40 Years Later, Ninth Precinct Honors Two Officers Shot Dead on Avenue B

Foster and LaurieJared Malsin Portraits of Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie.

Earlier today, the Police Department marked the 40th anniversary of the murder of two young police officers – one black, one white – who were gunned down by alleged black militants outside an East Village diner.

The officers, Gregory Foster, 22, of the Bronx, and Rocco Laurie, 23, of Staten Island, had fought together as Marines in Vietnam. When they returned to New York, they asked to be placed on patrol together in the East Village, which was then a high-crime neighborhood. They were shot dead after walking out of a diner at Avenue B and 11th Street just before 11 p.m. on Jan. 27, 1972.

Speaking at a re-dedication of two plaques honoring the slain officers at the Ninth Precinct, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly described a grim atmosphere at the time of the murders.

“This was a violent neighborhood, no doubt about it, and radical groups like the Black Liberation Army were specifically targeting police officers for assassination,” said Commissioner Kelly, who responded to the scene of the shooting as a young sergeant.

Ray Kelly and Joe FosterJared Malsin Joe Foster, the brother of Gregory Foster, and
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

The killings were attributed to the B.L.A., a group that officials said may have counted only 19 people as members. A man identifying himself as a member of the group claimed the attack was in retaliation for the Attica prison riots.

According to witnesses, the three attackers used machine guns to shoot the two officers in the back. A witness testified that while one of the officers was lying on the sidewalk and the other was struggling to get up, one of the killers bent down to pick something up – apparently one of the officer’s guns – and shot the officer again.

The Police Department connected the killings with other violent incidents, including the murders of two other police officers, the lobbing of a hand-grenade at a police car in Queens, and the killing of a Black Panther Party member, also in Queens.

“This event reverberated throughout the department and the city,” Commissioner Kelly told a crowd of about 200 – including police officers, Marines, and members of the officers’ families – assembled under a tent in a lot across the street from the Ninth Precinct.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, said, “Foster and Laurie symbolize the heart of a New York City police officer.” Patrolman Laurie’s brother, Tony, and Patrolman Foster’s brother, Joe, also spoke briefly.

Remembering Foster and LaurieJared Malsin Police officers stand in ranks at the ceremony.

Patrolman Laurie’s cousin, Kenneth Anderson, told The Local that thinking about the murder “takes your breath away.” He said, “I was only a kid. Rocco lived right up the street from me. I was 12, and he was only 23. And my daughter is 23 now.”

One of the suspects in the case was killed in a shootout with police in St. Louis, Mo., in 1972. Another suspect, Henry Brown, was found not guilty after an eight-week trial in 1974. Mr. Brown was, however, sentenced to 25 years in prison after the St. Louis shooting.

A statement from Commissioner Kelly, released yesterday, is below.

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the murders of Patrolmen Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie. It is fitting that we stop to commemorate the lives of two courageous men who fought for their country in Vietnam, and died on the streets of New York, protecting their fellow citizens.

Patrolman Foster and Patrolman Laurie dedicated their lives to public service. Gregory Foster, a young man from the Bronx, earned a Silver Star and a Bronze Star as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam. Rocco Laurie, a scholar-athlete from Staten Island and fellow Marine, also fought for his country in Vietnam. They joined the department in 1970 and were assigned to the 9th Precinct. As partners on a Neighborhood Police Team, they were on patrol at a time when violent crime was on the rise and members of a radical group were specifically targeting police officers for assassination.

On the evening of January 27, 1972, Patrolman Foster and Patrolman Laurie were walking their post on Avenue B, near 11th Street when three men passed them, spun around, and opened fire, shooting them in their backs. The officers never had a chance. As Patrolman Foster and Patrolman Laurie lay unconscious on the pavement, the gunmen continued to shoot them at point-blank range before stealing their guns and fleeing. A plainclothes narcotics team came across the officers and rushed them to Bellevue Hospital, but their lives could not be saved.

I remember that night. I remember responding to the scene as a young sergeant, and I remember the horror we all felt at the cold-blooded murder of our fellow officers. These two men who had given so much to their city and country were cut down in the prime of their lives. Patrolman Foster was just 22 years old. He left behind a wife and two children. Patrolman Laurie, also married, was 23 years old.

Tomorrow we will pay tribute to both of these heroes, outside of the stationhouse where they worked, and in the community they helped to protect. I want to commend the members of the 9th Precinct who are helping to honor their legacy by combating crime every day and improving the quality of life for everyone who lives and works here. It is a testament to their hard work and that of their fellow officers that the city’s homicide rate is one-third of what it was in 1972. God bless Patrolman Gregory Foster and Patrolman Rocco Laurie, their families, and the members of the Police Department who carry on in their memory.


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 28, 2012

A previous version of this post misidentified the avenue where the shooting took place. It was Avenue B, not C.