Thousands of New York city police officers again turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio as he spoke at the funeral for an officer shot dead with his partner.
The protest was a stinging display of scorn for the mayor despite entreaties from the police commissioner not to do so.
The show of disrespect came outside the funeral home where Officer Wenjian Liu was remembered as an incarnation of the American dream: a man who had immigrated at age 12 from China and devoted himself to helping others in his adopted country.
The gesture, among officers watching the mayor’s speech on a screen, added to tensions between the mayor and rank-and-file police even as he sought to quiet them.
“As we start a new year, a year we’re entering with hearts that are doubly heavy” from the loss of Officer Liu and his partner, Officer Rafael Ramos, de Blasio said. “Let us rededicate ourselves to those great New York traditions of mutual understanding and living in harmony. Let us move forward by strengthening the bonds that unite us, and let us work together to attain peace.”
Buddhist monks led a Chinese ceremony for Liu, followed by a traditional police ceremony with eulogies led by a chaplain.
Police convened from around the US to mourn Liu, 32, who was killed on December 20. He had served as a policeman for seven years and was killed with his partner just two months after he got married.
Officer Lucas Grant of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office in Augusta, Georgia, said he came to Liu’s funeral with about six other officers from neighbouring departments “to support our family”.
“When one of us loses our lives, we have to come together,” Grant said.
As Liu’s family arrived for his funeral, Police Commissioner William Bratton tweeted: “We will never forget his sacrifice.”
Liu and Ramos were fatally shot in a daytime ambush on a Brooklyn street. The gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, killed himself as police closed in after the shooting.
Investigators say Brinsley was an emotionally disturbed loner who had made references online to the killings this summer of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers, vowing to put “wings on pigs”.
The deaths strained an already tense relationship between city police unions and the mayor, who union leaders have said contributed to an environment that allowed the killings by supporting protests following the deaths of Eric Garner in the New York City borough of Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The head of the rank-and-file police union, which is negotiating a contract with the city, turned his back on the mayor at the hospital where the two officers were taken after they were shot. The act was imitated by hundreds of officers who turned their backs toward a giant outdoor TV screen as de Blasio’s remarks at Ramos’ funeral were being broadcast.
Many people, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan, have since pressed all parties to tone down the rhetoric. And this weekend, Bratton sent a memo to all commands urging respect, declaring “a hero’s funeral is about grieving, not grievance”.
Officers who turned their backs on de Blasio then spun back around when Bratton took the podium to speak after the mayor.
Liu’s funeral arrangements were delayed so relatives from China could travel to New York. He is to be buried at Cypress Hills Cemetery.
Liu had served as a policeman for seven years and was married just two months when he was killed. His long-time aspiration to become a police officer deepened after the September 11 terrorist attacks, said his father Wei Tang Liu.
And as he finished his daily work, the only child would call to say: “I’m coming home today. You can stop worrying now,” the father recalled during a service that blended police tradition with references to Buddhist teachings.
His widow Pei Xia Chen said: “He is my soul mate, my hero.”
Dignitaries including FBI director James Comey and members of Congress joined police officers from around the country in a throng of over 10,000 mourners.