Less than a mile from the now-hallowed location on East 183rd Street where Det. Miosotis Familia lost her life is the five-story Bronx walkup where I was raised. Both are in troubled neighborhoods near the Grand Concourse, the faded but still regal boulevard lined with art deco architecture that once symbolized middle-class elegance.
Coming of age in the Bronx, I knew that most of its residents were workers and strivers, people trying to get bills paid and kids schooled, and maybe get a little bit ahead tomorrow or next year or someday. That remained true even as communities “changed” — to use the standard euphemism — with many of the long-time Irish-American and Jewish and Italian-American residents finding better lives in the suburbs as the old neighborhoods sank into violence and squalor.
And it was still true later when I worked those same and similar areas on an EMS ambulance or wearing an NYPD uniform. To the casual observer, the rough crowd loitering on the streets at all hours may seem to be the face of the neighborhood, but the people who really make the community work are less visible — seen only when trudging to or from bus stops or subway stations on their daily or nightly commutes, or holding their children’s hands on the walk between home and school.
One of New York’s best-kept secrets is the high level of support for law enforcement in high-crime and predominantly minority neighborhoods.
In my years serving such communities, I’ve rarely been at a public meeting or had a conversation where residents demanded that cops be less assertive. Almost invariably, they implore the police to address the quality-of-life issues that plague them, and to remove the hoodlums and drug dealers from their hallways, from in front of their buildings, and from the parks where their kids play.
And they are thrilled when they see results.
But those who appreciate the police don’t get much press, sadly, being too busy taking care of their families to become protesters or activists. And, perhaps, because they don’t fit the anti-cop narrative that dominates so much of the media. They’re just ordinary New Yorkers.
We all know now, of course, having learned much about her since her death, that Det. Familia was an ordinary New Yorker herself, striving to support and nurture her family as a working mother in the Bronx.
Det. Familia’s wake and funeral took place at the World Changers Church, which occupies the old Loew’s Paradise Theatre on the Concourse, one of New York’s stunningly ornate golden-age movie palaces. The name of the church, and its majestic setting, were fit for laying to rest a warrior queen whose example may yet change the world.
At a Sunday vigil in front of the nearby 46th Precinct, and the next day at her wake, the community was out in numbers to pay respects, holding up candles at the vigil, or lined up for hours to file past her casket in the church.
And on the day of her funeral, as thousands of cops from across the world filled the Concourse for a final salute, and police helicopters and motorcycles shook the wide boulevard, the people were there too, coming out to say goodbye to a martyred protector who was also an ordinary New York woman.
A tradition at a police funeral in our city is that the legendary NYPD Pipes and Drums, making no sound but a muffled drumbeat — their instruments covered in mourning drapes — leads the procession as it leaves the church, bound for the cemetery where the hero will rest. But when they’ve bid a final salute, and the procession is on its way, the band turns and parades back again, past the rows of mourners, bringing renewed spirit with them.
And so they marched strong up the Concourse on that Tuesday, swagger back in their step, wailing old songs of lament and resilience — “Hard Times Come Again No More” prays one — into the weary Bronx streets.
We prevail, the music says. Death doesn’t win. We’re better because she lived, and because we knew her, and stronger for what we’ve endured.
She lived, we knew her, and we endured. Good reasons to work for a better, stronger city.
The author is a captain with the New York Police Department, and is a longtime resident of the Mosholu Parkway area.