Bagpipers and Babushkas Mourn Fallen Cop
On Sunday morning, March 18, Kings Highway in southern Brooklyn terminated in a thick blue line. At the intersection of Flatbush and Flatlands Avenues, in front of the modest I.J. Morris funeral home, more than 1,000 of New York’s finest gathered to remember and honor one of their own.
The previous Wednesday, auxiliary police officer Yevgeniy “Eugene” Marshalik, 19, was shot and killed, along with his partner, Nicholas Pekearo, 28. The two young and earnest officers from the city’s unarmed and all-volunteer auxiliary police force, attached to the Sixth Precinct in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, had shadowed and confronted David Garvin, a former Marine, after he murdered a bartender at a West Village pizzeria. Garvin was later shot dead by “regular” police arriving at the scene. He was found to be carrying two handguns and nearly 100 rounds of ammunition.
Despite their auxiliary status, Russian-born Marshalik and his partner were both buried with full police honors. The auxiliary force is normally assigned to crowd control and community liaison, but the volunteers often go beyond their duties. Seven have been killed in the line of duty since the force was established in 1951. According to Stephen Herman, a police sergeant who is also president of the Shomrim Society, the fraternal organization of Jewish police officers, three of the seven have been Jewish. It is estimated that Jews make up 15% of the 3,000-member auxiliary force.
The night before Marshalik’s funeral, the small and spare funeral home began filling up an hour before the end of the Sabbath. The occasion was an open-casket viewing, unfamiliar to native New York Jews but commonplace in the Russian émigré community (as it is in the police brotherhood). Fourteen years ago that Saturday, the Marshalik family, fleeing Chechnya’s first war, had immigrated to the United States from their native Pytigorsk, in southwest Russia. They settled in Sheepshead Bay, close to the heart of the famed “Little Odessa” neighborhood of Brighton Beach, before making their way to the upscale Long Island suburbs. Theirs is a classic story of upward mobility — a fairy tale, with the worst of all conceivable endings.
At the wake, streaming past the coffin to embrace Marshalik’s parents who sat quietly and dignifiedly in the funeral home’s front pew, New York’s Russian Jewish community was represented en masse. A community with more than its fair share of intellectuals and professionals, it counts the Marshalik family — father Boris, mother Maya and younger son Max — among its more prominent members. Dr. Boris Marshalik is a pediatrician with offices in Brooklyn, and many parents of his patients, including those of children who’d grown up with Eugene, came to offer support and to mourn. “As a doctor, [Boris] is blessed,” said family friend Eugene Frants, another Brooklyn resident. “This is a wonderful family, a respected family, and I am utterly shocked.”
Elaborate floral arrangements had been arriving at the funeral home all day, sent by family, friends and strangers: A bouquet sent by New York State Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, the first Soviet Jewish émigré elected to public office in New York, lay alongside an offering “from the residents and staff of Olympia Towers,” where Marshalik had held down a part-time job as a doorman and porter in addition to his three-day-a-week policing duties and his academic load at New York University. Cards were arrayed; a guestbook was signed. A wreath from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association was on display. As men and women wept in each other’s arms and whispered in Russian, an officer placed an American flag on one side of the casket and on the other the flag of the NYPD.
As family and friends remembered Marshalik, an amazing life emerged, intimations of what had promised to be an incredible, multifaceted future: college life, brotherly life, the fraternity that is the Police Department. Friends remembered a young man of rare intelligence. A graduate of the city’s prestigious Bay Academy and the public but highly selective Stuyvesant High School, and then a student at New York University, Marshalik wanted to go on to law school and then work for the prosecutor’s office.
“He was both funny and hardworking,” recalled Paul Giovanniello of Queens, a fellow student at Stuyvesant and, alongside Marshalik, a member of that school’s nationally known speech and debate team. “He was just smarter than you.”
Max Marshalik joked that he could never compete with his brother when it came to academics, and chose to remember instead his brother’s love for skiing and for Pokémon cartoons. Other friends mentioned Pink Floyd’s album “The Wall” as a particular favorite of his, and his predilection for burgers from White Castle.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, addressing the funeral Sunday morning, recounted Marshalik’s many passions, from bicycling to studying home-burglary patterns in his neighborhood. Marshalik’s life was so varied and rich, Bloomberg quipped, that “it probably sounds like I’m talking about 10 people here — a minyan, if you will.”
