Today I visited with the grieving family of murdered Officer Wenjian Liu. Just as with my visit last week with the mourning family of Officer Rafael Ramos, I was very moved by yes, the depth of their loss, but also by the gratitude they savored for their son, husband, brother and cousin, and the sense of hope they exhibited.
Then I stopped-by what has almost become a “shrine” to the memory of the two fallen policeman at the site of their execution in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The scene reminded me of Lourdes, or the tomb of a saint, as dozens of people still gathered reverently to pray, leave flowers, notes of sympathy, and other personal memorabilia.
Yesterday, New Year’s Day, and, for us Catholics, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, as we continue the Christmas holy days, was also “World Day of Peace,” as Pope Francis continued that tradition of his predecessors.
These two gallant men, as all our devoted police force, are truly peace officers. While a shrill but tiny minority might try to malign them as less than agents of peace and justice, our valiant police force are protectors of the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the human person.
To be sure, they will be the first to admit that they occasionally fall short of this noble goal, sometimes grievously, but they are unflagging in their attempts at reform and improvement. They humbly admit shortcomings, and seem to welcome criticism and review, as long as its offered civilly and fairly.
These two heroes, whose families and homes I visited, and whose memory I reverenced at the site of the assassination, were attacked just because of who they were, officers of the law, men in uniform.
Adding to the irrational nature of their murder is the fact that they were both members of an ethnic minority, one Hispanic, one Asian, and that they were on duty at the Tompkins Housing because the largely African-American residents requested more police protection in that area of higher crime.
I’ve mentioned to you before that my own grandfather, William Timothy Dolan, was a police officer back home in Maplewood, Missouri. As a boy I can remember my grandma telling the story of her paralyzing fright as she stood one afternoon at the kitchen sink, and looked out the window to see two policemen walking up the sidewalk to her front door.
Fortunately, they told her that her husband had only broken a bone in an accident. But she had nearly passed out thinking the worst had come.
The worst has come for the Ramos and the Liu family.
That worst reminds us that they were the best, as are all our police officers. They will quickly shake their heads to tell us they are far from the best – – and maybe a few aren’t – – but we know better.
During the Christmas holidays, I called John and Margaret Falcone to see how they were. A few years back, their son, John, a policeman, was killed in the line of duty. He easily could have shot his assailant and saved his life, but, he would not, because his murderer was hiding behind a child. Officer Falcone spontaneously knew that he had to protect that child’s life even before his own.
That’s what inspires our peace officers: the protection of the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the human person. When they fail to do that – – and, as we know, such somber and terribly unfortunate episodes can and do happen – – they own-up to it and try to do better. And such episodes only remind us of what we take for granted: that our police officers are on our side, that they would lose their lives to protect ours, that their calling is noble and selfless, that we could not get along without them, that we owe them our deep respect and gratitude, and that we’ll continue to bow our heads and bend our knees as we reverently recall Officers Liu and Ramos, praying with and for their families.