The memory of three other fallen comrades stood in the soaking rain with thousands of cops who saluted the hearse bearing the fourth member of the NYPD murdered in the past 10 months.
Police Officer Randolph Holder had stood at attention just like this at the funerals for Det. Wenjian Liu and Det. Rafael Ramos in December and the funeral for Det. Brian Moore in May. But that had not caused 33-year-old Holder to hesitate for an instant after he and his partner heard a report of shots fired a week ago Tuesday.
And now Holder was the one in the flag-covered coffin as this most sorrowful ritual began once again.
First there was the rumble of the approaching motorcycles, their flashing lights reflecting off the wet asphalt.
Then came the slow, muffled beat of the drums as the NYPD Emerald Society’s band strode past, its flags flapping in a wind that was the remnant of a hurricane that had spent its fury far away.
The hearse, this time not the usual black but as white as the thousands of gloves that now rose in salute, pulled up. The church this time was the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Queens.
Behind it came a white limousine. The officer’s loved ones stepped out and watched as the honor guard removed the coffin from the hearse with a formal and solemn tenderness. A lone bagpiper played “Amazing Grace,” managing not to miss a note.
The loved ones followed as the honor guard bore Holder’s mortal remains inside. The flag was removed to reveal a champagne-colored coffin that was wheeled down the aisle to the front of the church.
Mourners packed the church shoulder to shoulder, but there was no room for the many thousands of cops who remained outside. The fallen officer’s stepmother, Princess Holder, sat in the front pew, sobbing and crying out a question for which there were many answers yet none at all.
The fallen officer’s fiancée, Maryiane Muhammad, was the first of the loved ones to step up to the lecturn and speak. She said she had experienced much loss in her life and did not want to speak of it.
“Because of the love I was so blessed to experience and the life I was so blessed to live with my beloved I have a new word: courage,” she said.
She went on, describing the man who had taught it to her by example.
“To simply wear the uniform of an officer is an act of courage,” Muhammad said. “You have chosen to be both a target and a hero. It could be argued that to be a loved one of an officer, we choose the same fate, but let’s choose to be heroes.”
She was nobody’s target and a hero for all true lovers as she returned to her seat. The fallen officer’s aunt, Margaret Holder, spoke next. She recalled that her nephew had voiced a dream since his earliest days in Guyana.
“It was always his ambition to become a police officer and a detective,” she reported.
And he had the perfect temperament for it.
“No one ever saw him angry,” she said. “His personality had everyone who he encounters smiling and laughing.”
She continued, “He listened and never judged. He was a gentleman. He walked with quiet purpose.”
She reported what everybody confirms.
“He served with integrity and honesty and courage until his ultimate death on Tuesday, October 20, 2015.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio stepped up. He can be as regressively self-involved as are many avowed progressives, and he took office with scant appreciation for the cops who had made the city so safe it felt secure enough to elect someone with his politics.
He had just a year ago let protesters take over the streets while calling cops murderers and racists. He had to be prodded to condemn those who chanted, “What do we want? Dead cops!”
But these four real cop deaths since then seemed to have had an effect.
“The police protect all of us,” he now told the mourners. “And it is our job to protect them as well.”
He was even beginning to speak about the need for gun control with as much passion as he had once spoken of the need to curtail stop and frisk. Liu and Ramos had been killed with a pistol purchased at a pawnshop that reportedly has been the biggest single point of origin for illegal guns recovered in New York City. Moore had been killed with a pistol stolen from a Georgia bait and gun shop. Holder was killed with a gun stolen after a South Carolina state trooper left it in his car.
“We have changes to make so we don’t lose good men like Officer Holder,” de Blasio said. “Changes must be made to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”
No senior official takes these losses harder than does Police Commissioner William Bratton. He had begun the week decrying the insanity of the U.S. Congress’s failure to enact gun control and the obscenity of movie director Quentin Tarantino calling cops murderers at a Manhattan protest rally.
Bratton now made pure and perfect sense as he yet again stood before a murdered cop’s coffin and addressed a church filled with mourners.
“What makes a police officer?” Bratton asked. “Is it courage? Is it compassion? Is it a calling? All these things make a cop, but one thing most of all: We keep people safe. It’s what we do. It’s what Police Officer Randolph Holder did proudly throughout his all-too-brief career.”
All new NYPD recruits are required to write a letter saying why they want to become a cop. Bratton now read from Holder’s, dated July 10, 2010.
“‘My name is Randolph Holder, born March 19, 1982, in Georgetown, Guyana. Growing up, all I wanted to do was make a difference in my community and become a role model. In November of 2003, I migrated to the United States of America to live with my father.’”
