By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The Gramercy Park Block Association honored the members of the NYPD that have been killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 6. The memorial event at the National Arts Club has become an annual tradition that the organization has been carrying on since 2015.
The event stemmed from the Blue Lives Matter NYC movement started by three members of the NYPD after the murders of Detectives Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in December 2014. The goal was to help families of the slain offers in their time of need and GPBA president Arlene Harrison joined with the organization the following year.
“It has now become a nationwide movement, and I have done everything I can to spread the word, by organizing a social media network of over 150 police groups around the country,” Harrison said of Blue Lives Matter.
Harrison explained that the GPBA was formed in 1993 after her 15-year-old son was beaten in Gramercy Park with a mission of protecting the neighborhood by working closely with the police department. The GPBA also organized a relief effort within the 13th Precinct for a number of months after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The event on Thursday was also held on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, commemorating the Allied invasion of Normandy, signaling the start of the liberation of German-occupied France, and Harrison noted that there were members of the Emergency Services Unit based in the 13th precinct who are in the NYPD Pipe and Drums and were in Normandy to march surviving veterans into the cemetery during the commemoration to pay their respects.
“Whether it’s a soldier rushing into battle while under fierce enemy fire, a first responder rushing into the burning towers of the World Trade Center, or a police officer showing up to work each day to keep us safe, they have one thing in common: they are willing to sacrifice their lives for people they don’t even know,” Harrison said. “Remembering and honoring these brave men and women is what this evening is about.”
The event also acknowledged the more than 2,000 members of law enforcement who have died from 9/11-related illnesses, as well as the nearly 10,000 first responders who were at the World Trade Center who have been diagnosed with cancer.
A number of families of fallen officers attended the event, including family members of Liu, Detective Randolph Holder, who was killed in 2015, Police Officer Deborah Garbutt-Jeff, who died of a 9/11-related illness in 2016, and the wife and mother of Detective Brian Simonsen, who was shot and killed during a robbery in Queens this year on February 12.
Simonsen joined seven other officers in responding to the call for help, even though it was his day off. Sean Peterson, Simonsen’s cousin and a fellow cop, was also at the event to honor Simonsen, along with the detective’s partner, Detective Ricky Waters.
“Being an officer was not only what Brian did,” Peterson said. “It was who he was.”