He 'gave his life in the name of the law' Thousands mourn slain city officer

September 23, 1992|By Michael James and Melody Simmons | Michael James and Melody Simmons,Staff Writers

As three police helicopters soared overhead, 2,000 police bTC officers stood by Officer Ira N. Weiner's gravesite yesterday and gave him a final salute.

"This is a day when we need to join hands: black and white, Jew and Christian," said Rabbi Donald Berlin, who performed the service at Sol Levinson & Bros. funeral home. "This young man gave his life in the name of the law."

Officer Weiner, 28, was fatally wounded Saturday morning while investigating a domestic violence call in West Baltimore. An enraged man grabbed the officer's gun and shot him in the back of the head.

The service and the following burial at Oheb-Shalom Memorial Park saw traditional tributes given to fallen officers, including buglers blowing taps, bagpipes playing a dirge and officers from a dozen states marching to the gravesite.

But for the first time in Baltimore, according to Rabbi Berlin, the fallen officer was a Jew.

"Ira Weiner, an ordinary man, a policeman . . . who through his actions saved the lives of children," Rabbi Berlin reflected on the officer's death. Several children were in the home when the officer was killed, and they might have been harmed if he hadn't been there to help, the rabbi said.

Since 1870, 93 city police officers have been slain in the line of duty.

Although the department doesn't keep records on officers' religious affiliations, it appears most likely that Officer Weiner is the first Jewish officer to die in the line of duty, said city police spokesman Sam Ringgold.

Officer Weiner was a lifelong resident of Northwest Baltimore, and he had been a city policeman for four years. He graduated from Northwestern High School in 1982, and he worked a series of odd jobs -- at a liquor store, a grocery mart and a Ramada Inn -- before joining the force.

The slain officer's aunt, Leslye Romm, said Officer Weiner realized the dangers of police work but that the job gave direction to his life. The last book he read, "Small Sacrifice," was about crime and the sacrifices police officers make.

More than 400 police cars -- from every Maryland police $l jurisdiction, as well as from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware and New York City -- filled 10 blocks outside the funeral home.

Hundreds of onlookers lined the curbs along the six-mile route to the funeral home and spoke of the scriptures read by the rabbi.

"I am Jewish," said Lee Graham, as he stood on a corner. "The officer is Jewish. It's certainly a 'mitzvah,' a good deed, to go to a funeral."

Joe Cotton, a resident of Northwest Baltimore, said, "I want to support the police. I consider him a 'tsadic,' a saintly person, because of the service that he and all the other police are doing for us."

Also in the crowd was Eugene Scott, 61, grandfather of city police Officer James E. Young Jr., who was shot in the head less than 24hours before Officer Weiner was fatally wounded. Officer Young remains at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in serious but stable condition.

"I came to see the officer -- it could have been my grandson instead of this fellow here," Mr. Scott said. "It's real sad."

Of the thousands of police officers who turned out in a show of solidarity, Mr. Scott said, "It's heartbreaking, but it shows brotherly love within the force and concern for one man toward another."

One of those attending was Eugene Cassidy, a former Western District police officer who in 1987 was shot twice in the face at point-blank range as he tried to arrest a man wanted for assault.

Mr. Cassidy, who is blind, stood with his guide dog outside the funeral home.

Officer Weiner died early Monday morning. In accordance with Jewish law, the somber service was performed within 48 hours of his death.

As a result, officers from the West Coast -- who had hoped to attend the funeral -- did not have enough time to make it to Maryland.

At the cemetery, the mourners chanted the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. Moments earlier, one of Officer Weiner's relatives, wept loudly as the casket was brought to the gravesite.

The service at the cemetery was short -- about 15 or 20 minutes -- longer than it took for the legions of officers to arrive at the cemetery.

About 60 motorcycle officers, wearing helmets throughout the service, watched in the distance as more than 1,000 city and state police officers flanked the casket.

Three city police helicopters soared overhead, fading in the distance as the officer's family stood silent before the casket.

A plainclothes officer who declined to give his name said there are few Jewish officers in the department. Officer Weiner's death hit hard, he said.

"We, meaning I and other Jewish officers, came here to say goodbye. Other than that, this is not something we want to discuss. This is very private," the officer said.

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