Monday, December 22, 2014

Protesters attend vigil for N.Y. police killed on the job


10:55 a.m. EST, December 22, 2014

As dozens of people gathered in Harlem on Sunday to honor two slain New York police officers, President Obama expressed his condolences and the president of the NAACP decried the gunman's claim that he was avenging two unarmed black men who died in confrontations with police last summer.

Young women sang, "This Little Light of Mine" at a candlelight vigil for officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were shot to death Saturday in Brooklyn. Police say Liu and Ramos were ambushed by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who killed himself as police pursued him.

At the vigil, demonstrators voiced support for law enforcement and carried signs that said, "Claim humanity," "Imagine justice," "Claim love" and "We are human." Some of the participants had also joined protests over the July death of Eric Garner in a confrontation with police, and over a Staten Island grand jury's refusal to indict the officer involved.

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"I'm here because all life is valuable and all life matters," Elle Green, a 38-year-old social worker, told the Los Angeles Times.

Green said at a time like this it was important to build trust and safety in the community and to nurture a positive relationship with the police.

"Just because you're angry doesn't mean you're anti-law enforcement," she said, referring to the anger over Garner's death.

Another demonstrator, the Rev. Stephen Phelps, said those who had participated in the Garner demonstrations were devastated by the officers' slaying.

"Our hearts were broken," Phelps told The Times. "We want to see changes, but at the same time, we want the police to know that we support them. We want the police to know that we want to work with them."

Some political leaders said demonstrators who are critical of police should halt their almost nightly marches until Liu and Ramos are buried.

“I’m asking all of those to hold off on any form of protest until these officers are laid to rest in a peaceful manner,” the Brooklyn borough president, Eric Adams, said as he stood in front of a growing memorial to Liu and Ramos.

Bouquets of flowers, candles, a Christmas wreath and a menorah began covering the sidewalk near the busy intersection where Brinsley ambushed the officers as they sat in their patrol car. As night fell, scores of people gathered at the spot for a candlelight vigil in the officers’ memory.

At the same time, marchers in Harlem held a separate “vigil for justice” organized by a group that has held demonstrations alleging police brutality.

This time, there were no anti-police chants or signs among the roughly 50 marchers. Many of them participated in past protests that followed the death in July of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died during an altercation with police, helping set off the ongoing demonstrations.

“We want to see changes, but at the same time, we want the police to know that we support them,” said Stephen Phelps, a clergyman who also has taken part in protests accusing police of abuse of power.

It was unclear how, or whether, the boisterous marches of the last five months would continue given the fallout from Saturday’s killings. Leaders of the city’s police unions, who have accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of siding with protesters, say his leniency toward them laid the groundwork for Brinsley’s rampage.

“There’s blood on many hands tonight,” the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Assn., Patrick Lynch, said Saturday night. “That blood on the hands starts at City Hall in the office of the mayor.”

Even some of those urging an end to the political jabs Sunday expressed anger at New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has defended protesters’ rights to demonstrate and who on Friday further angered critics by meeting with some protest organizers.

“What if that was your son sitting in that police car, if that was your son that got shot in the head?” said Juan Rodriguez, a Brooklyn civic leader and friend of Ramos who took part in a news conference outside the slain officer’s home. De Blasio “needs to show a little more support for the officers in blue.”

Many police officers turned their backs on De Blasio when he arrived at the hospital where Liu and Ramos were taken after they were shot.

Liu was 32 and had been married for two months. Ramos was 40 and had a 13-year-old son, Jaden, who posted an online tribute to his father, calling him “the best father I could ask for.”

“It’s horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. Everyone says they hate cops but they are the people that they call for help,” Jaden wrote.

Outside the house where Ramos grew up, his aunt delivered a brief statement. “I hope and pray that we can reflect on this tragic loss of lives that have occurred so that we can move forward and find an amicable path to a peaceful coexistence,” Lucy Ramos said.

Jimmy Hicks has lived in the neighborhood for decades and is accustomed to seeing officers on patrol. “I said to myself, ‘Oh, my gosh,’” when he heard what happened, Hicks said. He credited police with helping bring down crime in the area and dismissed critics who accused them of being overly aggressive.

Hicks, who is black, said he felt sorry for the families of Garner and other unarmed men who have died in encounters with police. “But the cops have a job to do,” he said. “They’re not racist.”

In Hawaii, the vacationing Obama called New York Police Commissioner William Bratton on Sunday.

"The president reiterated his call for the American people to reject violence and words that harm, and turn to words that heal -- prayer, patient dialogue and sympathy for the friends and family of the fallen," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement.

Before killing the officers, Brinsley posted on Instagram: “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let's take 2 of theirs.” He hashtagged the names of Garner and Michael Brown, an unarmed black man killed by police in Ferguson, Mo., in August.

Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP, said it was unfair "to link the criminal insanity of a lone gunman to the peaceful protests" over grand juries' refusal to indict white police officers in the killings of Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

"The fact of the matter is, in this country, we have a violence problem," Brooks told CBS' "Face the Nation." "Think about it this way. The tears of the families of these police officers and the tears of Eric Garner's family and Michael Brown's family aren't shed in law enforcement blue, racially black or brown. They're colorless. They're tragic and unnecessary."

The Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the forces behind protests over the killings of Garner and Brown, echoed that sentiment.

"This is a pursuit of justice to make the system work fairly for everyone," he said at a news conference. "This is not about trying to take things in our own hands. That does not solve the problem of police misconduct."

Using Garner's and Brown's names in such a context is "hurting the cause of these families," Sharpton said.

Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, and his widow, Esaw Garner, joined Sharpton and expressed their sorrow for the officers' families.

"These two police officers lost their life senselessly. Our condolences to the family, and we stand with the family," Carr said.

Esaw Garner delivered a message to demonstrators: "Please protest in a nonviolent way. My husband was not a violent man, so we don't want any violence connected to his name."


New York's Roman Catholic cardinal, Timothy Dolan, warned of rising tensions during a Sunday service attended by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Police Commissioner William Bratton.

"We worry about a city tempted to tension and division," Dolan said at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Flags across the state flew at half staff and the 13-year-old son of one of the deceased officers bid his father good-bye in a Facebook post.

"It's horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer," wrote the son of Rafael Ramos, 40, who was killed alongside his police partner, 32-year-old Wenjian Liu.

Funeral plans had not yet been announced for Ramos and Liu, who were the first on-duty police officers to die in gunfire in the city since 2001. But the ceremonies could end up underscoring the divisions between the police and the mayor.

The police union had previously started a campaign in which officers could fill out a form asking de Blasio and other city officials not to attend their funerals if they were to die in the line of duty. It was not clear on Sunday how many officers had filled out the forms.


Across the country, police departments were on edge on Sunday following the attack in New York and another in Florida. A police officer on duty outside Tampa was shot to death early Sunday and a suspect has been arrested, local authorities reported. There was no indication yet of a motive.

The St. Louis Police Officers Association on Sunday asked the department to step up security, while Baltimore's police union said the current political environment was the most dangerous for officers since the 1960s.

Police said the gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, shot and wounded his former girlfriend in a Baltimore suburb before traveling to New York City and attacking the officers while they were sitting in their patrol car.

Just before the shooting, Brinsley said to two bystanders, "Watch what I'm going to do," NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce told a news conference.

Brinsley killed himself soon after the shooting.

Police described Brinsley as a troubled man, estranged from his family and prone to bursts of anger. A year ago he had tried to hang himself.

Born in Brooklyn, where his mother and daughter still live, Brinsley frequently visited New York, though he had not seen his mother, sisters or daughter for months, Robert Boyce, chief of detectives at the New York Police Department, told reporters on Sunday.

Brinsley, who was Muslim, expressed no extreme religious views and had no apparent gang affiliations, Boyce said, but his Instagram and Facebook pages were littered with anti-government and anti-police statements.

Signs of trouble appeared early in Brinsley's life. He attended high school in New Jersey, but was sent away to family in Georgia due to his behavior. His mother said she feared him.

"Because he had problems in his background, he was going back and forth," Boyce said. "He had a very troubled childhood and was often violent."

Brinsley was arrested 15 times in Georgia and 4 times in Ohio since 2004 on charges including misdemeanor assault and robbery. A sentencing document in Cobb County, Georgia, where he pleaded guilty to weapons charges in 2011 showed that when asked if he had ever been a patient in a mental hospital or been under the care of a psychologist or psychiatrist, Brinsley said, "Yes," but there were no details of his mental problems. He said he had gone as far as 10th grade in school

Members of Brinsley's family told NYPD investigators that he had attempted suicide in the past and that his mother believed he had undiagnosed mental health issues, Boyce said.

"His mother expressed fear of him and hadn't seen him in a month," Boyce told reporters.

Brinsley's most recently known addresses were in Union City, a working-class community of about 20,000 people just south of Atlanta.

No one contacted at his apartment complex said they knew Brinsley, but most of those interviewed said people there tend to keep to themselves.

On Saturday morning, Brinsley left Baltimore for New York in a Bolt Bus, after he shot his ex-girlfriend with a silver, wooden-handled semiautomatic Taurus during an argument at her apartment, Boyce said.

He is suspected of using the same gun to kill the New York policemen and then himself.

He arrived on Manhattan's West Side at 10:50 a.m. At 12:07 p.m., he discarded his cell phone at the Barclays Center near downtown Brooklyn.

Police are uncertain of Brinsley's movements between then and the time he approached the two strangers in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Brinsley, wearing a green varsity-style jacket with a red Native American image on it, told them to follow his Instagram postings.

Moments later, he left the street corner where he had been talking to the bystanders and approached the police car. He then fired the four rounds that killed the officers, 40-year-old Rafael Ramos and 32-year-old Wenjian Liu.

Police identified Brinsley's former girlfriend as Shaneka Nicole Thompson, 29. She was in critical but stable condition at an area hospital, police said.

Reuters and Los Angeles Times contributed.


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