Before he became an officer with the Loganville Police Department, School Resource Officer, Sgt. Dustin Peterson was with the New York City Police Department. In fact, he was a rookie cop with the department at the time of the 911 attacks. So when the news broke of the assassination of two officers with the NYPD, Peterson said he knew what he had to do.
“As soon as I became aware of the incident and the circumstances, I knew I would make every effort I could to be there to stand in solidarity with the NYPD on the streets of New York. The NYPD was my first job out of college. I was 22 when I was sworn in there. I still have a strong connection to the city and department. There is a true, genuine brotherhood in the ranks there and I still feel a part of it. I wanted to show our solidarity and respect from Loganville,” Peterson said. “I began trying to figure out the logistics of attending both funerals as soon as I heard they were both deceased. Initially, I planned on driving up there and staying with my former partner and going to both, figuring the funerals would be close together. However, a large portion of Detective (Wenjian) Liu’s family lives in China. Emergency travel visas and other travel arrangements had to be made to get them from China to New York, so there was a delay between them.”
Peterson said then he found out about the offer from Jet Blue Airways to fly an officer from every department in the United States that wanted to send a representative to the funerals. With no flight out of Atlanta, Peterson said he couldn’t get it worked out to attend the funeral of Det. Rafael Ramos. However, with Det. Liu’s family having to come out from China for the funeral, there was enough time for him to make arrangements to attend that funeral on Jan. 3.
“I had a little more time to plan. I contacted Jet Blue and was able to secure a complimentary round trip flight – the only catch being the nearest Jet Blue airport is in Charlotte, NC,” Peterson said. “I drove from Loganville to Charlotte and caught a flight to JFK on Friday. The return trip to Charlotte and the drive back to Loganville were made Sunday. My accommodations in New York were taken care of by my former partner, Lt. Adrian Ashby, Commanding Officer of the 77th Precinct Detective Squad, and some of his top notch detectives.”
Peterson said he believes the large turnout of officers from the U.S. and Canada was partly because so many can relate to the circumstances that resulted in the death of these two officers.
“We all know this is a dangerous job and are very aware of the risks associated with law enforcement – those come with the territory. But these men were targeted and executed for no other reason than that they were sitting in a car and wearing a police uniform. That in and of itself is different than other line of duty deaths where the police are actively engaged in gun battles or other violent encounters that may lead to fatal incidents,” Peterson said. “The brutal and brazen violence of the assassination of these two unsuspecting officers is what resonates with law enforcements officers – regardless of the uniform they wear. Officer assassinations were a violent reality, especially in New York City during the 1960s and 1970s. There were several who were murdered under the guise of political activism and I think there is a real fear in the City that this could be a harbinger of returning to those violent days.
“Laurie and Foster, Jones and Piagentini, Phillip Cardillo, Eddie Byrne – these are names that every NYPD officer knows because they were all assassinated under similar circumstances.”
Peterson when he heard of the shootings, he immediately began contacting his old co-workers to find out the condition of the two officers.
“My heart sank as I was getting information from them that it looked like neither would survive. And then to hear of the brutal circumstances and lengths the perpetrator went to ‘make a statement,’ I became angry,” he said. “I became angry because it was senseless and it seemed it was clearly the result of the political climate that has been brewing over the last several months.”
Peterson said while he was in New York the sadness, resentment and anger surrounding the whole incident was palpable.
“There is a real belief that the mayor created the climate that precipitated this execution as well as the other assaults that have been occurring on police officers in New York City. The NYPD does not feel supported by the mayor,” Peterson said, going on to point out how different it is in the local community. “In Loganville we have a very supportive command structure at the police department, as well as a mayor, a city manager, and city council that stand behind us because they know we are doing the best job we can do, day in and day out. The support from them and from the residents of the community is what keeps morale high.”
Peterson said although that is how it is in the local community, he is sure that New York is not the only law enforcement agency faced with similar problems in the current climate, especially those facing protestors.
“There are only so many days you can get motivated to go out to a protest line and have people scream in your face, spit on and assault you for what you represent to them,” he said. “We are the good guys – it can definitely affect your motivation when you are in the middle of that. Morale can suffer. The NYPD feels like the mayor and city hall have created a great divide between them.”
But despite the morale being low, he said the brotherhood among the officers at the NYPD remains strong. He said attending the funeral for Det. Liu was a powerful experience. He said Det. Liu’s father does not speak English and delivered a eulogy in Chinese.
“I, and most there, could not understand a single word, but you could feel everyone knew exactly what he was saying,” Peterson said. “Det. Liu’s wife of two months also spoke. To see the senseless pain and anguish this family was experiencing was heart wrenching. There were actually two funeral services – the traditional NYPD ceremony and a Buddhist ceremony.”
Peterson said he was grateful that he had the opportunity to meet and speak with the Ramos and Liu families.
“From the moment of learning of their deaths, attending the funerals was something I felt like I ‘had’ to do,” he said. “I wanted to tell those families they are not grieving alone. I wanted to tell them neither they nor Dets. Ramos and Liu will be forgotten and that their lives made a difference.”
He said there were hundreds of officers that attended the wake for Det. Liu and there were literally thousands of police officers lining 14th Avenue for the procession.
“I lost count of the different agencies that were represented, but there were departments from as far away as California and Florida as well as several from Canada,” Peterson said. “To feel the solidarity from the law enforcement community in North America was an incredible experience.”
He said there were countless NYPD officers who thanked him for travelling so far to attend the funeral.
“They genuinely appreciated my presence as a representative of Loganville,” he said.