GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – Det. David Gillem never met Officer Rafael Ramos.
But this past weekend, the Grand Rapids police detective found himself in a sea of blue uniforms paying tribute to the murdered New York Police Department officer.
“This is like something I’ve never experienced before,” said Gillem, an 18-year GRPD veteran. “Twelve rows deep and as far as you could see were police officers from all over the country. Some from out of the country.”
It is an experience people who have never pinned a badge on their shirt might have a hard time understanding. But there’s a kinship among emergency services; they refer to it as a brotherhood and sisterhood.
It comes from the shared experience of getting up and going to work every day with the knowledge there’s a chance you’ll put yourself in harm’s way while protecting total strangers.
“I don’t know of another profession or another anything where a person dies doing their job and 25,000 people from across the country show up for the funeral,” Gillem told 24 Hour News 8. “That in and of itself says something about what it means to us.”
Gillem, who took vacation time and paid for the trip to New York on his own dime, described the flyover of a dozen or more police helicopters form New York and surrounding areas and the police motorcycles leading the procession for Ramos.
It was the bus carrying Ramos’ closest co-workers, the officers from his precinct, who re-affirmed Gillem’s decision to go to New York.
“When I saw that, it took me back to seven years ago when I was on a bus. And I remember what it was like to see the other officers,” said Gillem, referring to the July 2007 funeral procession for GRPD Officer Bobby Kozminski, who graduated from the police academy with Gillem.
Kozminski was fatally shot by the suspect in a domestic dispute on Grand Rapids’ northeast side.
Yet the funeral for Ramos was different.
For many officers like Gillem, it wasn’t just the loss of Ramos and his partner, Wenijan Liu, who were ambushed by a gunman seeking revenge for the death of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
It’s the current political climate.
“A lot of us have the feeling, especially now, where if we don’t support each other, nobody else is going to,” Gillem said.
During the funeral, many NYPD officers turned their backs when New York Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke.
It was a snub for statements made by de Blasio that were critical of law enforcement following a Grand Jury’s decision not to indict the officers involved in Eric Garner’s death.
“We all have the right to express our feelings,” Gillem said. “And if that’s the way they chose to do that, I understand it. It was a moving thing to see.”