Purely Political, James Buckley
On Jan. 24, rookie New York City policeman Jason Rivera, 22, was gunned down in a Harlem neighborhood while responding to a “domestic dispute” call.
Officer Rivera was ambushed by a 47-year-old career criminal, and the weapon that the murderer used had a magazine that held 40 rounds, so Mr. Rivera never had a chance. Mr. Rivera’s partner, Officer Wilbert Mora, 27, died of wounds sustained during the brief encounter. The killer, shot by a third police officer at the scene, also died later of his wounds in a New York City hospital.
A funeral was held five days later at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan for Officer Rivera. So many uniformed policemen showed up to pay their respects that Fifth Avenue above, below and in front of the church, resembled a moving ocean of blue. It was a poignant and powerful good-bye to one of the youngest NYPD police officers to ever have been killed in the line of duty.
The turnout was also a response to and a negation of the policies of New York City’s elected District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose department not only refused to prosecute many criminal offenses, but had also reduced a great number of felony charges to misdemeanors, instituted “no-bail” policies for even serious offenders, and is blamed for the acute uptick in crime in New York. The same kind of prosecutorial misconduct had been taking place in other major metropolitan areas across the United States, with similar results: 2020 and 2021 were deadly years for law enforcement officers in nearly every locale.
If you watched or listened to NYPD rookie policeman Jason Rivera’s widow, Dominique Luzuriaga, deliver a eulogy for her fallen husband at the podium in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, packed with thousands of uniformed NYPD officers, and high-ranking city and state officials, you could not have held back tears.
How this woman, who wrote her remarks less than two days after learning the awful news that her husband of less than four months (they met in grade school) was dead is a profile in courage the likes of which haven’t been seen or heard perhaps since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s powerful “I Have A Dream” entreaties at the Mall in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1963.
“I would say ‘Good morning’ to you all,” Ms Luzuriaga began as she nervously flattened the pages of the written words in front of her, “but in fact,” she apologized, “this is the worst morning ever.”
She then recalled that the day he died, she and her husband were together “eating breakfast and drinking some Starbucks,” as they often did. “Friday morning began just like every other morning before work,” she said. “But this Friday was different; we had an argument.” She then explained that instead of letting her husband drive her home, she ordered an Uber.
“That was probably the biggest mistake I ever made,” she said.
Later that morning, when she heard that two police officers had been shot in Harlem, her “heart dropped.”
She had to rush to the hospital.
“Seeing you in a hospital bed wrapped up in sheets, not hearing you when I was talking to you broke me… I said to you, ‘Wake up, baby, I’m here.’ The little bit of hope I had that you would come back to life just to say goodbye or say ‘I love you’ one more time has left. I was lost. I’m still lost…
“I didn’t prepare for this.
“None of us did.”
She recounted their childhoods together, not believing that “our innocent childhood love would lead us to marriage.”
Then, looking out over the assembled thousands, she noted, half-speaking, half-crying, that “Jason is so happy right now that all of you are here … Through pain and sorrow, this is exactly how he would have wanted to be remembered. Like a true hero.”
She then turned to speak to her fallen husband again. “And although you won’t be here anymore, I want you to live through me. The system continues to fail us.
“We are not safe anymore, not even the members of the service. I know you were tired of these laws. Especially the ones from the new D.A. (this line elicited a two-minute long standing ovation). I hope he’s watching you speak through me right now.
“I’m sure all of our blue family is tired too, but I promise — we promise — that your death won’t be in vain.
“I love you until the end of time.
“We’ll take the watch from here,” she whispered as she stepped down from the podium.
And just as Dr. King’s words continue to inspire generations of idealists nearly 60 years after having been delivered, I believe Ms. Luzuriaga’s heartfelt and passionate goodbye to her lifelong soulmate, and the tearful farewells four days later — also in St. Patrick’s and also attended by a sea of uniforms — for officer Mora — in conjunction with the belated acceptance of people throughout the country that the “Defund The Police” movement and the soft on criminals policies that went along with it had gone too far. Her eulogy and the dramatic turnout at both funerals will prove a turning point in the rehabilitation of the reputation of law enforcement and a repudiation of wrongheaded prosecutorial policies.
May Officer (posthumously elevated to Detective) Rivera and Officer Mora rest in peace.
James Buckley is a longtime Montecito resident. He welcomes questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.