NEW YORK (AFP) - Thousands of officers paid homage Saturday at the New York funeral of one of their own, in an emotional show of solidarity from a group that has felt targeted by recent protests over police violence.
But in a sign of the strain between New York’s force and its mayor, thrown into sharp relief since Rafael Ramos and his partner were shot last week, numerous officers turned their backs outside as Bill de Blasio began to speak.
Vice-President Joe Biden said the double murder was felt by the whole country.
“When an assassin’s bullet targeted two officers, it targeted this city. And it touched the soul of the entire nation,” Biden said.
“I believe that this great police force, and this incredibly diverse city can and will show the nation how to bridge any divide,” he added.
Giant screens were installed outside the church for the crowd that overflowed for blocks.
Amid the thousands of New York police, there were also officers from across the country, including from the states of Indiana, California and Georgia.
Tensions have flared in the United States since this summer over what protesters say is racism and excessive force against black Americans by the police.
Ramos, 40, was killed alongside his partner Wenjian Liu December 20 following nationwide demonstrations after grand juries failed to charge white officers in the killings of two unarmed black men over the summer.
The shooter, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who later killed himself, had posted angry Instagram comments that were anti-government and referenced the black men’s deaths.
Some police and others have pushed back against protesters and claimed officials have been too sympathetic, accusing them of inciting the attack.
They called for a change in tone from officials and for demonstrators to halt protests ahead of the funerals.
Mayor De Blasio, in particular, has been subject to withering criticism from some of the city’s 35,000 police officers for his remarks following demonstrations.
A father of biracial children, De Blasio had told reporters he counselled his teenage son Dante to take extra care when dealing with officers.
Outside the church, in a motion that has become familiar this week, a sea of blue-uniformed police turned away in protest as de Blasio took the podium.
But inside, de Blasio steered clear of the controversy in his remarks.
Ramos’ “memory will live on in the hearts of his family, his congregation, his brothers and sisters of the NYPD, and literally millions of New Yorkers. We will not forget,” de Blasio said.
Ramos had served in the police force for years and was described as a man of strong faith. He was about to become a chaplain.
“The job can reward you like no other but one day might demand from you everything in return,” police commissioner Bill Bratton said.
“For the Ramos family today is that day.”
Ramos is survived by two children and a wife.
A number of charities have offered to support the family financially.
Bratton said the Ramos and Liu were “assassinated” because they were police officers.
“We are in a city struggling to define itself, where people are searching for what they stand for and why.”
Bratton said at the service he promoted the two officers to detectives and named Ramos an honorary chaplain.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo voiced optimism the state would be able to overcome racial and ethnic tensions.
“We will study and reflect, and we will restore the justice system, and we will resolve the differences among us – as we have many, many times before,” Cuomo said.
The funeral of the second policeman, Liu, who has family coming from China, has not yet been scheduled.