Some arrived leaning on canes. Others steadied themselves with walkers. One mentioned a recent knee replacement.
Yet, all of the gray-haired men and women who found themselves sitting outside the new police academy building on 28th Avenue in Whitestone, Queens, Monday came with the singular purpose of remembering a brother cop who was finally getting his due from the city he served.
Phillip Cardillo was an officer working out of the 28th Precinct in central Harlem when, on April 14, 1972, he was shot and wounded in the Nation of Islam Mosque No. 7 on West 116th Street by assailants who were never convicted. Cardillo died less than a week later, on April 20.
Cardillo, who was 31 at the time and had three children at home, was answering what turned out to be a fake call that an officer needed assistance. Some said high-ranked police officials and others allowed suspects to leave the mosque after the shooting while veteran detectives said the crime scene itself was compromised and not secured for hours.
Cardillo's killing came at a time when 26 officers were killed in a three-year span, some by members of the Black Liberation Army, and when the city seemed on edge with racial violence, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said Monday.
"Even in that violent age, Patrolman Cardillo's death was different, it reached well beyond this city to police departments and cops all across the nation, and touched even a young patrol cop in Boston," remembered Bratton, alluding to himself.
"It was a shame then, it is a shame now," Bratton continued. "But today we take one step to righting a wrong. It was wrong to give politics jurisdiction over an active crime scene. It was wrong then that neither the mayor [John V. Lindsay] nor police commissioner [Patrick V. Murphy] attended Phil's funeral. It was a lot wrong to allow political pressure to interfere with a murder investigation."
Official remembrance by the city of Cardillo's death was impeded for years, said Bratton, until Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Astoria) pushed a bill through the City Council that renamed 28th Avenue as "Phillip Cardillo Way."
Public Advocate Letitia James told the crowd it was a "shame" and a "disgrace" that the city didn't recognize Cardillo's life at the time. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens) said the "disgusting politics" that occurred when Cardillo died should never happen again in the city.
Cardillo's son Todd, now living in Florida, helped with the unveiling of the street sign as the NYPD Emerald Society Pipe and Drums band played.
Retired Lt. John Quinn, 77, of the Bronx, who worked with Cardillo, said it was important for him to be at the ceremony to show that cops don't forget the fallen as politicians once did.
Later, new NYPD recruits filed into the new building, with a few saluting the new street sign as they passed.