September 28, 2014
Staten Island Advance
By Vincent Barone
When the moments leading to the death of police officer Rocco Laurie were solemnly read at the Honor Our Police”rally on Saturday, Dolores Bannon started tearing up.
Ms. Bannon has a son and daughter who are both serving in the New York City Police Department. She was one of some 700 attendees at the South Beach rally who came to honor the service and sacrifice of Staten Island police officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
“When they leave the house to go to work every day, my heart goes with them,” said Ms. Bannon, of her children. “What happened to Rocco Laurie was terrible. And I remember it like it was yesterday…I’m just so proud of my children for serving in the police force.
“And I thank them for their service and for joining the NYPD.”
Laurie was shot in the back and killed while on patrol in the Lower East Side in 1972. Members of the radical Black Liberation Army allegedly carried out the assassination, but the perpetrators have never been brought to justice. The Police Officer Rocco Laurie Intermediate School 72 was named in his honor when the school opened in 1975.
Saturday’s rally was organized by retired police officers Ken Peterson, George Coyne, Joe Brandefine and Jack Furnari – a group of “concerned citizens,” as Peterson put it – who wanted to highlight the heroics and sacrifices of the NYPD.
Honoring fallen officers
It was held at the beach to honor 10 Staten Island police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty – five who died while serving on Staten Island and five officers from Staten Island who died while serving other areas of the city.
During the ceremony, Tony Marra, a retired borough commander, conducted a roll call for the deceased officers.
James Nemorin, Rodney Andrews, Matthew Dziergowski, Gerald Carter, John Kelly, Henry Walburger, Thomas Schimenti, Rocco Laurie, Joe Garcia and James Leahy. To all of the names, Brandefine responded, “Absent.”
“We’re trying to explain what it means to be a police officer in this city,” said retired officer George Coyne, of Westerleigh. “We’re also honoring Islanders who’ve lost their lives in the line of duty because they deserve to be honored.”
Boardwalk traffic clogged as local politicians gathered on the softball field below to honor the acts of braveness that NYPD officers carry out each day.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, Assemblyman Joe Borelli, former Borough President James Molinaro, Assemblyman Michael Cusick and Rep. Michael Grimm were all in attendance.
“We are protected by the bravest men and women on the face of the earth here in New York City with the NYPD,” said Cusick, whose grandfather was an officer. “My grandfather did it because he loved the community. He loved Staten Island.”
Among a crowd of “I Love NYPD” signs, Borelli thanked police officers who serve a half-million Staten Islanders.
“Those thousand officers keep the prosperity of our Island in our hands,” he said.
Since July, when Eric Garner died while police officers attempted to arrest him for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes, community members in attendance believe that there has been an unfair focus on the negatives of the police force.
“Of course, there are bad members of any group that large, but we’re here to honor the majority of police officers – the ones who sacrifice so much for us every day,” said Stacey Sclafani, of Midland Beach, whose husband is an NYPD officer. “Those officers are the ones who need our support.”
Molinaro echoed Ms. Sclafani’s sentiments in his speech. He believes the media is too often portraying the department in a negative light.
More positive attention
“One problem I see is that we don’t see enough coverage of all the good things that these officers do,” he said. “They don’t do it for the pay because the pay is minimal. They do it for the dedication.”
There was no substantial anti-police, or pro-Garner presence in attendance, though graffiti that read “f-k the police” appeared on a wooden construction fence across from the rally, at the corner of Sand Lane and Capodanno Boulevard. The message was swiftly painted over by rally organizers about an hour before the event had started.
“I think it’s important that everyone supports the police force, because they’re doing a great job, compared to all the negative attention they’re getting in the press,” said rally attendee Val Bernardes, of Oakwood.
“These officers have a split second to react. You don’t fight an officer trying to arrest you. You fight the arrest in court,” he said, referring to Eric Garner, whom he considers to have resisted arrest. “And that was a takedown, not a chokehold.”
The crowd at South Beach Saturday applauded loudest for Grimm, who asked attendees to put themselves in the shoes of officers’ loved ones.
“When a hero falls in the line of duty, everyone can imagine what that does to the family of the officer,” he said. “But you should also understand-that for all of those other families who have to kiss their loved ones goodbye-don’t you think they’re wondering whether or not their loved one is going to come home that day?”
Officer Matthew Dziergowski was killed on Valentine’s Day in 1999, after his cruiser was struck by another vehicle at the scene of an accident.
His wife, Maria Dziergowski, is the vice president of Survivors of the Shield, a nonprofit organization that provides support services to the families of fallen officers.
Ms. Dziergowski, who said she was touched by the support from all the service members who live on Staten
Island, spoke at the rally.
“The police department has been so good to me and my family,” she said. “I always tell my sons, you lost your father on Valentine’s day, but you gained 40,000 more.”