The city held Jason Rivera’s funeral this Friday at Saint Patrick Cathedral, on Fifth Avenue. Rivera, an NYPD policeman, was killed on January 21st after responding to an emergency call about a simple domestic dispute, in which a mother living in Harlem had called the police after feeling threatened by her own son’s rage.
Both Rivera and his colleague Wilbert Mora worked in Harlem’s 32nd District, and couldn’t have imagined that Lashawn McNeil, who was barricaded inside of one of the apartment’s bedrooms, had a fully loaded AR-15 on him. When the two agents stormed inside McNeil fired, killing Rivera on the spot. Mora, who was also shot after killing McNeil, died a few days later. His funeral will take place on Wednesday, at the same church.
Thousands of New Yorkers, including me, stood in line on Thursday on Fifth Avenue in the freezing cold to pay their respects to a man in uniform. Many of them were policemen, former officers, or other members of law enforcement. A lot of Dominicans also came to say their goodbyes to one of their own. The rest were New Yorkers of any race and ethnicity who for seven hours, from 1 to 8 pm, marched in front of Rivera’s casket, on which lay the green, white and blue flag representing the New York Police Department. In that moment I had the tangible feeling that the public’s turnout showed a profound and genuine desire to express nothing but emotion, unity and solidarity among New Yorkers.
This seemed to be the shared feeling: respect and admiration for a young immigrant who lost his life doing his duty to protect New York from widespread criminality; a sentiment that’s hard to find, these days. The intervention of police is often controversial, especially when a suspect is an African-American person. Some people wish to reduce law enforcement’s budget, others ask for their training to include more sensitivity to the struggles of minorities. While some think that every police officer should wear a body cam, others insist that the restrictions on gun ownership should increase. There are thousands of opinions on what the police should or should not do to assure both order and the respect of minorities’ rights.
None of this was present on Fifth Avenue, where the collective mood was one of genuine, collective sadness: how can you die at the age of 22, when you’re acting to bring peace between a mother and her son? The same complete solidarity was in evidence on Friday, in the full cathedral, as policemen in their uniforms, administration officials, and guests arrived at the 22-year-old’s funeral. The somber ceremony started at 9 am, to the tune of the Christian hymn “Amazing Grace,” echoing along Saint Patricks’ Gothic naves. Starting at 6 am, however, large sections of Fifth Avenue had been closed off to allow for the anticipated large turnout. Before the beginning of the funeral, I witnessed something that I will never forget. Not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands of men and women wearing the NYPD’s unmistakable blue uniform stood in line on the steps in front of the Cathedral. A solid ocean of blue that I had never seen before.
“I’m not only here to reflect on Jason’s life, but also to express my deepest apologies to Jason’s family,” stated the Mayor, Eric Adams. “I am sorry. I am sorry. And I want to thank, in particular, all of the men and women in uniform for what you do every single day. Governor Hochul and Senator Chuck Schumer, both of whom are here today, promised that they will provide the NYPD with all the resources they will need.”
It might sound like simply a gracious statement, but lying behind the mayor’s words there was a firm sense of solidarity with the governor, something that was always missing in the relationship between former mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Cuomo. A need for unity and a deep sense of purpose, aimed at bringing back order and safety in New York, a city that has been impacted greatly by the pandemic.
Speaking inside the cathedral next to a giant poster of Rivera’s official badge, the new police commissioner, Keechant Sewell, resolutely declared, “NYPD officers will never abandon this city.” He was number 25738. “Criminals should know that we will never take a step back. We will prevail. The men and women who wear our uniforms will prevail.”
Empty promises? Nice sentiments? Platitudes? I think this time it may be a bit more than just that. I think that this city administration, thanks to Adams’ twenty-years of experience in the NYPD, may be able to create a concerted action in order to make New York a safer city. An effort that goes beyond that of investing more funds in the police department. We need a more comprehensive plan. And perhaps it is in this spirit that President Joe Biden will visit New York on Tuesday to meet with Eric Adams to discuss a plan to limit gun possession in New York.
Translated by Emma Pistarino