NEW YORK, N.Y. – In a show of support for New York Police Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, two members of the University of Illinois Police Department’s honor guard attended services there on Saturday.
The police department at the Urbana campus accepted JetBlue airlines’ offer to fly two officers to New York for free. Police Officers Chris Elston and Michael Unander, who are members of the department's honor guard, represented the entire University of Illinois system at the funeral on Saturday. Police departments at the Chicago and Springfield campuses did not send personnel, but they said they supported the officers from Urbana attending.
U. of I. Police Chief Jeff Christensen said it was an opportunity to stand in support of officers everywhere who risk their lives every day in service to their communities. He said Officers Liu and Ramos were so much more than police officers – they were husbands, brothers and sons. They had neighbors and friends who loved them. They were community-minded people and role models for their entire city, as well as members of the U. of I. Police Department.
“We are Officers Liu and Ramos,” Chief Christensen said. “Not just those of us in law enforcement, but all of us. We are all Officers Liu and Ramos because we are deeply invested in our communities. We are all Officers Liu and Ramos because we hurt when our community hurts and we rejoice when our community flourishes.”
It is for those reasons, he said, that U. of I. police chose to send two honor guard members. The incidents that have played out around the nation during recent weeks and months have reinforced the department’s devotion to continue working with the campus community to ensure it serves everyone the best it can.
Elston said it was “the most humbling experience” he has ever been a part of.
“I've attended many funeral services for police and military members, but this tragedy showed me just how strong the brotherhood of blue really is,” Elston said.
The “sea of blue” including some 30,000 police officers was one of the most striking visuals of the service, he said.
“I spoke with officers from New York, Chicago, San Diego, and countless other cities,” Elston said. “Every one of them treated me with respect and dignity, as if we had worked together for years."
U. of I. Police officials have vowed to continue working hard to build new and better relationships every day. The Urbana department enjoys a very positive, constructive relationship with the community, and officers have said they are fortunate to work in a campus setting that encourages free expression and dialogue.