New York City Neighborhood Honors Fallen NYPD Officers

September 28, 2014 Updated: October 8, 2018

NEW YORK—Maria Dziergowski was pregnant with her second child when her husband, an NYPD police officer, died in the line of duty.

Matthew Dziergowski, an officer from Staten Island’s 123rd precinct, was killed 15 years ago when a drunk driver barreled into two police cars that had been sent to the site of a traffic accident.

Before he died, Dziergowski had warned the other officers about the speeding car, allowing them to escape in time and survive.

“The police officers told me he pulled his car in front of a speeding car,” Maria told reporters at a rally held in Staten Island’s South Beach neighborhood on Saturday. “Knowing him, it didn’t surprise me at all.”

Maria’s son is now 15 years old. At the rally, held to remember Staten Island police officers that died in the line of duty, Maria offered words of support to the officers who risked their lives every day.

“‘No man is dead until he is forgotten,'” Maria said, quoting an ancient proverb. “Today reminds me that Matthew will always remain in our hearts.”

Several hundred current and former police officers, their families, and other supporters like members of the fire department showed up to thank NYPD officers for their service.

Ken Peterson, a retired police officer, began organizing the rally two months ago, after he noticed a lack of positive portrayals of the police force in the media. “They have such a hard job,” Peterson said. “People don’t realize so many of them put their lives on the line.”

He thus decided to enlist the help of other retired officers and friends—”concerned citizens,” as he put it—to organize the event.

Chokehold a Nonissue

At the rally, there was no mention of the march held in Staten Island several weeks ago in honor of Eric Garner, the Staten Islander who died after a police officer placed him in a chokehold during an attempt to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes.

That march drew thousands to protest police brutality, especially when it comes to policing communities of color.

Peterson also clarified that the rally had nothing to do with Garner’s case. “I’ve been thinking about organizing something for a few years now,” Peterson said. He hopes to keep this rally as an annual tradition.

Tony Marra, a former police chief at the NYPD who also took part in planning the rally, said that in the wake of Eric Garner’s death, he hopes the event can “alleviate some hard feelings, some misapprehensions relative to the police.” But he stressed that the rally “is not in opposition to anything.”

Asked about how police officers deal with citizens who resist arrest, he said that while training is supposed to help an officer determine the best way to deal with them, “training only goes so far. Sometimes things happen that training doesn’t prepare you for. You try to use your best instincts, but sometimes you’re right, and sometimes you’re wrong. Because you’re a human being. You’re not infallible,” he said.

Marra presided over a roll call ceremony to honor the Staten Island police officers who perished, including Matthew Dziergowski; Gerald Carter, who died in 1998 after being shot at point-blank range while driving by a housing project; James Leahy, who died when the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, 2001, after rescuing people trapped inside the building; and James Nemorin and Rodney Andrews, who were shot and killed in 2003 after an undercover operation went wrong.

The rally was also attended by local elected officials, such as U.S. Representative Michael Grimm, who also alluded to the difficulties police officers face when deciding the best course of action.

“In a crisis, they have to make a decision on instinct and training,” he told the rally attendees. “Don’t be so quick to judge them because it’s not an easy job.”

Other officials who attended include New York state assembly members Joe Borelli, Nicole Malliotakis, and Michael Cusick.

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