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Young officer slain in Harlem joined to help ‘chaotic city’

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Posted at 1:30 PM, Jan 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-22 14:30:53-05

NEW YORK (AP) — The 22-year-old New York City police officer who was shot to death while responding to a call in a Harlem apartment came from an immigrant family and grew up in a community with strained police relations, but joined the force to make a difference in the “chaotic city,” he once wrote.

“I know that something as small as helping a tourist with directions, or helping a couple resolve an issue, will put a smile on someone’s face,” Jason Rivera wrote to his commanding officer in 2020 when he was a probationary police officer.

Rivera and Officer Wilbert Mora were shot Friday night while answering a call about an argument between a woman and her adult son. Mora, 27, was critically wounded and “fighting for his life” Saturday, said Mayor Eric Adams.

The man police say shot them, Lashawn J. McNeil, 47, also was critically wounded and hospitalized, authorities said.

The shooting is the latest in a string of crimes that have unnerved the nation’s largest city.

A 19-year-old cashier was shot to death as she worked a late-night shift at a Burger King, a woman was pushed to her death in a subway station, and a baby was critically injured when she was hit by a stray bullet as she sat in a parked car with her mother. With the Harlem shooting Friday night, four police officers had been shot in as many days.

And the city is recovering from its deadliest fire in three decades, a Bronx apartment blaze that killed 17 people.

Rivera joined the force in November 2020.

Growing up in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood, he noticed tensions with police, according to a brief essay titled “Why I Became a Police Officer,” a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

“I remember one day when I witnessed my brother being stopped and frisked. I asked myself, why are we being pulled over if we are in a taxi?” he wrote. “My perspective on police and the way they police really bothered me.”

But eventually he noticed the department working to improve relationships, and he wanted to be involved.

“I realized how impactful my role as a police officer would go in this chaotic city,” he wrote.

Police said the gun used in Friday night’s shooting, a .45-caliber Glock with a high-capacity magazine capable of holding up to 40 extra rounds, had been stolen in Baltimore in 2017.

Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul both said federal authorities need to do more to round up stolen guns like the one used in the Harlem shooting. Hochul, at an appearance in Buffalo on Saturday, called it a “scourge of illegal guns on our streets.”

Authorities said the three officers went to the apartment after a call came in from a woman needing help with McNeil, her son. Officers spoke with the woman and another son, but there was no mention of a weapon.

Rivera and Mora walked from the front of the apartment down a hallway, and McNeil swung open a bedroom door and opened fire, Chief of Detectives James Essig said.

As McNeil tried to flee, a third officer who had stayed with McNeil’s mother in the front of the apartment shot at McNeil and wounded him in the head and arm, Essig said.

“This was just not an attack on these brave officers,” Adams said Friday night. “This was an attack on the city of New York.”

Mora has been with the NYPD for four years.

McNeil was on probation for a 2003 drug conviction in New York City. He also had several out-of-state arrests. In 1998, he was arrested in South Carolina on suspicion of unlawfully carrying a pistol, but records show the matter was later dismissed. In 2002, he was arrested in Pennsylvania on suspicion of assaulting a police officer, Essig said.