New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill speaks during the funeral for New York City Police Officer Miosotis Familia, at the World Changers Church, July 11, 2017 in The Bronx borough of New York City.
Richard Drew —Pool/Getty Images
By James P. O'Neill
July 14, 2017
IDEAS
James P. O'Neill is Commissioner of the New York City Police Department

On July 5, 2017, New York City Police Department Officer Miosotis Familia was fatally shot while sitting in her patrol car. The next day, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill described the incident as an “unprovoked attack on cops.” Thousands attended Familia’s funeral on July 11, where O’Neill gave the following remarks.

Good morning, everybody.

[NYPD Chaplain Rev. Dr.] Barbara [Williams-Harris], I’m not sure if I’m ready to celebrate yet. I have to work on it.

Members of the NYPD Chaplains Unit; Pastor Davidson and the staff and congregation of World Changers Church — I love the name; Mayor de Blasio; Adriana, Gennie, Peter, Delilah; Inspector Phil Rivera and all the men and women of the 4-6 Precinct in the Bronx; law enforcement officers from all across our nation and the world, many of whom traveled great distances to support us in this time of incredible sorrow; and all other friends and family gathered here this morning:

On behalf of the entire New York City Police Department, I extend our most profound condolences.

Police Officer Miosotis Familia was a kind and authentic woman.

One of ten children raised in Washington Heights before she and her family moved together to the Bronx, she was serious but sharp-witted. And though she was the youngest, her siblings say she was never spoiled.

Miosotis was the glue that held her large family together. She would mediate any dispute, especially among her six feisty sisters. Known as a lovable goof, they playfully called her “La Loca,” or “Crazy Girl.”

And later, as a mother, she would teach her own children life lessons — like being kind to strangers, blessing others with a smile, and respecting those less fortunate.

I’m told that Valentine’s Day was her favorite holiday. She’d really go overboard with the hearts and the decorations in their Kingsbridge apartment, just so the kids could see all the love that was theirs.

Like every New Yorker, Miosotis just wanted to do her job, work hard, live without fear, improve her life and the lives of 86-year-old mother, her two daughters and her son.

But she also wanted to do something else: She wanted to improve the lives of other families, as well. When she made that decision 12 years ago to become an NYPD cop — a Bronx cop — she epitomized why many people choose to become police officers.

Gennie, Peter, Delilah: I can talk forever about the great things — the fantastic things that police officers do every single day for millions of people — but nothing I can say will bring your mom back. I’m sorry for that.

But I can make you this promise: Your mom didn’t die in vain. Your mom’s legacy will never fade from importance or memory.

Your mom made it her mission to make your home — New York City — a better and safer place for everyone. And I vow to you we will continue to find our way forward in her honor. Because that’s what cops do.

Cops are regular people who believe in the possibility of making this a safer world. It’s why we do what we do. It’s why we run toward, when others run away.

Your mom believed in the possibility of being part of something larger than herself. She accepted the vast responsibility that came with her decision, knowing that it would be challenging, recognizing that someone has to do this job and believing she was willing and able to fill that role. And she was right.

Miosotis wanted other people to know her, to work with her and to help her make this a better city for all of us.

Everything our government stands for — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear — everything starts with public safety. Miosotis knew this, and she wanted all of us to play our part.

That is why violence against the police and what we represent is a dishonor to civilized society. We should be outraged that any single person had so little regard for your right to public safety.

On the night our nation celebrated its independence, the coward who committed this atrocity did not walk down the street after midnight and shoot just anybody.

He shot a cop.

Mental illness and medication may have played a part — I don’t know. What is certain, however, is that he hated the police. He saw us as the “bad guys” because countless times he heard it in conversation, saw it on television, read it in the newspapers. Combine that toxic blend with his special brand of evil, and you get … this funeral.

Hate has consequences. When we demonize a whole group of people — whether that group is defined by race, by religion or by occupation — this is the result. I don’t know how else to say it: This was an act of hate, in this case, against police officers — the very people who stepped forward and made a promise to protect you, day and night.

This amazing woman, this mother, this daughter, this sister, this friend, this New York City police officer, was assassinated solely because of what she represented and for the responsibility she embraced.

All her killer could see was a uniform, even though Miosotis was so much more. He blamed the police for his own terrible choices in life. And for the way he emerged after our society agreed he should go away to prison for a while.

As a city, and as a country, I don’t believe we’re in the same place we were at the end of 2014, when Detectives Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were assassinated under similar circumstances in Brooklyn. We are on firmer ground now, with police and communities working more effectively together.

But in mid-2017, there unquestionably is a creeping apathy among the public about the work and role of its dedicated police officers. I think of it this way: You don’t really notice the lights are on… until they go out. If we do wrong, we are vilified. If we do right, we are ignored.

There is little attention paid to positive changes in policing, in general, and in this police department, in particular, no matter how effective they may be.

But the manner in which Miosotis was killed should remind everybody that the civility of our society balances on a knife’s edge. And the 36,000 uniformed members of the NYPD are just regular people who made a selfless decision to help maintain that balance.

There is nothing more human than a 48-year-old mother of three, living in the Bronx, who decided to swear an oath, put on a uniform and live a life with meaning. Fighting crime and keeping people safe is not a responsibility that the police take lightly, and neither should the public.

