Police salute during the playing of the U.S. National Anthem outside the Christ Tabernacle Church at the start of the funeral service for slain New York Police Department (NYPD) officer Rafael Ramos in the Queens borough of New York December 27, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
Tens of thousands of police and other mourners filled a New York City church and surrounding streets for the funeral on Saturday of one of two police officers ambushed by a gunman who said he was avenging the killing of unarmed black men by police.
Singled out for their uniforms, the deaths of Rafael Ramos and his partner Wenjian Liu have become a rallying point for police and their supporters around the country, beleaguered by months of street rallies by protesters who say police practices are marked by racism.
"Your husband, and his partner, they were a part of New York's finest, and that's not an idle phrase," U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said, addressing Ramos's widow, Maritza, towards the start of the service. "I believe that this great police force of this incredibly diverse city can and will show the nation how to bridge any divide. You've done it before and you will do it again."
Stephen Davis, the police department's chief spokesman, said Ramos's funeral may prove to be the largest in the history of the force. The streets outside the church filled for blocks with neat, silent crowds of officers in blue uniforms, including delegations from forces in Boston, Atlanta, St. Louis and New Orleans.
The service at Christ Tabernacle Church in Ramos's Queens neighborhood also brings together Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police officers and union leaders for the first time in public since an extraordinary confrontation a week ago at the hospital where Ramos and Liu were pronounced dead.
Hours after Ramos, 40, and Liu, 32, were slain while sitting in their parked patrol car in Brooklyn last Saturday afternoon, police officers, in an unusually pointed display of disgust, turned their backs to the mayor as he arrived at the hospital.
Marking the most toxic relations in decades between a New York City mayor and his police department, union leaders, enraged by his expressions of support for the protesters, said the mayor had "blood on his hands".
The officers' killer, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, fatally shot himself soon after the attack, and had earlier shot and wounded his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore that morning.
Relatives and close friends of Ramos recalled him as man devoted to his church and to calling the people he loved frequently just to see how they were doing.
"Dad, I'll miss you with every fiber of my being," his son Justin said at Friday's memorial service.
A regular face as an usher at Christ Tabernacle, Ramos was studying to become a police chaplain.