After a moment of silence for the two cops murdered nine days before, the 884 members of the newest police academy class each raised a white-gloved hand.
The knowledge that they would be risking the same fate did not deter a single one of them from taking the solemn oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and faithfully discharge the duties of an officer of the New York City Police Department.
Then, just a few excited heartbeats after this biggest of moments, Lt. Tony Giorgio of the Ceremonial Unit announced the first speaker at Monday morning’s graduation in Madison Square Garden.
Boos came from some of the families and friends in the spectator seats. The rudeness was theirs, but the failure belonged to the mayor, who had failed to make many of them feel he was fully behind these newly minted cops who were venturing into a city that had developed new tensions and dangers in the six months since they entered the academy.
De Blasio sought to do his belated best to make up for it. He told the cops that they would be facing “problems you don’t create.”
“You created them!” somebody called out.
That brought some applause and a couple of muted cheers from the stands, but the newly sworn cops seated in rows of folding chairs on the floor stared straight ahead, giving no sign they had even heard it. They were born in 51 countries and speak 59 foreign languages, but they seemed bound by a single purpose and resolve.
“You didn’t create the problems, but you can help this city to overcome them,” de Blasio continued. “And that is a blessing.”
He went on to quote the Bible.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
This elicited actual applause from the families even if it did come from de Blasio, for peacemakers is exactly how cops see themselves. De Blasio should remember that the next time protesters chant about the NYPD standing for racism and murder. He might even stand up for these rookies he was now calling children of God.
A peacemaker is also exactly how Police Commissioner William Bratton sees himself. And nobody can doubt the depth of Bratton’s feelings for cops and their families. His hand was shaking at the funeral on Saturday as he presented the widow and two sons of the murdered Officer Rafael Ramos with the shields that came with a posthumous promotion to detective first grade and appointment as precinct chaplain.
When it came time for Bratton to speak at Monday’s graduation, he did so with unshakable moral authority.
“I want to talk to you cop to cop. I have the civilian title of police commissioner, and I’m proud for the second time to lead this great organization,” Bratton said. “In my heart and in my soul, I will always be a cop.”
He went on, “There are those that would seek to use that term [cop] in a derogatory fashion, but I always use it with pride. It denotes something more than being a police officer. It denotes the person that puts on the badge, puts on the blue uniform, and goes into the streets to put their life at risk. So, it is a name of distinction, a name of honor. For 44 years, I’m privileged to call myself a cop.”
The next and last speaker was the class valedictorian, Officer James Fuchs. He noted in his address that both his mother and his father are retired NYPD detectives.
“They are my first heroes,” he said.
He spoke of the present-day tragedies and turmoil that struck the city while he and his classmates were in the academy.
“It would have been easy to quit,” he said.
But they had not quit and here they now were as the Emerald Society Pipes and Drums came into the Garden.
On Saturday, the drums had rumbled mournfully as they escorted Ramos’s coffin the long mile to the cemetery, but as the band turned and headed back to the church the pipes rose into a lively tune, the traditional signal that life goes on, that the cops go on.
The pipes and drums now brought that rousing and continuing message into the graduation ceremony, ending with the air of “Hard Times Come Around No More.”
The moment came where newly graduated cops customarily toss their white gloves into the air in celebration. They instead announced a tribute to the two fallen officers.
“Eyes up!” a voice commanded.
The new cops gazed ceilingward where the white gloves would have sailed. The faces of Ramos and his murdered partner, Officer Wenjian Liu, had appeared on the massive four-sided video display that hangs over the Garden floor.
The cops gave a salute on high. Giorgio read aloud what they had chosen as their class motto.
“We are committed to the community, dedicated to progress, and policing with respect.”
The ceremony ended with a singing of “God Bless America,” with some of those in the stands as well as de Blasio singing along.
“We wish each and every one of you a happy and safe new year,” Giorgio said at the very end.
Afterward, the graduates posed for pictures with their families. They included Officer Chas Briant, who had served seven years as a cop in South London, England, before coming to New York to join the NYPD. He stood holding his 21-month-old son, Jamison, his wife, Kelly, at his side.
Among the other graduates was Officer Kevin Lynch, brother and son of police officers. His father is Pat Lynch, head of the biggest police union, the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association. The father had essentially accused the mayor of having blood on his hands after Ramos and Liu were murdered.
The elder Lynch has always been theatrical, but his passion was no doubt further fueled by having two sons who will be in harm’s way. De Blasio will hopefully remember to congratulate Lynch on the newest cops in the family when the leaders of the five unions representing police of various ranks meet with the mayor on Tuesday.
Bratton will also be there, no doubt as a peacemaker.
The new cops will be out in the city, teamed up with experienced officers. Those who are not working on Sunday will almost certainly attend the funeral for Liu. He was a Buddhist and the particulars of how NYPD tradition melds with his religion are still being worked out, but the band is expected to slow-march the coffin as it departs for the cemetery.
The band will then come back playing a lively tune to signal that the NYPD will keep going on, now with 884 new cops who took the oath on Monday despite it all.