A local non-profit that transpired into a national campaign aimed at helping law enforcement officers and their families in times of need held its first annual gala to honor the memory of recently fallen NYPD members.
The event, held in Staten Island, brought together over 500 NYPD members, including the families of fallen NYPD officers Russell Timoshenko, WenJian Liu, Rafael Ramos, and recently killed Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo. Councilman and former New York Trump campaign co-chair Joe Borelli was also in attendance to give his thanks and support to members of the NYPD, as well as comedian Artie Lange.
The non-profit charity called Blue Lives Matter NYC was created by fellow NYPD Sergeant Joseph Imperatrice following the deaths of Ramos and Liu in 2014. Imperatrice, along with his two colleagues Officers Christopher Brinkley and Carlos Delgado, decided after the two funerals that they were going to make a difference. That difference would start off with a bracelet.
“After the two funerals, every cop went their own separate ways and there was no way to have that bond other than that one day,” Imperatrice said. “So we thought let’s have these bracelets to unify people, and not just police officers but civilians who wore that bracelet, and at the same time you wore it, it would remind you of a police officer that was killed in the line of duty and their legacies would live on.”
The group began selling a few hundred black and blue ‘Blue Lives Matter’ silicone wristbands at $3 a piece locally. Within 10 days, the group made over $10,000 from the sales and since then over 50,000 bracelets have been sold all across the United States and overseas. Seeing how the bracelets sold out faster than they would have imagined, the team saw they were on to something and decided to make the group into a non-profit as a way to raise awareness and provide support to fellow officers and fallen officers’ families.
Now, the group has a mini-clothing line on its website, where they sell tee-shirts, hoodies, flags, pins, and coins. The money from the sales is used to help families of fallen officers with trips, or anything else the families need or like. The underlying goal of the organization is not just to raise money, but to have a positive impact to “provide the grieving families a little relief.”
“If we can help someone, we are going to do it,” Imperatrice said. “We wanted to become a ‘makeover foundation’ where, for example, we show up to a family’s house and we surprise the families with something that they really, really liked or really, really needed. We do these house visits and they don’t expect us to come, but if we can show up, surprise them and put a smile on their face, we can get them away from the negativity that they’re dealing with and give them positivity. Going forward it may change their outlook on what they’re going through.”
The group says they don’t seek to only support officers from New York City, but officers across the nation. Just last month, Blue Lives Matter NYC surprised a Georgia police officer who was diagnosed with stage 3 stomach cancer with a trip to Jamaica. A fellow New Yorker and a Navy veteran, Joel Coward’s story received attention from the group and they decided to make a surprise trip to Brookhaven to “bring Joel some joy and support.” The organization presented Coward with a check of $1,220.14, the amount that is in reference to December 20, 2014, the day when Officers Ramos and Liu were killed in an ambush while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn.
Blue Lives Matter NYC has also helped raise funds for a fellow Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker’s young daughter who was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy. In 2015, the group became aware that the family was going into debt after getting denied medical insurance and decided to co-benefit a fundraiser to help cover the cost. Imperatrice said they raised over $10,000 and was able to find a donor to cover one year of the medical expenses.
The next project Blue Lives Matter NYC is looking to do is to create a fitness program as a way to help officers injured in the line of duty and fallen families whose mental state are affected with depression by getting them into a gym with a personal trainer “to help keep their mind and body healthy.”
In April, the group is hosting its next event to honor fallen Detective Russel Timoshenko before the tenth year anniversary of his killing. The event is scheduled to take place at Citi Field during the New York Mets vs. Florida Marlins game. Thanks to the New York Mets, the parents of Timoshenko will be throwing the first pitch.