Byrne was killed in South Jamaica on February 26, 1988. He had just turned 22 years old five days before his death.
The Bronx native was gunned down while keeping an eye on a Guyanese immigrant, Arjune, who came forward to testify against a criminal gang. According to reports, the assassination was ordered by drug dealer “Pappy” Mason.
Byrne was sitting alone in his marked patrol car when two men approached the vehicle. While one knocked on the passenger-side window, the other fatally shot the officer.
Thirty years after his death, New York City is still honoring his life. On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner James O’Neill unveiled a new blue street sign honoring Byrne on 91st Avenue in front of the 103rd Precinct.
The blue street signs honor officers who have been killed in the line of duty.
The ceremony in Jamaica was part of a three-day series of events honoring Byrne, whose death was cited as a turning point in New York City’s fight against crime. In addition to the street renaming, NYPD officials also attended a mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and a memorial service.
O’Neill said though 1988 wasn’t the high water mark for violence – 1990 saw 2,245 homicides – it was the beginning of change.
“That was a wakeup call for this whole city that it was time,” he said. “It was time to no longer accept the violence that was so prevalent in New York City.”
De Blasio called Byrne’s death “a clarion call for change” in the city. He lamented all the joy his life would have brought, all the family gatherings he missed, and all the good he would have achieved as a police officer.
But he noted that Bryne did not die in vain “by any stretch of imagination.”
“There was anger, there was revulsion at the death of this good, young man,” de Blasio said. “It galvanized people, created one of those moments where people said enough was enough.
“The city came together,” he added, “and with the NYPD, the people of this city said we will not accept a situation where a young man like this is taken from us.”
City officials said following Byrne’s death, the NYPD began to “take back his city,” block by block, from violent criminals and gang members.
Today, de Blasio said, New York City is the “safest big city in America.” Last year, there were 292 homicides and 780 shootings, according to O’Neill. Those are numbers no one thought were possible decades ago, he said.
“Eddie Byrne’s life may have ended, but his tour of duty never did,” de Blasio said. “He continued to inspire us.”
NYPD Deputy Commissioner Lawrence Byrne, Edward’s brother, attended the street renaming ceremony and helped unveil the new sign. He recalled that day 30 years ago when his family found out Eddie was shot.
“It was a terribly sad day,” he said. “As the details emerged, that it had actually been an assassination ordered by someone in prison, it was quite extraordinary. No one could really fathom that could take place.
“We never get over his loss,” Byrne added. “But the fact that people remember like they do today, 30 years later, those are all lasting legacies that keep his memory alive.”
In addition to the street named after his brother, a Police Athletic League center in Jamaica, a local park and a grant program were all named after Byrne.
The deputy commissioner said his brother was a “great kid” with a great sense of humor. He loved being a police officer and fulfilled his dream of following in their father’s footsteps. Byrne’s father was a cop for 22 years, and would tell stories about his work to his children.
“For the short period of time he did it, he really loved his work,” Byrne said about Eddie. “He wanted to work in this community. He was someone who was excited about the life and profession ahead of him.”
Byrne said while the 103rd Precinct was one of the busiest precincts in the city, in 1988, it was also one of the most dangerous. Residents and business owners were “terrorized” by violence and drug gangs that tried to control public housing projects, street corners and other parts of the neighborhood.
But after Byrne’s death, the city began cracking down on gangs and violent crime. Byrne said that’s part of his late brother’s legacy.
“His sacrifice was so shocking that it really did begin the turnaround in New York,” he said. “It began a concerted effort to take back the blocks and neighborhoods of this city from the drug dealers and violent criminals who were terrorizing residents all over the city.”
Byrne said with the new sign, police officers and community members alike will be able to walk by it and remember Byrne’s contributions to making New York City safer.
“People will remember the story of this young officer, a life and a career cut too short, but a life and career that made a difference and continues to make a difference today,” he said.