Backup arrived, and the wounded man was taken to Mary Immaculate Hospital, (where I had been born) and the two officers followed.
In the hospital, I stood behind the two officers as they tried to talk to one man being treated in the emergency room. He kept saying he wanted to go home, but somebody whispered to me that the man had been knifed in the heart and was not going to live.
I still remember a nurse (Black, like the two wounded men) saying: “Full moon. Friday night.”
The detectives gathered information and they left.
The man died overnight.
I caught up with the two officers over the weekend, in Nassau, and they told me about their lives, and the reasons (economic, social) for not living in the city. I wrote an article, and I do not believe I ever met either man again, but I remember their level-headed professionalism – neither racists nor missionaries, but rather peace-keepers.
These days, I know there are bad cops, like the four who allowed George Floyd to be slowly and intentionally murdered in the street in Minneapolis in 2020. But I also watched TV on Jan. 6, 2021, as a Capital officer Eugene Goodman brilliantly enticed a pack of terrorists up the wrong stairway, away from their target, the Vice President. Black Capital officers endured cruel violence and racist taunts from insurrectionists dispatched by Donald Trump, sociopathic rich boy from a tony corner of Queens.
As a city kid at heart, who loves walking all over town, fearlessly, I feel I know the young officers. They became cops with eyes wide open, knowing the dangers, but wanting to make life better in the city .
They died when they entered an apartment, to keep the peace.
I once walked behind two officers doing the same thing; now I mourn Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora.
For a glimpse into the heart of a police family, please read the beautiful column by Maureen Dowd:
2/1/2022 09:57:04 pm
2/2/2022 01:18:37 am
This is the first thing I read after waking up this morning. It will stay with me all day, and much longer. We all know there are bad cops, people who had no business ever even getting such a job. I knew a few of them in San Francisco and have seen a few "in action" in various places I've worked and lived. But I knew far more people who were like the officers you wrote about: professionals, good, well-motivated men and women who were there for all the right reasons and who knew the risks and did the job anyway, often with little or no recognition of the hard work they do or the sacrifices they sometimes are called upon to make. It is no surprise that when an officer anywhere has their life taken violently officers everywhere feel the loss. Thanks, George.
2/2/2022 05:50:40 am
George: The officers need to get into some house, but none knows how they will be received there. It’s a hard job. I think you have seen many weird cases while working as Metro staff at the Times.
2/2/2022 10:05:27 am
Dear Randolph, John, Altenir (3 different countries heard from):
2/2/2022 10:17:26 am
Powerful stuff George. I never patrolled the streets with cops but did spend nine months working as a police station clerk in the year between high school and college. The education I got during those nine months is as vivid to me today as yours.
2/2/2022 02:41:18 pm
Ever since I can remember, I have had mostly positive experiences with members of various police forces.
2/2/2022 03:41:27 pm
George, You've awakened a childhood memory: Took a short subway ride with my two brothers to see a movie. Little brother got frightened, so big brother took him home, leaving me to fend for myself. When I took the subway the wrong way and got lost, a NYC cop took me by the hand, asked for my address and personally delivered me to mother. Those were more innocent times.
2/3/2022 08:24:28 am
Thank you, George et al., for these good, thought-provoking comments. Introspection leads me to offer that specific experiences, situations and instances can lead to generalized learning, feelings and opinions. In turn, generalities can be applied to specifics in helpful and less-than-helpful ways.
2/3/2022 09:38:05 am
Thank you for this measured work
2/5/2022 11:19:08 pm
2/6/2022 09:24:59 am
Jim, Maury, Andy, Judy (my Jamaica friend) and Bruce: I'm just catching up wth your nice comments, thanks so much.
2/6/2022 09:30:03 am
Comments are closed.
“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.