By Steve Pomper
Valor was on display in New York City on December 13, 2020. People who might not have been alive to celebrate Christmas this year, will be with their families thanks to the heroic actions of NYPD police officers. This incident was unusual because it occurred in America’s largest city, in broad daylight on the steps of a large church, and a bystander captured it on video.
At 3:45 p.m. a church choir was wrapping up a, Carols for our Community, Christmas concert on the steps of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, a beautiful Episcopal church in Manhattan. It was then that a 52-year-old man, armed with a pistol in each hand, began firing at the crowd, sending people scurrying for safety. One bystander believed the suspect had been “shooting for about a minute” before police arrived. Church security personnel brought people inside the cathedral to protect them from the gunman.
In the video, two cops arrive and take positions down on the street behind some flimsy trashcans. The suspect is at the top of the steps, using a large concrete column as cover. Trash receptacles such as those officers were behind provide some concealment but little to no cover against bullets. About eight feet from the officers, two civilians are trying to conceal themselves behind a very narrow utility pole.
The officers fire about 13 shots before a round strikes the suspect. The gunman collapses and lies motionless at the church entrance. A cadre of officers run up the steps and secure the suspect. The New York Post reported, “An NYPD sergeant and detective from the 26th Precinct, along with a police sergeant working security for the church, were the ones who opened fire on the man, law enforcement sources said.” During the incident, bystanders said the officers had repeatedly yelled for the suspect to drop his guns.
There was one particular aspect of the incident that struck me. With all the bad-mouthing of cops, these days, and talk of defunding and abolishing the police, this event illustrated the heroic selflessness that characterizes the vast majority of law enforcement officers. For the whole world to see, those officers risked their lives, running toward the gunfire, to save people they’ve never met. Aside from his and his fellow officers’ safety, the officer who was closest to the people trapped behind the utility pole, while exchanging gunfire with the suspect, still had that couple’s safety in mind.
This is so obvious because the video shows the moment after the suspect goes down, the officer leaves concealment and dashes to the couple. Then he quickly escorts them to safety before returning to assist with taking the suspect into custody. When he exposed himself to assist those folks, he didn’t know if the suspect was down for good. The man might have tripped and fallen. He might have been feigning being shot to lure cops closer. Or he may have had an accomplice hiding behind that large column. Regardless, that officer had that couple’s safety in mind in the heat of battle. Merry Christmas or Happy Hannukah to those two people!
The Post identified the suspect, as Luis Vasquez, a Dominican national reportedly in the U.S. on a travel visa, which had just expired. Vasquez also had a cache of weapons including, “a full can of gasoline, rope, multiple knives… and tape.” Fortunately, no civilians or police officers were hurt or killed during the incident. He also had a Bible and during the incident repeatedly yelled for officers to, “Kill me.” Fortunately, this incident didn’t become the murder spree the suspect had so obviously planned. For that, we have those brave NYPD officers to thank.
I’m not sure how cop-haters or even cop-critics process incidents such as these. Watching police officers performing so courageously, serving and protecting their communities, is not an exception; it is the rule. So, the next time folks want to criticize the cops, maybe they should think about how these officers responded during this incident that could so easily have ended with the horrors of mass death rather than as a celebration of life.