It's very difficult to convey what New York City was like in 1988 unless you were there.
Statistics don’t help much, but they're a start. Nearly 2000 people were murdered annually in the late 1980s and early 1990s. That’s about seven victims a day.
By 2013 -- with gentrification, new immigration patterns, the easing of the crack trade, broken windows and everything else -- the rate had plummeted to less than one killing a day.
Even by the harsh standards of 1988, the execution-style slaying of 22-year-old Irish American police office Edward Byrne was shocking. Byrne was parked at 107th Avenue and Inwood Street in South Jamaica, Queens. He was part of a rotation guarding a witness who was planning to testify against a ruthless local drug gang.
Subsequent testimony revealed “that vengeful dealers had driven by the home at least twice but decided it would look weak to kill a female cop or a black officer,” The New York Daily News reported. “So they picked Byrne, blue-eyed and Irish, to represent all city cops.”
History tells us that Byrne’s execution was a turning point in the war in drugs and gangs. That, of course, has turned out to be of little comfort to the grieving family of Byrne, whose father was a cop and whose grandparents came to the U.S. from Wicklow.
Nevertheless, of all of the weeks for the Byrne murder to be back in the news, this is a particularly unfortunate one. This week, of course, we commemorate the loss of 23 New York City police officers and 37 Port Authority police officers in the terrorist attacks of September 11.
The New York Post reported on Tuesday that before retired NYPD commander Cory Pegues was a cop he was not only a drug dealer, but a “close pal” of a notorious killer.
“In his most shocking revelation, Pegues -- who is married with children, including a daughter in the NYPD -- bragged that he was a close pal of David McClary, the coldblooded triggerman who fired five shots into the head of rookie Officer Edward Byrne as the cop sat in a patrol car guarding the home of a witness in 1988,” the Post article reads.
The paper added: “What Pegues most feared was that his colleagues in the NYPD would learn about his friendship with a cop killer. ‘You’re talking about the most infamous murder in the history of the Police Department with [Officer] Eddie Byrne, and I have to hide that relationship for 20-something years.’”
Pegues added: “If they [fellow cops] would have had any inclination that David McClary was my man … I probably would have had a hard time … It would have been a problem.”
There’s no point in dwelling on a fellow like this who -- at best -- is lying, or exaggerating the extent of his thug life prior to joining the NYPD. Better to leave him wrestle with his conscience, if he has one.
On this 13th 9/11 anniversary, we should turn our attention to the likes of NYPD Assistant Chief Michael Shea, whose father was born in Kerry. This weekend, Shea will be honored with the P.O. Edward Byrne Memorial Award at the Great Irish Fair at MCU ballpark in Coney Island.
Or how about Barry Driscoll, whose father Stephen perished in the 9/11 attacks. Stephen’s parents were also immigrants from Ireland.
In 2011, Barry Driscoll decided that he would follow in his father’s footsteps and join the NYPD. He even took his father’s badge number.
For all of the sad 9/11 stories, for all of the inspirational and selfless ones, it also important to remember there is work still to be done.
Just this week, an impressive and bipartisan group of elected members of the House -- including Irish American Republican Peter King and Irish American Democrat Carolyn Maloney -- called for an extension of the bill which assists first responders and other who have fallen ill as a result of 9/11 related illnesses.
Much has changed since that blue-skied day 13 years ago, and even more has changed since that cold February night when Eddie Byrne was killed. But the state of the world is such that we better continue to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
And whatever does come, we also better be prepared afterwards to take care of those who remain on the front lines.
(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)