Two police officers sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn were shot at point-blank range and killed on Saturday afternoon by a man who, officials said, had traveled to the city from Baltimore vowing to kill officers. The suspect then committed suicide with the same gun, the authorities said.
The officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were in the patrol car near Myrtle and Tompkins Avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the shadow of a tall housing project when the gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, walked up to the passenger-side window and assumed a firing stance, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said. He shot several rounds into the officers’ heads and upper bodies, the authorities said. They never drew their weapons.
Mr. Brinsley, 28, then fled down the street and onto the platform of a nearby subway station, where he killed himself as officers closed in. The police recovered a silver semiautomatic handgun from the station, Mr. Bratton said.
Mr. Brinsley, who had a long rap sheet of crimes including robbery and carrying a concealed gun, is believed to have shot his former girlfriend in Baltimore before traveling to Brooklyn, the authorities said. He made statements on social media suggesting that he planned to kill police officers, the authorities said.
Authorities in Baltimore had sent a warning that Mr. Brinsley had made these threats, but it was received in New York at essentially the same time as the killings, officials said.
The shootings, the chase and the suicide of Mr. Brinsley, and the desperate but failed bid to save the lives of the officers — their uniforms soaked in blood — turned a busy commercial intersection on the Saturday before Christmas into a scene of pandemonium and horror beneath leaden gray skies.
The double killing comes at a moment when protests over police tactics have roiled the city. While generally peaceful, they spilled last weekend into an assault on two police lieutenants on the Brooklyn Bridge. Since a grand jury declined to bring criminal charges in the case of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after a police chokehold in July, protesters have filled the streets nightly to chant his dying words — “I Can’t Breathe” — in a call for changes in city policing policies.
“Today two of New York’s finest were shot and killed with no warning, no provocation,” Mr. Bratton said at Woodhull Hospital in Williamsburg, where the officers were declared dead. “They were, quite simply, assassinated — targeted for their uniform and for the responsibility they embraced to keep the people of this city safe.”
“Officer Ramos and Officer Liu never had the opportunity to draw their weapons,” he continued. “They may never have had the chance to see their murderer.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, standing beside the police commissioner, said, “It is an attack on all of us; it’s an attack on everything we hold dear.”
Mr. de Blasio said that he had met with the officers’ families, including Officer Ramos’s 13-year-old son, who “couldn’t comprehend what had happened to his father.”
Though the mayor has taken care to praise officers’ work repeatedly since the grand jury decision — and throughout his first year in office — he has stressed the rights of protesters to express themselves and spoken of his personal experience instructing his mixed-race son, Dante, to “take special care” during any police encounters. Some union leaders suggested the mayor had sent a message that police officers were to be feared. In recent days, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the largest police union, had circulated a letter allowing officers to request that the mayor not attend their funerals in the event of a death in the line of duty.
Cries for the police to use more restraint have been buttressed by historic drops in violent crime in the city. The city has seen roughly 300 killings so far this year, a number so low as to be unheard-of two decades ago.
But the shooting on Saturday seemed more reminiscent of decades past, when the city was mired in an epidemic of drugs and violence and, in 1988, a police officer was shot while he sat alone in his patrol car guarding the home of a man who had testified in a drug case. That killing shook the city, sparking an escalation in the war on drugs and an aggressive crackdown on violent crime.
Mr. Brinsley, whose records indicate was born in New York, had been arrested several times in Georgia and Ohio. He was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and stealing in Georgia, and in Ohio again for theft and robbery, among other run-ins with the police.
Earlier on Saturday, law enforcement officials said, Mr. Brinsley shot his girlfriend in the stomach in Baltimore.
Mr. Bratton said Officer Liu was a seven-year veteran of the force, while Officer Ramos, had been an officer since 2012.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been an outspoken backer of the protests in recent weeks, condemned the attack.
“Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, in connection with any violence or killing of police, is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases,” he said.
The Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, worried that the attack would “tarnish” the campaign against police brutality that has swept the city.
“It’s horrific to have someone intentionally shoot a police officer. It’s the wrong message,” he said, “and that is not the message that many have been calling on when they talk about reform.”
The intersection where the shooting occurred, which is dominated by the Tompkins housing project across the street, is a spot where residents often saw police keeping watch.
The increased police presence had improved the neighborhood, some said.
“It’s changed and gotten better through the years,” said Felix Camacho, a 40-year-old airport ramp agent who has lived eight years on the block where the shooting happened. “It’s gotten less violent. For something like this to happen is just wrong.”
But other residents worried that the incident on Saturday would further inflame relations.
“Tensions are high, and this is just things boiling over,” said Andy Jordan, 39, who has lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant for nearly three decades. “We need to look at how we got here.”
Charlie Hu, the manager of a liquor store at the corner where the shooting took place, said the two police officers were slouched over in the front seat of their patrol car. Both of them appeared to have been shot in the head, Mr. Hu said, and one of the officers had blood spilling out of his face.
[Video: Ismaaiyl Brinsley is taken to an ambulance, after after police say he shot himself on a subway platform. Watch on YouTube.]
Reporting was contributed by Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Matt Flegenheimer, Dan Glaun, J. David Goodman, Mike Isaac, Matt Krupnick and Ashley Southall.
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