QUEENS — Hundreds of mourners packed into a Queens church Friday morning for the emotional funeral of Noel Polanco, the unarmed National Guardsman killed by an NYPD detective during a traffic stop last week who was remembered as an "angel" and a "prince."
During the service at Eternal Love Baptist Church in Corona, attended by friends, family, activists and members of the military, Polanco, who dreamed of being a cop, was promoted posthumously to sergeant, prompting a standing ovation.
“The Army tries to prepare us for times like this, to be strong, to be resilient,” Capt. Daniel Colomb of the National Guard said during the service. “The problem is it never gets any easier."
Nearly 200 mourners, including Rev. Al Sharpton, crammed into the aisles in the church on 99th Street and stood and against walls, unable to find a seat.
A military honor guard saluted Polanco’s coffin, which was draped in an American flag, as it was carried in and kept watch over it during the service during which Polanco's heartbroken mother, Cecilia Reyes, addressed the mourners.
“My son was an amazing child. He had a great heart and he worried about others,” she said. “My son was an angel. He’s my prince.”
Mourners also heard from Polanco's teenage sister about the crucial role he played in her life.
“Whenever I needed a smile, whenever I needed a favor, he was there,” she said. “He was and he still is my inspiration."
And she held out hope she would see him again.
"I hear everybody say, 'Say your goodbyes.' I don't ever say goodbye," she said. "I just say, see ya later, wait for me at those gates. Welcome me at those stairs. We'll be together as a family again. I love you Noel, with all my heart."
Polanco’s death comes amid a series of high-profile and controversial police shooting and sparked outrage. Another officer shot and killed Reynaldo Cuevas, 20, when he fled the bodega where he worked after several men tried to rob it on Sept. 7. Officers shot and killed Mohamed Bah, 28, on Sept. 25 after they say he attacked them with a knife.
Polanco was killed when Det. Hassan Hamdy and other officers from the NYPD's Emergency Service Unit pulled him over on the Grand Central Parkway just after 5 a.m. on Oct. 4.
Police said Polanco had been driving erratically and swerving in and out of traffic.
Hamdy shouted, “Put your hands up!” as he approached the passenger’s side door and sources say the detective saw Polanco reach down to grab an object, prompting him to fire a single shot.
But witnesses in the car said Polanco kept his hands on the steering wheel when he was shot. Police did not recover a gun at the scene.
Hamdy was placed on modified duty pending the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau’s investigation into the incident, but family, friends, and political leaders hope more will be done.
"This should have never happened. And those that are guilty must pay. The time for excuses is over,” Sharpton said during the funeral, turning to Polanco’s mother. "Know that when you get finished, your mourning, you'll have a city to stand with you and demand justice."
Sharpton said that the NYPD treated Polanco like a criminal, even though he did not have a record.
"There's this perverted sense that people are guilty until proven innocent," he said. "When you saw him, you saw a suspect when he really was a sergeant. When you saw him, you saw a gang member. Well, his gang was the U.S. ARMY."
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said he expects that the shooting will go before a grand jury and DA Richard Brown said he will investigate.
“I want my brother to rest in peace,” said Polanco’s step-brother, Army Sgt. Jonathan Polanco. “But I know along with peace, we need to have justice as well.”
Hamdy, a nine-year NYPD veteran, had a record with the NYPD that included heroism and controversy.
He helped save four people from a burning apartment in Queens back in May, according to the New York Times. In 2008, he and another officer convinced an emotionally disturbed man to surrender to police after he attacked someone with a machete, the Daily News reported.
The detective was involved in a 2007 lawsuit stemming from an incident in which he and some fellow officers left a Queens man bloodied and hospitalized. The man and his grandmother, whom the officers had also threatened, were awarded hefty settlements.
Polanco, who served as a reservist for the National Guard, worked at a car dealership by day and hookah bar by night.
His mother said that he wanted to join the active miltiary and eventaully the NYPD.
"He was a strong member of the team always willing to do work, enthusiastic and proactive,” said James Freeheart, Polanco’s battalion commander. "Any loss of life is difficult. To lose a member of our team is hurtful."