The murder of Officer Edward Byrne: 20 years later

(Credit: Urbanite)

Hundreds of police officers attend the 1 a.m. ceremony in Jamaica Tuesday to mark the 20th anniversary of the murder of rookie Edward Byrne, below. (Photo by Adam Pincus)

Dana Delucia knows she could easily have been the one killed 20 years ago last night. She was usually assigned to the same detail, a rookie cop sitting alone in her squad car after midnight on the crack-ridden streets of Jamaica, Queens.

But that night it was Edward Byrne, another rookie, who sat at the intersection of 107th Avenue and Inwood Street. Delucia was safe at home, but she still felt the pain of it when she heard the news that an officer had been murdered, shot five times in the head in a drug-lord-ordered hit.

“I fell to my knees and I started to cry,” Delucia said. “I didn’t even know who it was, but I knew it was one of us.”

She wasn’t the only one who was deeply affected by Byrne’s death. Delucia, who retired in May after 21 years on the force, joined about 200 other people who gathered early yesterday morning to remember Byrne at the site of his murder. Delucia said that the brazenness of Byrne’s murder clarified her job and her role in the community for the rest of her career.

“I was stunned, and that defined everything from then on – that I would stand for this police department and we would clean up this neighborhood,” she said. “And we’re not going to let them run this neighborhood.”

Most of those gathered this morning were police officers, active and retired. They stood silent in rows, breathing steam into the freezing air. Delucia, now in her mid-40s, has returned to the scene every year since the murder. She wore a dark blue jacket she made a year after Byrne died. The back of it read, “In Memory of P.O. ED BYRNE.”

Delucia said that usually only a couple dozen people show up each year on Feb. 26. This year, however, the crowd was much larger because the ceremony marked the 20th anniversary of the slaying. One young officer attending for the first time said he stopped by after receiving a text message about the event from a colleague.

Some remembered Byrne and the brief time they worked together, but many were too young to have known him. They came because of what Byrne has come to signify -- a turning point for New York in the war against the crack epidemic that plagued the city.

Byrne was 22 when he was shot five times in the head by four men who had been hired by a drug kingpin as a message of defiance to New York police. Ernie Naspretto, a retired police officer, said that officers responded by forming tactical narcotics teams to fight against the drug dealers. He said that Byrne’s assassination was the turning point in the war against drugs.

“In order for this city to survive, something had to happen,” said Naspretto. “Unfortunately for this poor kid, it was him.”

Murder rates in New York have dropped more than 66 percent since Byrne’s murder. Naspretto challenged the active officers in the crowd to keep Byrne as a rallying point.

“There was terrorism in this city long before the first bombing of the World Trade Center,” Naspretto said to the gathered crowd. “That terrorism was in the form of the crack wars, and nowhere in America was that war fought more than in this corner right here.”

“You owe it to Eddie Byrne to make sure that this area never sees what it saw 20 years ago.”

Jamaica is very different place from 20 years ago. The house Byrne died protecting is now a new apartment complex. Delucia said that many of the residents who came to support the police after Byrne’s death have moved away from the neighborhood. Even though far more gathered at this year’s memorial than in years past, very few of the participants came from the community.

“That’s the difference between … 20 years ago and today,” said Delucia. “Now you’re prosecuting cops. We don’t go out there to hurt anybody, but when you have to make a life and death decision, you have to make it.”

-- Jed Kim

Tags: nypd , history , officer edward byrnes , jamaica , queens

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