NEW YORK (CNN) — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called on people Monday to put aside debates and protests and focus on the families of police Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were killed over the weekend.
“It was an attack on every single New Yorker and we have to see it as such,” he said.
The slain officers are “now our family and we will stand by them,” de Blasio said. “Our first obligation is to respect these families in mourning.”
Earlier, de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton visited the officers’ homes and spoke with their families, the New York Police Department said.
Their visit came amid intense criticism from some former New York leaders, who claim that de Blasio fanned tension between the public and police in comments he’s made about protests over the Eric Garner case. Garner, a black New York man, died after being placed in a chokehold by police this summer. There was national outrage after the officer involved was not indicted.
Others have said that de Blasio should not be a scapegoat of any kind — that the gunman is solely responsible for the bloodshed.
On Saturday afternoon, in broad daylight, Liu and Ramos were sitting in their patrol car in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. The two, who normally work in downtown Brooklyn, had been assigned there because of the area’s high crime rates.
Witnesses saw 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley walk up to the car and shoot. Just hours earlier, Brinsley had been in Baltimore, where he shot and seriously wounded his ex-girlfriend, police said.
He broadcast his intention to kill police on social media.
Liu and Ramos were “assassinated,” Bratton said Saturday.
Tantania Alexander, the first emergency medical technician on the scene, became emotional when she described looking into the patrol car.
“He has a family,” Alexander remembers thinking. “You don’t know if he’s going to go … you put your life on the line every day for people.”
Brinsley’s ex-girlfriend, 29-year-old Shaneka Nicole Thompson, was shot in the stomach but survived.
It was one of the ex-girlfriend’s friends who alerted Baltimore County Police to troubling Instagram posts that the friend believed came from Brinsley.
“These posts included overt threats to kill police officers,” police said. And they appeared to be posted in Brooklyn, New York.
“I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today,” one Instagram post read, according to police. “They Take 1 Of Ours, Let’s Take 2 of Theirs.”
Brinsley also posted messages of self-loathing and despair and made reference online to Michael Brown and Garner, black men who were killed by police.
Around 2:10 p.m., 40 minutes after speaking with the friend, Baltimore County police said they called New York police to warn them. Then they faxed a “wanted” poster with Brinsley’s picture.
“Suspect is armed with a 9mm handgun and has posted pictures on Instagram saying that he will shoot a police officer today,” a description on the flier says.
But it was too late. New York Police Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said while New York police were spreading the warning, Brinsley ambushed and killed the two officers.
Later, at a nearby subway station, Brinsley was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
In July, New York City police officers wrestled Garner to the ground, with one officer wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck in a chokehold. That officer was not indicted.
And in August, Brown was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. That officer also was not indicted.
Former New York Gov. George Pataki and some police union officials blasted de Blasio. Pataki accused de Blasio of putting officers’ lives at risk by supporting recent protests over the deaths of Garner and Brown.
De Blasio did not respond to the denunciations against him, but condemned the officers’ “assassination.”
Bratton sought to tamp down the anger on Monday.
Asked by NBC’s “Today” whether de Blasio should apologize to police, Bratton said, “I don’t know that an apology is necessary.” The issue is “starting to shape up along partisan lines, which is unfortunate,” he said. “This is something that should be bringing us all together, not taking us apart.”
Bratton spoke positively of de Blasio, saying he has received an additional $400 million this year to improve training and equipment for police, including equipping every police officer with a smartphone.
Bratton compared the current tensions to what he saw in the 1970s when he first got into policing. “Who would have ever thought — deja vu all over again — that we’d be back where we were 40 years ago,” Bratton said, adding that social media now spread the word quickly.
“We’re in a change moment” in the United States, he said. The goal is to find opportunities to move forward.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said on CNN on Monday that he didn’t think de Blasio is responsible for the officers’ slayings, but the mayor, along with President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, have contributed to what Giuliani described as “hate speech” and anti-cop “propaganda.”
“They are perpetuating a myth that there is systemic police brutality, there is systemic crime,” the ex-mayor said.
Police brutality happens only occasionally, Giuliani argued.
CNN anchor Chris Cuomo asked whether it was acceptable to have any police brutality at all.
Giuliani said the greatest focus should be on high rates of black-on-black crime, and that instances of police brutality have been overstated and overhyped this year in the wake of Brown’s and Garner’s deaths.
Former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, appearing on CNN on Monday, said that tensions between some members of the public and the police are far more complicated than one person, one politician or one mayor. He noted that the NYPD is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse departments in the country, employing officers from more than 100 countries.
“These issues are complex,” Kelly said. “They shouldn’t just be handled with a bumper sticker. We have to work together to address them.”
Former Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, also appearing on CNN, said that de Blasio has gotten resources to Bratton to help step up officers’ security in the wake of the weekend killings. Now the mayor must reach out to the police department and do what it takes to mend fences, he said.
Police are taught not to paint the public with a broad brush, said Davis. “Our leaders need to understand that our police deserve that same credit.”
Michael Brown’s family condemned Saturday’s slayings.
“We reject any kind of violence directed toward members of law enforcement. It cannot be tolerated. We must work together to bring peace to our communities,” the family said in a statement.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the officers’ families during this incredibly difficult time.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton — who is also a target of criticism — said the Garner family was outraged by the police officers’ killings.
“Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, in connection with any violence or killing of police, is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases,” Sharpton said.
The new threats
As they grieve the deaths of two of their colleagues, New York police must also deal with a spate of new threats.
The NYPD is investigating more than 15 threats to officers posted on various social media platforms and trying to determine whether any are serious or credible, a senior New York City law enforcement officer told CNN.
The department’s intelligence division continues to monitor social media for threats made to the NYPD. Officials have not released details about any potentially credible threats.
But the troubling messages aren’t just coming from New York.
A Memphis, Tennessee, man has been questioned after allegedly posting threats against the NYPD, CNN affiliate WREG reported.
“Good job. Kill em all I’m on the way to NY now #shootthepolice 2 more going down tomorrow,” an Instagram post read.
The NYPD has already pulled all of its auxiliary officers off the streets in the wake of the killings of the two officers. Auxiliary officers are unarmed volunteer officers who help with traffic control or other minor situations.
Both Liu and Ramos dreamed of being police officers, Bratton said.
Liu, 32, was a seven-year veteran and married just two months ago, WABC reported. Ramos, 40, joined the force two years ago after spending three years as a school safety officer. Ramos was married and has a 13-year-old son.
Ramos’ teenage son, Jaden, posted a heartbreaking message on Facebook.
“Today is the worst day of my life,” Jaden wrote.
“Today I had to say bye to my father. He was (there) for me everyday of my life, he was the best father I could ask for. It’s horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. Everyone says they hate cops but they are the people that they call for help. I will always love you and I will never forget you. RIP Dad.”