While crime continues to go down, year after year, that provides little comfort when the fabric of our society, the blanket of public safety we provide, is torn by a senseless, direct assault on one of our protectors.

Here are the numbers we don’t talk about nearly enough:

Since our start in 1845, more than 840 New York City police officers have died in the line of duty. Miosotis is our seventh cop to be shot and killed in just the last five years. And she’s our third female officer ever to be murdered on the job.

Across our nation, 135 police officers were killed in the line of duty last year, the sharpest spike in the last five years. And just yesterday, New York State Trooper Joel Davis was killed in the line of duty while responding to a radio run of a domestic dispute in upstate New York.

Each of these murdered officers has one thing in common: They lost their lives while protecting the lives of others. Some people say: “Well, that’s what cops signed up for, right? That’s their job.”

Let me tell you something: Regular people sign up to be cops. They sign up for this job of protecting strangers, knowing there are inherent risks. But not one of us ever agreed to be murdered in an act of indefensible hate. Not one of us signed up to never return to our family or loved ones.

So, where are the demonstrations for this single mom, who cared for her elderly mother and her own three children? There is anger and sorrow, but why is there no outrage? Because Miosotis was wearing a uniform? Because it was her job?

I simply do not accept that.

Miosotis was targeted, ambushed and assassinated. She wasn’t given a chance to defend herself. That should matter to every single person who can hear my voice, in New York City and beyond.

We know there’s evil in this world. That’s why we need the police. But as New Yorkers, we can decide that people like Miosotis’ killer will ultimately fail. He will not drive us apart. We can decide to come together and make our city reflect the good inside all of us, the hopes and simple dreams we share.

I’m asking the public to make a commitment to support your police, to work with us. Commit to watching the backs of those you call when you’re scared, those you call when you’re in trouble.

NYPD cops answer about four-and-a-half million radio runs a year and are flagged down countless other times. And for good or bad, only a tiny handful of our actions make the news. That tiny handful — some when things go right, others when things go wrong — because that’s what sells newspapers — those are the ones that define us. And the millions — literally millions — of our other actions go unnoticed.

But we don’t turn away from criticism, because we know it comes hand-in-hand with the possibility of making the safest big city in America even safer. We know you need us. And we need you. We want all our neighborhoods to be safer places for our children, for our elderly, for ourselves.

But without peace and safety, we have nothing. It’s a shared responsibility. You must participate. You must not retreat.

It seems that we put all our societal failures on our police to solve. If there’s not enough drug-addiction funding, many say it’s the police who should change their tactics. If there’s not enough money for mental health, many say it’s the cops who need to alter what they’re doing out on the streets. If our society hasn’t adequately invested in schools, the cops need to figure that out.

We tell our police: “You’re the counselor, you’re the parent, you’re the social worker, you’re the referee.” But policing was never intended to solve all those problems.

It’s our obligation to continually drive down crime and keep people safe. That’s what Miosotis vowed to do. And that’s the work we vow to continue in her stead.

What we are left with are the memories, moments shared, lives touched, friendships forged. There is no making sense of what is truly senseless. There is no explaining the unexplainable. Words do not do it justice. We cannot fix the hurt. We have to put that in the hands of a higher power. And the higher power I’m talking about is you.

We need the public to take a more-active role in our city’s safety. I’m asking you to connect with your police. Listen to my words: Your police. We are yours. We’re here to help. We’re here to make things better. But we need your assistance. We need it now, more than ever. Because no one knows what’s going on on a street, or a block, better than those who live and work there every day.

That’s how your neighborhoods will keep getting better. And that’s how we’re going to continue to keep driving crime down and keep everybody safe. And that’s how we’ll find our way forward, together. That’s Miosotis’ legacy.

The pain we feel today will not soon pass, but we know she did not die in vain. Our anger can be transformed into effective change. Our sorrow can make us a better society. We may not ever match the sacrifice made by Miosotis, but surely we can try to match her sense of service. If we cannot match her courage, we can strive to match her devotion.

In the last few days — the 4-6 Precinct, Police Plaza, all across New York — we’ve received many, many messages of hope and support. They tell us that people around the nation and around the world love the police very much, and mourn with us. They tell us they need us, and that they are proud of us.

I, too, couldn’t be more proud of our cops.

To the men and women of the NYPD who bravely put on that uniform every day — and they do, it takes courage — and to all those who have come before us: Thank you for your dedication, your leadership, and your powerful example.

And I also couldn’t be more proud of — and thankful for — Miosotis, whom I promote today to Detective-First Grade. Please rise and applaud her life and service.

To Gennie, Peter and Delilah: Here we are, today, literally surrounded by a sea of blue as far as the eye can see outside this building. And know this: Our family will always be with yours. We don’t ever forget. We will always be here for you and this city.

And to all the members of the NYPD: Do not ever forget why you chose to become a police officer. Be proud of who you are and what you do. Always remember that Miosotis lived to protect all New Yorkers, and her legacy protects us still.

We pray that she now finds rest, and that her beloved family finds solace and peace and the strength to live the lives their mother fought to give them.

God bless Miosotis. God bless her family. God bless every member of the New York City Police Department, who will forever carry on her most important work.

Thank you.

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