At Harlem vigil for cops shot in ambush, Adams and other leaders pledge to shut down the ‘iron pipeline’

Mayor Eric Adams in front of the 32nd Precinct on Jan. 22, 2022.
Photo by Mark Hallum

Cops and church leaders in Harlem stood supportive of Mayor Eric Adams on Saturday night during a vigil for a 22-year-old NYPD Officer Jason Rivera, who was slain the night before in what authorities have called a “senseless ambush.”

In front of the 32nd Precinct stationhouse on West 135th Street, hundreds gathered with flowers and candles in tow for the deceased and offered prayers for the surviving officer, 27-year-old Officer Wilbert Mora, who was also wounded in the incident and still in critical condition at Harlem Hospital. Rivera and Mora were the fourth and fifth cops shot in January alone.

For Adams, still only a month into his administration, and other elected officials present, the long-term solution will be in finding traction with the federal government to shut down the “iron pipeline” where guns from less regulated states make it into the Empire State and contributing to violence regardless of how many guns are confiscated by cops.

“We’re in a battle with a small number of people that believe they will hold our city hostage with violence,” Adams said. “We made it too easy and too comfortable for people to carry guns in New York. We made it too easy for us to have a gun environment in this country and in the city. So we need help from the federal government.”

Flowers and candles were laid around a tree well dedicated to the memory of Patrolman Joseph Piagentini, an officer from the precinct was also killed in the line of duty on May 21, 1971.Photo by Mark Hallum

In a Friday press conference, Chief of Detectives James Essig told the media that the gun used in the crime was reported stolen in Maryland in 2017.

But as Adams repeated his call from the previous night to the federal government during the icy evening vigil, other elected officials backed him up on the belief that New York criminals were arming themselves with out-of-state fire power.

Attorney General Letitia James, for example, said her office has limited options in terms of holding the federal government or other states accountable, but she use her powers against bad actors in the private sector.

“The United States Congress holds most of the gun manufacturers and distributors — they provide them with the benefit of immunity, which means that as the Attorney General of the state of New York, I am not in a position to hold them liable for all the death and carnage that is occurring on the streets of New York City,” James said. “[The attorney general’s office] will look to develop a case to hold the gun manufacturers liable for negligence… We need to join with the ATF and we’re joining with states all across the I-95 [the iron pipeline] to establish a task force to end gun violence.”

Jan. 21, 2022: Hundreds of first responders and Harlem church leaders gathered for vigil for an officer killed at the 32nd Precinct.Photo by Mark Hallum

Congressman Adriano Espaillat said it requires political will to crack down on the gun trade and that the White House is the entity with the real power to bring peace.

“I think that there needs to be a collaboration between federal, state and local law enforcement to cut off that pipeline,” Espaillat said. “I think it’s going to require federal dollars and federal input. I think that the White House and the President need to intervene. I know there’s a conversation going on between the mayor and President Biden, and I’m hopeful that the White House takes it upon themselves to allocate the resources that are needed to combat this regionally, not just locally.”

While some pastors at the megaphone used their time to plead resistance to the movement to defund police departments, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine election said the city should look for options to maintain that societal objective while also providing safe conditions in the city.

“Personally, I believe we have two goals that are deeply connected,” Levine said. “The goal to make the city safer, and the goal to make our criminal justice system more fair. We have to move forward on both. They’re connected. We can’t sacrifice one for the other. This is our challenge at this moment. But I’m equally committed to both goals.”

The Jan. 21 shooting happened as Rivera and Mora, as well as a third 32nd Precinct officer, responded to a domestic dispute inside a first-floor, one-bedroom apartment at 119 West 135th St., where the mother of Lashawn McNeil, 47, had called 911 in regard to an argument she had with her son.

As they approached the back of the apartment through the hallway, McNeil opened a door and fired the shots at Rivera and Mora. The third officer who was in the living room shot McNeil as he attempted to escape.

McNeil had a history, including a felony narcotics conviction in 2003, and four arrests outside of New York City. These included a 1998 arrest in South Carolina for weapon possession and another in 2002 for assaulting a police officer in Pennsylvania.