Monday marked a gruesome anniversary in the history of the NYPD and the East Village.
On Jan. 27, 1972, Police Officers Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie were killed while on duty by members of the Black Liberation Army, an underground black nationalist militant group that was largely made up of Black Panther members, and existed from about 1970-81.
Two of the men believed by police to have executed the officers wound up dead within two years, according to writer and former NYPD officer Edward Conlon. They had died in shootouts with police, one of which involved Rocco Laurie’s gun.
While two other suspects remain of interest to the NYPD, the investigation officially remains open.
“Today we remember Patrolman Gregory Foster & Patrolman Rocco Laurie,” the 9th Precinct tweeted out on Monday, “partners and assigned to @NYPD9Pct. Forty-eight years ago today, while walking in the area of Avenue B & E. 11th St., they were ambushed, shot, and killed. #FidelisAdMortem #NeverForget”
It was an era of high crime, violence and racial tensions. The killings occurred around 10:50 p.m. on that fateful night, while Foster, 22, who was black, and Laurie, 23, who was white, were on duty and in uniform.
They had finished looking into a nearby domestic dispute report, and were walking on 11th Street toward Avenue B when they noticed a double-parked car.
The patrolmen checked in a nearby diner if anyone knew whose car it was, and when no one did, they walked back outside. They passed by a group of men, who would then turn around and start shooting at the Officers, who were shot in the back several times. Then the shooters took the officers’ guns and shot them again.
Foster, who was married and had two children, was shot eight times. Laurie, who was married, was shot six times. Both men were former Marines and Vietnam veterans.
After the killings, the NYPD released information on several suspects. The Feb. 3, 1972 issue of The Villager included a report about the incident: “A citywide dragnet is underway for four alleged members of the Black Revolutionary Army wanted for questioning in the murders this past weekend of East Village Patrolmen Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie.”
Nearly a half-century after the heinous crime, the NYPD is active in keeping alive the memories of Foster and Laurie. Messages of remembrance go out every year on social media, from the 9th Precinct and other NYPD officials, including former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and current Police Commissioner Dermot Shea in recent years.
“Today in 1972, NYPD P.O.s Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie were assassinated – shot in their backs – solely because of the blue uniforms they wore,” Shea tweeted in 2018. “These 2 heroes fought for America as Marines in Vietnam, and worked every day after to keep NYers safe. We will never, ever forget.”
In October 2019, a street on Staten Island was dedicated in honor of Rocco Laurie, a native of the borough. Otis Avenue and Hylan Boulevard was named Police Officer Rocco W. Laurie Way. “A tribute to a hero who gave his life for this City,” wrote NYPD First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin B. Tucker at the time.
And Foster’s legacy is being carried on in his family, as NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan tweeted a photo of Foster next to one of his grandson in uniform as a current member of the NYPD.
“In his grays, this is Probationary Police Officer Gregory Foster III,” Monahan wrote on Nov. 18, 2019. “He now wears the shield of his grandfather, Officer Gregory Foster, who along with Officer Rocco Laurie was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1972. Thank you for carrying on the legacy, Greg. #Never Forget”