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Funeral Of Slain New York City Officer Draws Thousands

ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

The streets of Queens, New York were a sea of blue today as thousands of police officers gathered there for the funeral of NYPD officer Rafael Ramos. Speaking at the funeral, Vice President Joe Biden paid tributes to Ramos and his partner, Wenjian Liu.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Police officers and police families are a different breed. Thank God for them.

WESTERVELT: Officer Ramos and Liu were shot and killed in their patrol car one week ago at the hands of a gunman who later killed himself. Their deaths took on added significance coming after many days of protest in New York and around the country over police tactics. The officers were targeted because they were police.

Reporter Ilya Marritz is at Christ Tabernacle Church in the Glendale neighborhood of Queens where Officer Ramos served. Among the dignitaries there to pay tribute today was New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. What happened when he spoke?

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Well, it was actually a few moments after he began to speak that I noticed that all the police officers around me - and I was in a side street here pretty close to the church - all of the police officers around me had turned their backs. I climbed up onto an adjacent fence and looked out onto the boulevard, and all of the navy blue backs were there, too. I didn't really see anybody facing forward, at least in this particular corner.

WESTERVELT: And that tension between the mayor and the police - remind us, again, the roots of that.

MARRITZ: Yeah. Well, it goes decades back, if you like. There's a long history of racial tension in New York. What had been happening here recently was protests over the death of Eric Garner. He was unarmed black man who died from a choke hold from a New York City police officer on Staten Island. That happened over the summer. And then earlier this month a grand jury declined to indict the officer responsible for that choke hold.

And following that there were just many, many, many protests - large protests - in New York and a real feeling, at least on the part of some citizens here, that policing tactics are out of hand and have to change. And Mayor de Blasio, to some extent, has sort of tried to split the difference. He certainly comes from that school of thinking. He talked a lot about the need for change in the stop-and-frisk tactics when he was running for mayor. Now he is the mayor, and he tried to bridge that gap. And I guess he didn't do it very successfully because clearly the officers here did not - were not showing him respect.

WESTERVELT: Briefly - you've been watching from outside the church. What's been the scene outside of the church for the funeral?

MARRITZ: If you could get an aerial view of this place, I'm sure all of the streets would be navy blue. It's just packed with police - not just from New York City but from the surrounding states and some from very far away - uniformed officers from all over as well as neighborhood people, people on their stoops. A lot of people wearing black, a lot of people taking pictures - it's actually a beautiful day here. It's a nice day to be outside. Thank goodness because a lot of people want to take part, and they want to be watching the service on those jumbotrons that they've arranged outside the church.

WESTERVELT: That's reporter Ilya Marritz from member station WNYC. He joined us from Queens, New York. Thank you.

MARRITZ: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.