Tuesday December 4, 2012

A Man For All Seasons

I remember covering a story of an abandoned newborn found dead in Stapleton. The police who found the baby's body arranged for its funeral mass and burial. I watched the blue uniformed men carry in the tiny coffin. This act of charity for an unknown victim is not unusual for New York's finest.

By Alicia Colon

NYPD officer Larry DePrimo was unaware that he had been caught on camera giving a homeless man a pair of socks and weatherproof boots he had purchased for him.

A passing tourist from Arizona, Jennifer Foster, caught the selfless act and sent it to the NYPD Facebook page.

The photo has gone viral and has generated mixed reactions from activists for the homeless who assert that DePrimo's compassion does not represent the NYPD's routine treatment of the homeless.

That may be their viewpoint but Officer DePrimo reminds me of the cops I knew as a child when I lived in Spanish Harlem.

On the corner of 110th Street and Lexington Avenue, the P.A.L. (Police Athletic League) operated an after school program where we could go play games, socialize, put on plays, sing, with volunteers supervising the youth of the neighborhood.

This building was a haven for the street kids and cops were our friends who protected and looked out for us.

Patrolman Jack was an Irish cop and neighborhood fixture who looked like John Wayne and who knew all of us by our family name.

One time the P.A.L. put on a show at the Henry Hudson hotel and I remember singing, "East Side, West Side," while the kids, all black and Hispanic, from the center danced behind me on the stage.

We were all then taken out to a restaurant treated by the police, most of whom were Irish and treated us like their own.

This was in the 1950s before the anarchists took over in the 1960s and branded all police 'pigs.'

By 1968, their venom for law and order came in the form of feces-filled bags thrown at the Chicago cops during the Democrat convention.

These college-aged anarchists came from middle class families and equated all police forces with the infamous Southern Democrat regimes run by Bull Conner, and

Governors Wallace, Maddox and Faubus. They had no intimate knowledge on how cops operated in the inner city, especially here in New York City.

This is not to imply that all NYPD cops are saints but rather to state that not all are sinners.

Officer Larry DePrimo is only 25 years old and has only been on the force two years and I sincerely hope that the rigors of his job do not harden his heart as it has many other veterans of the force.

Not long after I moved to Staten Island, the safest borough in New York City, a man entered our back yard and stole my husband's brand new mountain bike. I reported the theft to the police but I had little hope of its return.

This invasion left me depressed and angry for several days until I realized that all the police encounter every day is the bad side of human behavior.

This epiphany prompted me to send a letter and card to the 120th Precinct thanking them for their service and that we appreciated the job they do.

For a long time after the bike incident I would stop and thank an officer on the beat and would always get this look of surprise on his face before he said, "You're welcome."

Much more than a bike theft, the police force here have had to deal with the brutal murders of the innocent and still retain their mission to serve.

I remember covering a story of an abandoned newborn found dead in Stapleton. The police who found the baby's body arranged for its funeral mass and burial. I watched the blue uniformed men carry in the tiny coffin. This act of charity for an unknown victim is not unusual for New York's finest.

While this photo has made Officer DePrimo somewhat of a hero, he is stunned by that reaction and said, "I knew I had to help."

Why else does someone join the police department here? The pay is not that great and the danger is ever present.

In his weekly WOR radio broadcast, Mayor Bloomberg said something that I have always known about the NYPD: "The truth of the matter is cops every day do things that help people. That's what they're there for."

Frankly, I don't think the Mayor is as enamored of the NYPD as was his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani. Bloomberg had to be shamed into raising rookie salaries to attract better candidates.

The CBS television show Blue Bloods is a paean to the department and is based on a real-life family of policemen that spans three generations.

One can imagine the youngest member doing exactly that kindness that officer DePrimo did in times Square for that homeless man. Cynics commenting on many websites have voiced doubts that DePrimo's generosity was not a stunt but the woman who took the famous photograph insists he was not aware of her presence.

In fact, the young police officer was unaware of that photo or that it had been placed online until two days later.

Politicians on the other hand, use photo-ops for self-serving purposes and it is truly nauseating to learn that those Sandy victims who were photographed being hugged by the president, a senator and two governors are still waiting for the FEMA assistance these politicians promised.

What Officer DePrimo did for that homeless man, who has been identified as Jeffrey Hillman, is not unique or even a rarity.

When the cold weather hits the city, kind-hearted New Yorkers bring the doorway squatters blankets and hot meals. They are rarely photographed, videotaped or even noticed.

Random acts of charity tend to explode during the Christmas season yet it is puzzling that this time of year also brings out its spoilers.

These are the same individuals that bemoan the commercialism of a religious holiday. They want to remove all images of crèches on public property yet these are the reminders of the Christmas message which is goodwill to all. That means all - be they Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, et al.

It used to be the mere mention of the phrase, "Merry Christmas," would bring a smile to those hearing it. Now it is means something that might offend anyone other than a Christian. What nonsense.

Another event or should I say non-event to note that should raise our spirits was the phenomenon of November 24th when not one single person reported a shooting, stabbing or some other violent crime.

New York Police Department chief spokesman Paul Browne told Reuters that it was the "first time in memory" the city's police force had experienced such a peaceful day. Maybe "'tis the season" that brings us the peace for a city that really needs it.

Kudos to the parents of Officer Larry DePrimo for raising a man who truly represents all that is good and special for all seasons.

Alicia Colon resides in New York City and can be reached at and at

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