Brothers Before Others and The Jersey City Police Detective Benevolent Association in partnership with NY Blue Now hosted a 5K “Walk To Remember” in Liberty State Park Saturday, April 8, to honor the 140 officers killed nationwide in the line of duty in 2016.
By Michael J. Burke
“There is no greater sacrifice one can make than to lay down his or her life down to protect our fellow citizens,” JCPD DBA President Detective Ed Dolan said. “Our focus is to provide emotional and financial support to the surviving family members through the group’s Fallen Officers Fund.”
Proceeds from the event also went toward the Brothers Before Others Fallen Officer/Flowers Fund, which sends flowers to every service of fallen officers across the country as well as providing immediate financial assistance to those families in need, when possible.
Honored guests included Dallas Police Sgt. Demetrick Pennie, of the Dallas Fallen Officers Fund; and NYPD Sgt. Conor McDonald, son and of late NYPD Detective Steven McDonald. Det. McDonald was left paralyzed when he was shot in Central Park in 1986. Det. McDonald passed away in early January this year due to injuries related to the shooting in 1986.
Also in attendance were Enrique Zamarripa, father of Dallas Police Officer Patrick Zamarripa–one of five officers killed during a sniper attack in July; Lisa Tuozzolo, wife of the late NYPD Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo, a 19-year veteran who was killed in line of duty in November; Wei Tang Liu and Xiu Lan Li, parents of slain Detective Wenijan Liu who was killed in the line of duty with Det. Rafael Ramos in Dec. of 2015; and New York City Police Department P.B.A President Patrick J. Lynch.
The Port Authority Police Departments Honor Guard presented the Colors as their Pipes and Drum Corp played so eloquently. Police Officer Gil Ramos stepped up to the microphone and gave an emotional and flawless rendition of the National Anthem. With hand over heart I glanced over the shoulder of Officer Ramos and the crowd to see The Freedom Tower standing ever so tall and glorious, and as my eyes drifted back toward the stage, I made eye contact briefly with Will Jimeno–an American Hero was trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Jimeno bravely remained for 11 hours until rescued. I could not imagine his thoughts on that day or what was going through his mind at this particular moment. I would not have to wait long. Moments later as Jimeno addressed those in attendance. He spoke not of his struggles or pains, rather he spoke of life and how we must fight much like he did that fateful day over 15 years ago. Jimeno told how there is much more good than evil and although we will face setbacks and loss, there should never be a doubt that good WILL triumph.
While all the speakers addressed the crowd with both their personal loss and their love and admiration for their fallen family member, one particular young lady, Gwendolyn Dinardo, captured the crowd’s attention. Gwendolyn’s dad, Marc Dinardo a Jersey City Police Officer was killed in a gun battle in Dec. of 2009 when she was only four years old. Now 12 she walked to the podium clutching a small teddy bear and struggled to reach the microphone. From my vantage point I could see her on her tippy toes, determined she explained how her two younger siblings, Ella and Marc have no memories of their dad. Gwendolyn told how she only she had a few memories. She encouraged those in attendance to approach her on the walk and share memories they had of her dad with her and her siblings. Undoubtedly the memories she does have helped shape her into the fine young lady she has become. Gwendoyln spoke well beyond her years, bringing tears to the eyes of many in the audience, and truly defining what the Walk to Remember is about.
Next we heard a thunderous noise in the distance getting closer and closer, and at times drowning out NYPD P.B.A. President Patrick Lynch as he spoke about the sacrifices that we all make to serve and protect, most notably those honored guests on the stage. As Lynch finished up The N.Y.P.D Aviation Unit did a flyover creating a buzz and excitement that was carried over when The Union City Motorcycle Squad fired up their engines and led the over 1,000 walkers who held signs of each individual officer lost in the previous year.
Participants pounded the pavement with purpose walking along the paths in Liberty State park with the beautiful New York City skyline in the background, and at the halfway point the Statue of Liberty was a stone’s throw away. They continued to walk to honor and remember those who wore the shield and gave the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe. As they returned and passed the finish line an older gentleman unknown to me said, “Great job Burke. You still have it inside you, the passion once you become an officer. It’s for life.”
As he walked off I thought about what he said and the stress of putting together an event like this evaporated. As I looked around at the children eating cotton candy and popcorn, playing laser tag and enjoying the onsite game trucks, parents enjoying a bite to eat, and officers from all walks of life enjoying each other’s company and paying respect to the fallen, I smiled ear to ear because the ‘Walk to Remember’ reminded me WE ARE FAMILY.