On a cold, overcast day, snow drifting to the ground, the streets outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral stayed blue Friday as thousands of police officers from throughout the region paid tribute to a kid from Inwood who set out to broker peace on troubled streets.
Inside, friends and family who filled the church’s pews said goodbye to Police Officer Jason Rivera, 22, who was killed in a hail of bullets fired by a 47-year-old felon that also took the life of his partner, Police Officer Wilbert Mora, seven days before.
'So He Suited Up'
“The son of an immigrant, he acutely observed a need in his community,” Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said. “He knew that decisions and changes are made by those who show up, so he suited up.”
Following a homily in English and Spanish by the Rev. Robert J. Abbatiello, Mayor Adams recalled his own youth and his run-ins with police in Jamaica, Queens, and likened Officer Rivera’s trajectory to his. “He decided to go inside and help from within, and he was committed to that desire, and he did it for the right reasons: he wanted to make a difference,” he said.
The Mayor urged Mr. Rivera’s officer colleagues to remain steadfast in their mission. “You stand in the gap of safety, and these two fine men watered the tree of safety that allows us to sit under its shade from the hot sun of violence,” the former NYPD Captain said of Officers Rivera and Mora, whose own funeral Mass at St. Patrick’s will be Feb. 2. “You play a vital role in the prosperity of this city.”
In posthumously promoting Officer Rivera to Detective, Commissioner Sewell said New Yorkers should “try to match his incredible sense of service” and his passion. New Yorkers, she said, owe “all these things” to both Officer Rivera and Officer Mora.
The two men were gunned down while responding to a 911 call about an argument in a West Harlem apartment by an ex-con armed with a Glock .45 onto which he had attached a high-capacity magazine capable of holding 40 bullets. Officer Rivera died that night, while Officer Mora, who was mortally wounded, succumbed Jan. 25.
Commissioner Sewell called the Officers’ killings “an affront to every decent, caring human being in this city and beyond.” Addressing Officer Rivera's mother, she said that the city and the NYPD could not replace the cellphone message he sent her each evening on returning home after he parked nearby, “but there’s a glowing wave of blue outside, of gray, of brown and green, a mosaic of men and women in uniform with the shine of tears in their eyes and a glint of daylight on their shields.”
Speaking in Spanish, she told the family, “we love you and we will be your family for the rest of your lives. Thank you.”
No Dissuading Him
Jeffrey Rivera said his younger brother was “so ahead of his time” that he was certain of two things before he was even out of elementary school: “He knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life and he knew who he wanted to be with for the rest of his life.”
Jason Rivera entered the NYPD academy in 2020, during the height of the pandemic, and became a cop Nov. 2 that year. And he and childhood sweetheart Dominique Luzuriaga married Oct. 9, 2021.
Jeffrey Rivera said that while most of the rest of the world saw Jason as a cop, he always saw him as his little brother, and never as Jason, but as TaTa—his childhood nickname, by which he was known to family and friends. “I didn’t see Police Officer Jason Rivera. That was my baby, my baby,” he said pounding his chest.
Jason came to him for his opinion and advice on just about everything, Jeffrey said. “But no matter how much I begged my brother, no matter how much I begged him to not become a police officer, I had no influence on that, no influence, no influence,” he said, the love for his younger brother apparent with every word he spoke. His younger brother, he said, had decided to be a cop while still a child and there was “nothing, nothing, nothing” he or their mother could say to dissuade him from getting that badge.
Rips New DA
Recounting their early friendship, Ms. Luzuriaga said the two “had the time of our lives" in elementary school, such that their teacher had to make sure to seat them away from each other.
If last Oct. 9, was “the happiest day of our lives,” the pair of them trying to outdo one another by repeating “I love you,” Ms. Luzuriaga said she was now “full of rage and anger, hurt, and sad, torn.”
She launched a broadside at officials, including Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who released a memo Jan. 3 shortly after taking office that outlined a progressive prosecutorial philosophy, including regarding gun possession, that he revised significantly following an outcry by police, their unions and others.
“The system continues to fail us," Detective Rivera's widow said. "We are not safe anymore, not even the members of the service. I know you were tired of these laws, especially the ones from the new DA. I hope he's watching you speak through me right now,” she said, some in the cathedral’s pews rising to applaud her remarks.
'Through Pain and Sorrow'
“Although I gained thousands of blue brothers and sisters, I’m the loneliest without you,” she said, despite knowing that, from somewhere, he was encouraging her. “Through pain and sorrow, this is exactly how he would have wanted to be remembered: Like a true hero. Or like I called him, Big P.O. Rivera.
“You have the whole nation on gridlock. And although you won’t be here anymore, I want you to live through me.”
Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, said that many were saying that Officer Rivera went to the West 135th St. home to try to defuse a quarrel and in doing so died a hero. “But in reality, as we sit here today and we hear the speakers and we speak to his family, we now know he's not a hero because of the way he died as a hero but because of the way he lived,” the union leader said. “He’s a hero not because he had a shield in his pocket but because he had a shield in his soul.”
Mr. Lynch said it was up to those who remained behind to carry out Officer Rivera's mission. “If he can think he can change the world," Mr. Lynch said, "well then, we're going to change the world with him and for him."