NEW YORK — At a funeral for Wenjian Liu on Sunday, the slain New York Police officer was remembered as a family man, a dedicated police officer, an avid fisherman and a person who embraced the best of what the United States can be.
His family said that the first souvenir he bought when he came to the United States from China was a sticker of the Statue of Liberty. He valued law and order and always wanted to be an officer.
Weeping, his wife Pei Xia Chen told the thousands of mourners who gathered at Brooklyn’s Aievoli Funeral Home that her husband was dedicated to his job and he understood the awesome responsibility that entailed.
“We spoke about work often,” she said, “and how much respect he had for the law, how he applied the law … with courtesy, with respect and with the highest professionalism.”
The couple had been married for only two months when Liu was shot to death December 20 as he sat in his patrol car next his partner, Officer Rafael Ramos. In uniform, Ramos and Liu were apparently murdered simply because they were cops. Their killer had posted on social media his desire to end police officers’ lives.
In the immediate aftermath of the slayings, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the attack on the officers an attack on all New Yorkers.
On Sunday, the mayor said that Liu, as well as Ramos, “embodied our city’s most cherished values.”
“(In their deaths, we lost) the very best of us. Everything that we [are] as New Yorkers … we lost two individuals who were showing us the way,” the mayor told mourners.
During Ramos’ service, some officers turned their backs on de Blasio, a sign that they feel he has been unsupportive of law enforcement.
The same silent protest happened at Liu’s funeral, though it appeared fewer officers turned their backs. Before Liu’s funeral, Police Commissioner William Bratton had asked that officers refrain from acted disrespectfully.
“Liu believed in the possibility,” Bratton said. He believed that by being a cop, he could help make the world and his city safer, the commissioner said.
Liu was an officer for seven years.
He majored in accounting in college, and joined the NYPD in 2007. On the force, he used his Chinese-language skills as whenever he could.
Bratton described him as an especially empathetic person who often listened to the people he served in New York. Being a cop is about more than paperwork and arrests and keeping watch. It’s about being kind, he said.
“For seven years, he sought out” those who were suffering and tried to ease that.
Bratton said: Liu “believed in the possibility … of a city free of fear.”
Liu is the type of “officer that we want … and the type that we have,” the commissioner continued. His dedication was hardly unique though, the commissioner said. It is reflected in every man and woman who works for the New York Police Department.
“It’s what we do,” Bratton said.
De Blasio praised Liu for his love of family. The officer rarely took time off but when he did, Liu went fishing. And in those wonderful moments when he caught a big fish, he would share it with his parents and his wife.
He was a “brave and skilled police officer but he was also a kind man, a kind officer, someone who gave of himself,” the mayor said. “He wanted to help others in everything he did.”
Liu was “a good man. … He walked a path of courage, path of sacrifice, a path of kindness,” the mayor continued. “This city welcomed Detective Liu. New York stands a little taller today because of the time he walked among us.”
FBI director James Comey was the first to address mourners, speaking about what drives officers to do their job despite the risks. “They want to do good … they want to make ordinary life” better,” he said.
Though political and law enforcement leaders gave moving comments, hearing from Liu’s family members was truly heartbreaking.
Liu’s father spoke in Cantonese and wept.
Pei Xie Chen spoke directly to her husband: “You were an amazing man.”
A dream for the Liu family
Twenty years ago, Wenjian Liu’s parents came to the United States with their son and a hope to fulfill American dream.
They watched their child grow into an altruistic young man who became an officer with the New York Police Department — a job of which Liu had dreamed.
On December 20, a gunman cut that dream short. But on Sunday, a sea of police officers from across the country made sure Liu wouldn’t be forgotten.
At Ramos’ funeral last weekend, police Commissioner William Bratton promoted both men to the rank of detective, first grade.
Diversity and unity
The ceremonial burning of paper money and the melodic sounds of Buddhist chants marked Liu’s wake Saturday.
Under a mix of rain and snow, throngs of uniformed police officers and firefighters gathered in a sign of the diversity and unity.
Liu was 12 when his parents emigrated with him in 1994 from Canton, China. His police partner, Ramos, a New York native of Puerto Rican descent, was remembered last week with a massive outpouring at a Protestant church in Queens.
With the city and nation divided over the treatment of minorities by police, the lives of the two fallen officers more closely reflected the city’s diversity.
“This was his dream, to become an NYPD officer,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said outside Liu’s wake Saturday. “In some ways, it’s the ultimate assimilation into America, into New York, to become a police officer. And obviously he was so proud, and he was so proud for his whole family.”
From protests to reverence
The police commissioner made one request to officers attending Liu’s funeral: Don’t carry out an “act of disrespect” against anyone, Bratton said in a memo obtained by CNN.
The message was directed at a large group of officers who attended Ramos’ funeral last week and turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio as he gave his eulogy.
Some officers have accused the mayor of encouraging anti-police fervor because of his support of protests against police brutality. Tens of thousands had taken to the streets after the death of African-American Eric Garner during an encounter with white NYPD officers in July.
Pat Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, has taken aim at de Blasio, even saying the mayor’s office was stained with the officers’ blood.
But for Sunday’s funeral, Bratton urged officers to be reverent.
“A hero’s funeral is about grieving, not grievance,” Bratton said. He said the earlier display put all NYPD officers in a bad light.
“It stole the valor, honor and attention that rightfully belonged to the memory of detective Rafael Ramos’s life and sacrifice,” his memo read.
But he commiserated with the sentiments of many officers.
“As a cop, one who lived and worked through the assassination threats of the 1970s, I understand that emotions are high,” he said.
On Saturday, there was no protest by the police against the mayor. Several officers saluted de Blasio when he arrived for Liu’s wake.
Ramos saw his work as a ministry and was posthumously appointed honorary NYPD chaplain.
He was just hours away from becoming a lay chaplain and graduating from a community-crisis chaplaincy program before his violent death.
He left behind a wife, Maritza, and two sons, Justin and Jaden.
Vice President Joe Biden, Cuomo, de Blasio and Bratton delivered eulogies at his funeral.
More than 25,000 police officers from across the country and Canada attended. Officers formed long chains holding hands in prayer.