Ceres Police sergeants Joe Wren and Pat Dayton attended Saturday's funeral of one of two New York Police officers who were assassinated in the wake of racial tensions stirred by the national media.
Jet Blue, a New York based company, offered free flights for both sergeants to attend Saturday's funeral service of Officer Rafael Ramos and no city funds were used on trip expenses. The two flew out at 11 p.m. on Dec. 26 and arrived in time for the Saturday service.
Wren and Dayton joined an estimated 25,000 law enforcement officers throughout the country attended the event.
"It's a brotherhood, it's a family," said Sgt. Wren when asked why he attended. "I didn't know them personally but I knew the stuff they did daily, the putting on the badge and selflessly going to work to serve their communities. So for Dayton and I it was just a matter of showing his family, both his biological family and his family in blue, that we were there for them."
Ramos and partner Officer Wenjian Liu were shot to death while sitting inside their patrol car on Dec. 20 by a gunman who had posted online about plans to murder police officers. It is believed the attack was in retaliation for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Liu will be laid to rest this Saturday in Brooklyn.
The funeral was also attended by Vice President Joe Biden.
Motioning to a sea of blue, police officers from across the nation seated in Christ Tabernacle Church on Myrtle Avenue in Queens, where the funeral was held, Biden said, "It's who you are."
"You all joined for essentially the same reason. There was something about you that made you think that you could help. That you had a duty." That duty, Biden said, was to the rule of law.
The police shooting of Brown, a black man, in Ferguson, Mo., and the chokehold death of black suspect Garner on Staten Island, have fueled racial tensions in the nation. Officers involved in both cases were white.
The two New York officers were murdered, authorities say, by black suspect Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley, 28, who previously declared open season on cops in twisted threats on social media. Brinsley had posted messages on social media about his intent to target police officers and earlier in the day in Baltimore, he wounded an ex-girlfriend.
After the shootings, Brinsley turned the gun on himself inside a subway station.
The New York police shooting occurred just weeks after a grand jury decided not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was involved in Garner's July 17 death. The grand jury's decision, which acknowledged Garner's resisting arrest and poor physical health, resulted in widespread protests in New York City and across the nation against police brutality and the lack of accountability. The protests also coincided with widespread protests in response to a grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Brown in Ferguson on August 9. The grand jury said Brown posed a physical threat to Wilson after wrestling over the officer's service weapon.
Random shootings of law enforcement officers have occurred in the nation in recent weeks. Two Los Angeles officers were shot at on Sunday.
"There is a tangible upswing in violent attacks on police officers occurring," said Sgt. Wren. "We always have a concern. You get these people ... they're misinformed. They read something and they see something on TV and they believe that it's the truth - you know perception sometimes is reality - and they act on their demented beliefs and see us as the enemy and actively target us.
"These are dark times, the darkest I've seen in 19 years of doing this job. I got into police work right after the Rodney King incident. Of course there was a lot of animosity toward us and a lot of racial tension but it subsided at some point. Now it seems like just this constant cycle of the media trying to portray us as something they're not. Every cop that I work with has a big heart. They're out there to try to serve."
Wren said the New York officers were very appreciative of the support from the Californians who flew in.
"You talk about a phenomenal group of people. NYPD was just so appreciative that we would fly across the country to be there to just put our hands on their shoulders and say, ‘Hey, we're here with you guys.'"