The murders of two New York City officers ambushed in their car in Brooklyn by a man claiming to be retaliating for police killings of unarmed black men prompted calls to tamp down racial tensions.
The ambush of Officers Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, 32, followed online postings by the man, identified by police as Ismaaiyl Brinsley, referring to the deaths of Eric Garner of Staten Island and Michael Brown of Missouri. In both cases, grand juries declined to charge police with wrongdoing, prompting nationwide protests.
“This tragic moment may be an opportunity for people to understand each other,” Pastor Michael A. Walrond Jr. of the 8,000-member First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem said in an interview. “The pain of a mother whose son lay dead on the ground is the same pain of a 13-year-old boy who lost his police officer father. My hope is that this will shock people into coming together.”
The murders, which Mayor Bill de Blasio called a “despicable act,” heightened tension between the mayor and police unions over his comments on the grand jury decision in Garner’s death, and de Blasio’s handling of resulting street protests. At a Dec. 3 news conference, de Blasio cast his reaction in personal terms, saying he and his wife Chirlane, who is black, have spoken with their son, Dante, about being careful dealing with police.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a police officer for 22 years, called on New Yorkers to join him at the scene of the killings in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section for a candlelight vigil in memory of the fallen men.
“It must be perfectly clear that reform can never and must never mean retaliation,” Adams said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.
The Justice League, an offshoot of a social justice organization founded by singer Harry Belafonte that met with de Blasio last week, held a candlelight march through Harlem to Walrond’s church to remember “all victims of violence.”
Julian Love, 26, a management consultant who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, said protests need to stay peaceful to really achieve change.
“That’s not going to solve what needs to be solved,” Love said at the Harlem church, referring to violence. “That’s not going to get us justice.”
Reverend Al Sharpton, a New York civil rights leader, said he and the Garner family were outraged by the officers’ killings and that using Garner’s and Brown’s names as justification was “reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice.”
U.S. President Barack Obama denounced the killings and telephoned Police Commissioner William Bratton to offer his “full support for any possible assistance,” according to a White House statement.
Public Advocate Letitia James, New York City’s highest-ranking black official, called for “unity and understanding” following the killings.
“Divisive rhetoric will do nothing to honor the dignity of these two fallen officers or soothe the piercing pain of their families,” she said.
De Blasio took office in January as the first Democrat to run City Hall in 20 years after a campaign that highlighted economic inequality and criticized police policies.
He vowed to end stop-and-frisk tactics that had been challenged in federal court as discriminatory, and reached an agreement with those who sued.
Former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, speaking on the ABC program “This Week,” said the mayor’s statements about protecting his son from police had set off a “firestorm.”
Officers turned their backs on de Blasio as he walked into a press briefing on the deaths Saturday night, and Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, blamed the mayor for the shootings at a separate press conference.
“There’s blood on many hands,” Lynch said, according to a video on the union’s website. “Those that incited violence on this street under the guise of protests, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on, it cannot be tolerated.
‘‘That blood on the hands starts on the steps of city hall in the office of the mayor,’’ he said.
Albert O’Leary, a spokesman for the union, declined to comment on Lynch’s remarks. Robert Mladinich, a spokesman for the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
New Jersey’s police union issued an alert to its 33,000 members urging them to take extra caution due to increased hostility from protests, citing a ‘‘fever pitch of anti-police sentiment,” the Associated Press reported. James Ryan, a union spokesman, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the alert.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, on “Fox News Sunday,” criticized Lynch’s remarks while saying the mayor had allowed protests to get out of control. Former Governor George Pataki said in a Twitter message that he was “sickened by these barbaric acts,” which he called “a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric” by de Blasio and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Shortly before the shootings, Brinsley approached two men on the street and told them to follow him on Instagram, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said.
Then, he said, the man told them: “Watch what I’m going to do.”
Police said the officers were sitting in a marked car near a housing project about 2:47 p.m. when the 28-year-old gunman walked up to the passenger side, took a “shooting stance” and fired four times, striking both officers in the head.
Earlier in the day, Brinsley had shot and wounded his former girlfriend in Baltimore County, Maryland, then made “very anti-police postings” on social media, police said. He took a bus to New York, arriving about four hours before the police killings.
Baltimore authorities notified the New York Police Department and other agencies about Brinsley about 2:45 p.m. -- just before the officers were killed.
The policemen had no chance to draw their weapons and may never have seen Brinsley, Bratton said. Both were pronounced dead at Woodhull Medical Center.
Brinsley, pursued by other officers, ran into a subway station at Myrtle Avenue and Willoughby Street and killed himself with a gunshot to the head, Bratton said. A silver semi-automatic pistol was found near the body.
Ramos was a two-year veteran of the NYPD and was married with a 13-year-old son, while Liu had been with the department seven years and was recently married, police said. It was the seventh time since 1972 that a pair of New York City officers had been killed while working together as partners, according to Bratton.
“It’s sometime difficult to find the words to speak to events like those that occurred today, to try and make sense of them, but we’ll try,” Bratton said.
“Today, two of New York’s Finest were shot and killed, with no warning, no provocation,” he said. “They were, quite simply, assassinated -- targeted for their uniform, and for the responsibility they embraced: to keep the people of this city safe.”
Brinsley, who was born in Brooklyn and went to high school in New Jersey, had an arrest record for almost 20 crimes in Georgia and Ohio since 2004, including assault and robbery, Boyce said. He spent two years behind bars in Georgia for weapons possession and was released in July 2013, Boyce said.
His family told police Brinsley was often violent and had tried to commit suicide, Boyce said.
After shooting his ex-girlfriend, Brinsley phoned her mother to say it was an accident. He said he hoped she would survive, police said.