Corey Kilgannon, co-host of WBAI’s Talk Back, writes about hero NYPD Officer Steven McDonald. His New York Times article is faithfully reproduced here.
Officer’s Funeral Recalls a Rougher New York, and One Man’s Forgiveness
By COREY KILGANNON JAN. 13, 2017
For the past 31 years, Officer Steven McDonald served the New York City Police Department, even while not being able to walk a beat, make an arrest or fire a gun.
In July 1986, Officer McDonald was shot repeatedly at point-blank range by a teenager in Central Park. The episode came to symbolize a violent city plagued by a crack epidemic, rampant crime and racially infused deaths that commanded the news and made New York a tabloid city.
The shooting left Officer McDonald paralyzed from the neck down, but he promptly issued a remarkable public forgiveness of his attacker and used his renown as an opportunity to preach understanding and speak out against violence and intolerance.
He died on Tuesday at age 59, several days after a heart attack. At the officer’s funeral Mass on Friday in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that Officer McDonald began a mission based on a “belief we could heal the wounds of the past.”
Officer McDonald, Mr. de Blasio said, was “a living example of the things we aspire to be,” adding that “millions were moved by his example because he became the greatest embodiment of what it means to be a member of the New York Police Department.”
At the time of the shooting, Officer McDonald had been on the police force for less than two years. He never returned to active service, but over the next three decades he became more vital to the department by walking — or rather, rolling, in a wheelchair — an unconventional beat that saw him carry his message of absolution from high school students to the pope.
In this sense, his death came in the line of duty.
He had remained on the Police Department’s payroll as a first-grade detective and was a consistent presence at police functions, parades and sporting events.
Officer McDonald became not only one of the most revered figures in the Police Department’s history, but also a touchstone from a time when the city was struggling with soaring murder rates.
In 1986, the Police Department reported 1,582 murders — last year there were 335.
Yet even for that tumultuous time, the shooting of Officer McDonald was startling in its brazenness — a teenager callously opening fire on an officer in broad daylight. It drew more attention perhaps because Officer McDonald had the quintessential pedigree of a New York City cop: He was part of an Irish Catholic police family from Long Island, with a father and grandfather who both served on the city’s police force.
On Friday, the streets around St. Patrick’s were closed to traffic, as thousands of fellow officers mustered in groups on street corners, adjusted their uniforms, put their patrol caps on, finished their coffee and filed into the cathedral.
Seven members of the Police Department honor guard carried Officer McDonald’s coffin from Fifth Avenue into the enormous sanctuary. Then it was wheeled up the main aisle. Officer McDonald’s wife, Patti Ann, and their son, Conor, followed.
After them came a long line of friends, relatives and members of the department, including the commissioner, James P. O’Neill, as well as other elected officials and former commissioners and chiefs.
Rank-and-file officers — a sea of blue uniforms — filled the pews of St. Patrick’s, whose capacity is 2,200.
Near the altar was a sign made from flowers with the words “Blue Lives Matter.”
David Letterman, a friend and supporter of Officer McDonald’s, sat in a front pew, as did Mark Messier and Adam Graves, retired members of Officer McDonald’s beloved New York Rangers hockey team.
President-elect Donald J. Trump posted a Twitter message calling Officer McDonald a “real NYC hero.”
Officer McDonald was 29 and in his second year on the job that day in 1986 when he approached a group of teenagers in Central Park.
At the time, many New Yorkers considered Central Park a risky place to walk, especially its northern portions, where Officer McDonald was shot. Today, a mugging in the park makes headlines. The spot where the shooting took place now has a vegetarian food stand and footpaths favored by tourists on rented bikes and well-off couples pushing strollers.
Back then, one of the teenagers Officer McDonald approached was 15-year-old Shavod Jones, who had had a troubled upbringing in the Taft Houses, a housing project in East Harlem.
Mr. Jones was walking with two friends near Harlem Meer when he was stopped by Officer McDonald, who was investigating a spate of bicycle thefts. Mr. Jones pulled out a handgun and shot the officer three times.
Officer McDonald became the 12th city police officer to be shot in six months. More broadly, the shooting was sandwiched between some other high-profile episodes that convulsed the city in the 1980s.
Two years before the shooting, Bernard Goetz shot four unarmed black men on a subway train who he said were trying to rob him. Three years after the McDonald episode came the Central Park jogger case: Five minority teenagers were coerced into confessing to the brutal rape of a white woman jogging in Central Park, but were later vindicated after serving prison sentences.
Edward I. Koch was the mayor and racial tension and anti-police sentiment were in the air. The Rev. Al Sharpton regularly led marches protesting racially charged events such as the deaths precipitated by white mobs in Gravesend and Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and Howard Beach, Queens.
Officer McDonald recovered to the point that he could use a motorized wheelchair and breathe with the help of a respirator. He traveled in a specially equipped van.
His son, Conor McDonald, was born several months after the shooting and is now a Police Department sergeant. When Conor was baptized in 1987, Officer McDonald asked his wife to read a statement declaring that he forgave his attacker and hoped that Mr. Jones could “find peace and purpose in his life.”
Speaking for many, Msgr. Seamus O’Boyle, a cousin of Ms. McDonald, said at the funeral on Friday, “And we all know how amazing that statement was, how important it was for the streets of this city.”
Mr. O’Neill called Officer McDonald “one of the most fearless cops to ever don a uniform” and reiterated the officer’s mantra that the only thing worse than taking a bullet to the spine would have been nurturing revenge in his heart.
Officer McDonald’s life was shaped by “three bullets and three words: I forgive him,” Mr. O’Neill said.
Mr. Graves told mourners that scores of current and retired Rangers called him, after hearing of Officer McDonald’s death.
“Steven McDonald meant more to the New York Rangers and our fans then we could ever mean to him,” said Mr. Graves, a left wing who retired in 2003.
Conor McDonald thanked Mr. Letterman, “who’s been by my dad’s side since Day 1,” and called his father “a real superhero.”
After the service, Officer McDonald’s coffin was carried out and put in a hearse, which began heading slowly down Fifth Avenue. Thousands of officers saluted and stood at attention as “Irish Soldier Boy,’’ performed by the Police Department’s Emerald Society pipe and drum band, reverberated in the street.
Correction: January 13, 2017
An earlier version of this article misstated the extent of Officer McDonald’s paralysis in one instance. He was a quadriplegic, not a paraplegic.