Bratton commented that Holder had written not “dad” but “father.” Bratton took this as a sign of respect and love. Bratton continued the letter.
“‘My first job was working as a security officer. Most of the managers were retired NYPD officers, and they always talked a lot about how they changed their communities. That’s when I decided I could be a role model and make a difference in my community and in New York City.’
“‘In December 2010, I will graduate from the NYPD Academy to become a police officer in the greatest police department in the world.’”
Bratton began to choke up on those words. He directly addressed this latest officer in a coffin before him.
“Randy, you were indeed a role model,” he said. “You made a difference.”
Bratton noted Holder had a spotless disciplinary record. He had never been the subject of a complaint.
And the other cops in Holder’s command nicknamed him “Doctor” or “Doc” because he was so knowledgeable.
“He could memorize the faces in the neighborhood, the routes they took, names and addresses,” Bratton said. “Randy had built a mental database: the good folks, the bad guys, the kids teetering on the edge between them.”
Bratton described Holder as someone who “lived as a guardian, watching over the good,” and “died as a warrior, fighting against the bad.”
Bratton recounted what transpired after gunfire erupted at a housing project in East Harlem on the night of Oct. 20.
“Randy and his partner Omar [Wallace] knew what they were approaching that night—a shootout, a robbery, a man with a gun,” Bratton said. “They went toward the danger. They didn’t pull back.”
As has been widely reported, the two cops had raced toward the scene and encountered someone whose bicycle had been commandeered by a fleeing gunman. The cops set off in pursuit and came upon a suspect who fit the description 20 blocks uptown. The suspect suddenly jettisoned the bike, drew a .40 caliber Glock semi-automatic pistol, and fired.
Holder suffered a fatal wound to the forehead. The partner’s response now drew high praise from Bratton.
“Even as he engaged the suspect in a gun battle, wounding him, Omar kept his head and followed his training, radioing critical information that led directly to the suspect’s capture,” Bratton said. “And imagine the moment, the agony of the choice: Continue the pursuit or return to your partner.”
Bratton said of Holder, “When you’re willing to risk everything, sometimes it will cost you everything.”
Bratton knew that Holder was aware from other funerals where it could all lead.
“No one casually chooses a job that can end up here,” he said. “We choose it because to keep people safe is worth it. Preventing crime and disorder is worth it. Being part of something that has improved millions of lives every day is worth it.”
Bratton noted that Holder’s father and grandfather had been police officers in their native Guyana. The father’s shield number there had been 9657. The son’s shield number as an NYPD officer had been 13340.
Bratton picked up a small velvet-covered box.
“Today, I posthumously promote Police Officer Randolph Holder, Shield 13340, to Detective First Grade and issue him Shield 9657,” Bratton said.
Bratton presented the box to the father, Randolph Holder Sr. The father gazed at the gleaming gold detective’s shield inside and gave a single nod that conveyed more than words could have.
Bratton suggested to everyone who could hear him that public safety is a shared responsibility, that all good people—those with badges and those without—have to come together “to get the evil people off the streets, to steer the kids on the precipice to the right side. To keep people safe.”
“It can’t just be what cops do—it has to be what we all do,” he said. “And that will be a fitting legacy for Detective First Grade Randy Holder, Shield 9657, who served us all. If we want to remember him, and to honor him, coming together to finish his work is the way.”
Outside, the rain had finally stopped. The thousands of cops were again in formation when the coffin was carried back to the street, once more covered with the flag. The family emerged and the moment arrived for the traditional flyover.
Usually, a formation of helicopters appears, but the inclement weather dictated that there be but a lone chopper clattering low overhead. Its flashing lights did make it particularly vivid because the other break with usual practice was that the funeral was held in the evening rather than the afternoon.
Night was nearing as the band began to slowly march the hearse and the limo off in the direction of Kennedy Airport for a flight to Guyana and a burial there. The gathering darkness added to the sense of loss. One of the relatives had said Holder was also a genius DJ, able to shift from one style of music to another completely different one in perfect keeping with the crowd’s mood. He also knew all the lyrics to whatever tune came on the radio and demonstrated it by singing along.
That and so much more was gone because of a single bullet and it seemed only fitting that the day itself was losing its light.
Then, as if called by a DJ on high who knew what the crowd needed, an upbeat tune began to approach the church from where the hearse had disappeared from view. The band was coming back, marching spiritedly through the dispersing cops, signaling with rousing pipes and drums that the spirit of Holder and the NYPD lives.