NEW YORK (REUTERS) – A gunman who had posted anti-police statements on social media ambushed and fatally shot two New York police officers as they sat in their squad car on Saturday and then killed himself, police said.
The officers were killed without warning in their marked police car as they were on duty in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, Police Commissioner William Bratton told a news conference flanked by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Today, two of New York’s finest were shot and killed with no warning, no provocation,” Bratton said. “They were quite simply assassinated.”
Bratton identified the slain officers as Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. He named the gunman as Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, and said he took a shooter’s stance on the passenger side of the squad car, opening fire with a silver semi-automatic handgun. He then fled into a nearby subway station and died there from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Bratton said.
Brinsley had shot and seriously wounded his girlfriend in Baltimore County, Maryland, early on Saturday before travelling to Brooklyn, where he had connections, the police commissioner said, adding that there was no indication that the killings were linked to terrorism.
New York police have come under intense pressure in recent weeks, with protests erupting after a grand jury declined to charge an officer involved in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. Mike Isaac, a neighbourhood resident, told CNN the area was a largely African American neighbourhood and had been tense since the protests over Garner’s death.
“The mood is pretty freaked out,” he said. The grand jury’s decision this month on the officer involved in Garner’s death followed widespread demonstrations in the United States over a grand jury decision last month not to indict a police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, a teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. The incidents put a spotlight on police treatment of minorities.
Rev. Al Sharpton, a New York civil rights leader who has supported the families of Brown and Garner, said he was outraged by the officers’ killings, if they were related to the deaths of Garner and Brown.
“Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, in connection with any violence or killing of police, is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases,” he said in a statement.
In Los Angeles, Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson and other civil rights leaders also condemned the shootings in a statement.
Television footage showed the area around Saturday’s shooting in Brooklyn taped off by police. The subway line where the self-inflicted shooting took place was shut down. The Times said the last fatal shooting of a New York City police officer was in 2011.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported last month that 76 law enforcement officers in the United States died last year while on duty, including 27 during criminal acts, a sharp drop from 2012.