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NYPD Boat Named After Officer Killed in Harlem Mosque in 1972

By Murray Weiss | July 15, 2015 7:34am
The "Ptl. Phillip Cardillo" harbor boat was dedicated Tuesday in memory of the officer who was shot to death inside a Harlem mosque in April 1972.
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SUNSET PARK — Decades after NYPD Officer Phillip Cardillo was shot to death while answering a 911 call inside a Harlem mosque, the city named a new police harbor vessel in his memory Tuesday morning.

At an emotionally charged ceremony at a Brooklyn Army Terminal pier in Sunset Park, Cardillo's son, other relatives and officers including his partner, Vito Navarra, joined Commissioner Bill Bratton, who opened the proceedings by reading 911 calls and radio dispatches from April 14, 1972, that climaxed with the words, “we have a report of a patrolman shot.”

Police said at the time that Cardillo went into Mosque No. 7 inside 102 W. 116th St.  — the local headquarters of the Nation of Islam — to answer what turned out to be a false 911 report of another officer trapped inside. 

He was set upon by about 15 parishioners who were angry that an officer was in their sanctuary and, during a struggle, he was shot at point blank range, officials said.

He died six days later. The 31-year-old police officer had been on the force for just five years and had just had a child.

Although the suspects were believed to be inside the mosque, NYPD brass ordered officers to pull out of the building to ensure that there was no unrest following promises from local leaders that the suspect and eyewitnesses would later cooperate.

They never did — and Cardillo's death touched off years of debate and anger.

At the time, the city was mired in deep racial strife and violence.  Cardillo's killing was so politically charged, Mayor John Lindsay and his police commissioner decided not to attend his funeral to avoid offending the community.

“They were very strange times,” Bratton said on Tuesday.

One man was later charged with Cardillo’s killing but was never convicted.

Cardillo’s death remained a political hot potato for decades, most recently after an attempt to rename the street outside the mosque after him fell short.

“Phillip Cardillo kept his promise to New York, but we did not fulfill our compact with him to honor his life and bring justice,” Bratton said.

He added, however, that "we are fulfilling a promise 43 years late for Officer Phillip Cardillo."

“Today we insure that he is not forgotten,” Bratton said. 

Bratton choked up a few times during his speech and, when he compared Cardillo’s sacrifice to that of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were executed in their patrol car in Brooklyn last December, he said they died “not because they were black, not because they were white, but because they were Blue.”

At the ceremony’s end, Bratton announced that the NYPD would also dedicate the street leading to the new Police Academy after Cardillo so that every rookie going forward will know his name.