A cold wind swept through the snow-dusted schoolyard at PS 368 in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Teachers working late peered out of the windows on Stockton Street and watched as a block-long of bundled up children in the middle of the street shouted as they walked, “All lives matter! All lives matter!
This hardy bunch of primary school children with a sprinkling of high school students was from the Salvation Army Bedford/Brooklyn After-School program. They were marching to Tompkins and Myrtle avenues on Wednesday, Jan. 7 to pay tribute to Police Officers Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, 32, who were gunned down at that location as they sat in their patrol car. Two vans of kindergarten and first graders from the same center preceded the marchers in the demonstration.
The site is now a tribute to the slain policemen. It grew from the American flag and a sign that says “We Remember” to bouquets of flowers and wreaths that stretch in both directions along the sidewalk. Memorial candles and stuffed animals have been placed below the sign and other mementos, posters with hand-written sentiments and messages of sympathy and even NYPD tee-shirts line the corner building’s wall.
Two canopies protect the memorial from the weather, which is now surrounded by guardrails.
The street has been co-named “Det. Ramos – Det. Liu Fallen Officers Way.” And, on the street sign at the Tompkins/Myrtle corner, there is a graphic of an NYPD shield with a mourning band across it. All NYPD now wear their badges with the encircling black fabric mourning band, the custom tribute to fallen officers.
Police from the 79th Precinct– located just blocks down Myrtle– escorted the marching children, blocking traffic along the chilly eight blocks from the Koskiosco St. center. Their route took them north on Marcy to Stockton, circling the block before they arrived at the tragic tribute site on Tompkins.
Chanting students followed the lilting Jamaican cadence of the Center’s director Lawman Lynch–he’s only been in the U.S. for three years– who with teachers and administrators (also chanting with the children) gave out little flyers that read: Violence Brings No Peace, The Salvation Army Bedford After-School, #AllLivesMatter.
The director had parental permission to take 90 of the 120 enrolled students from the Center. And, as he says, originally the parents were not too keen on the march. “It took some sensitizing,” he says, and about a week to organize it.
When Lynch was asked why he was doing this. A self-described youth activist, he replied, “We believe we should lead change and children are our future.” He elaborated, “There has been a lot of discussion about Michael Brown, Staten Island, and the police.”
Continuing he explained, “Our thrust is centered on citizenship education, what is means to be a good citizen, student, child and the future. It’s not black lives matter, it’s all lives matter that should be the concern.”
Fourth-grader Israel Olusanya from P.S. 256 commented, “The cops didn’t deserve to die just like that. I’m wondering what’s happening to the world and why is it happening.” He said his participation was a way to honor the officers.
Twenty students who go to PS 1 and PS 94 traveled by train from the Salvation Army Sunset Park Center. They carried their own hand-created posters; one was a long sign with their handprints and personal messages.
A poster created by the Bedford Center kids held personal messages to the families written on neon-colored index cards. One addressed to the families read: “I know how it feels for somebody to die in a family. We are going to appreciate Wenjian and Rafael by doing a solidarity walk, to show how we feel.”
Third grade students from P.S. 256 said they were participating to support, understand and learn more. The march in this brisk weather proved what troopers these kids are.
Twenty-years on the force Community Affairs Officer Brown from this Bed-Stuy precinct walked the route with the kids. He said, “It’s been tough to deal with this loss. We’re holding up pretty strong.”
After the students left their signs of sympathy and solidarity and took a good look at the tribute site, they hurried to the nearby G train, a welcomed warmer method of returning to their center after such a meaningful afternoon.