Following the mayor’s emotional eulogy, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly spoke, noting that Marshalik had scored the highest in his class on the final exam. His fellow officers filled the funeral hall both Saturday night and Sunday morning, nearly identical in appearance to “real” police. The only visible differences were the word “auxiliary” stitched on their uniform shoulder patch and, almost unnoticeable — until that tragic moment on Wednesday, when it meant the difference between life and death — the auxiliary cops’ lack of gun and holster.
“I think this is sick — letting kids police the street without being police, without [bulletproof] vests or guns,” said Flatbush local Pamela Hirsch, one of many who had congregated outside the funeral home to rubberneck as much as to mourn. On the street, behind the cordons, this sentiment was widely echoed. Auxiliary police officers receive a small stipend to cover the expenses of their uniforms (about $300), but other than that they receive no money and little protection. Though they’re ordered not to confront suspected criminals directly, heroism — or a sense of duty — often gets the better of their training and their instincts.
New York Jews and the NYPD have a long and intimate, if little-known, history. The very first civil rights battle waged by American Jews was in 1655, when Asher Levy, one of the 23 Jews who had arrived the year before, demanded and won the right to serve on the New Amsterdam volunteer constabulary. Two-and-a-half centuries later, in 1896, when Hermann Ahlwardt, a notorious German antisemite, came to New York for a lecture tour and demanded police protection, Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt put him under the safeguard of an all-Jewish detective squad.
According to lore, the Shomrim Society was founded in 1924 after a young Jewish officer was asked whether he’d be more comfortable with a salami under his arm instead of a nightstick. During the Depression, with many unemployed, police work was steady and more Jews joined the force than ever before. Since then, Jews have served at every departmental level, including commissioner, chief inspector, chief of detectives, chief of the Organized Crime Bureau and chief of the narcotics division. Today, about 3% of the 40,000 members of the professional NYPD are self-identified Jews, Herman said, well below the 15% Jewish share of the overall city population. Since 1918, with the death of patrolman Samuel Rosenfeld, 22 Jewish officers have died in the line of duty — out of a total of 596 in that period.
Indeed, duty was the theme of Marshalik’s funeral. Rabbi Alvin Kass, the NYPD’s chief chaplain, recalled that Marshalik was driven to become an auxiliary police officer out of a desire to give back to the community. In his eulogy, he noted that Marshalik began his first year at Stuyvesant, located a few blocks from the World Trade Center, just a week before September 11, 2001. That day, he said, in a strange choice of words from a rabbi, and for a Jewish funeral, was “a baptism by fire.” He recalled that “those scenes led him to serve.”
Bloomberg had later noted that the Marshalik family, as Soviet émigrés, “came from an autocratic society, where police were often agents of repression.” After asking the family not to blame their adopted country or city for their tragedy, he then spoke directly to Marshalik’s brother, Max, telling him that he, as an immigrant, is “the future of America.”
After the chanting of the traditional Jewish memorial prayer “El Ma’ale Rachamim” the police filed out onto a desolate stretch of Flatbush Avenue, a Sunday-morning tableau of auto-repair shops and Caribbean cookery that was just stirring to life and, perhaps, hope. Following the blue wave of officers was a sea of black head-scarves: mourning women who spoke in broken English to the press, and in disconsolate Russian to their husbands. Marshalik’s Stuyvesant friends emerged, a teary group of Russian, Asian and Italian teenagers. A police bagpipe band, decked out in full Scots-Irish mummery, led the way as the coffin was borne toward the hearse. A formation of helicopters whizzed overhead in a ceremonial fly-by. Two trumpets sounded Taps. Then, the marching tattoo began, played on drums muffled in black cloth. The bagpipes took up a high and mournful tune as squad cars revved up to escort the cortege to Wellwood Cemetery, on Long Island, for Marshalik’s interment. Down the block, in front of the gas station, a Jewish bystander, holding down his yarmulke down against the wind, watched the squad cars disappear. As their alarm lights flashed silently, he said Kaddish aloud.