By David Cruz
The procession stretched for blocks through the heart of the city. Almost the entire Jersey City police force, joined by hundreds of other officers from across the state and region, followed by the hearse carrying the body of Detective Melvin Santiago to the funeral service, the dramatic final act of a week heavy with sadness and anger. Retired Patrolman Frank DeFazio, Melvin’s uncle and the man who inspired him to become a cop, was among the eulogists.
“Hey Mel, if you’re watching kid, don’t you think for a single moment that you disappointed me or let me down. I am so very proud of you as a police officer, and I admire all of your accomplishments for the way you lived your life. You made the ultimate sacrifice and paid the price with honor,” DeFazio said.
This week’s violence brought to light the dichotomy that exists in a city so rich in human resources on the one hand, yet, on the other hand, desperate to find a way for all of its citizens to live together in some semblance of harmony.
“There is such a disrespect for human life. Human life is so cheap today and that was one of the main reasons this thing happened on Sunday morning,” said Father Kevin Carter.
“The only way that we can counteract that is to have a greater respect for the dignity and sanctity of life. Human life is not cheap because it’s authored by god, and I invite all citizens of communities everywhere, to really come to believe that and live that,” Carter said.
Outside, hundreds more city residents, paying their respects to a fallen fellow citizen. But, even here, disagreement over what life is like in the inner city.
“You have a handful of isolated cases, of course, but, overall, everybody’s here to respect and deal with the circumstances as they come up. We’re not a hostile state or city, for that matter,” said Sonia Cintron of Jersey City.
“It’s the tale of two cities. Once you cross down the hill, downtown Jersey City, it’s New York City. Across this way, this is Newark, comparable to Newark,” said Jersey City resident Miriam Monegro.
Melvin Santiago’s law enforcement career lasted less than a year. He never got a chance to have the kind of impact on his city that he dreamed of, but, perhaps in death, some bit of his hope for a better city, with safer streets and more opportunities for young people to grow, might be realized.