July 3, 2019
Remarks, as prepared for delivery, of Police Commissioner James P. O'Neill at the funeral of Detective (ret.) Luis Alvarez, at Immaculate Conception Church in Queens, New York.
Father Harrington and the staff and congregation of Immaculate Conception Church; Lainie, Felipe and Aida; David, Tyler and Ben; Fernando, Phil and Aida; and to all the nieces, nephews and other family members, coworkers, friends, and loved ones who are gathered inside and outside this beautiful church today:
On behalf of the entire New York City Police Department, I extend our most profound condolences.
Detective First-Grade Luis Alvarez was an authentic man. He'd let you know exactly what he thought – I think that's fair to say. And while his tenacity and strength made him a leader among his contemporaries, he would shy away from, and downplay, the accolades that naturally came with such actions and influence.
At the end of the day, and all throughout his remarkable life, Lou just wanted to do what's right, and he desperately wanted others – particularly those in positions of great power – to follow suit.
Yes, Lou was an authentic, lion of a man. Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1965, he was just a year-and-a-half old when the Alvarez family came to plant roots here in Astoria. Lou attended Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy – right here, and was a deacon at this Tower of Faith. He graduated from Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School in East Elmhurst, and served heroically as a United States Marine.
And then, four days shy of his 25th birthday, in 1990, Lou Alvarez became a New York City cop.
He was initially assigned to the 108 Precinct, not far from here, in Long Island City. Three years in, he transferred to our Narcotics Division – where, as a talented undercover, he earned an investigator's gold shield, followed five years later by second-grade detective, and, two years after that: First-grade.
By 2004, Lou was in search of a less-stressful, and, perhaps, less-dangerous assignment. And so, without a hint of irony, he joined the NYPD's elite Bomb Squad.
A highly-decorated cop living life on his own terms, Lou retired 20 years and one day after he started. If his story had ended there – it would have been enough for several lifetimes.
He really was the perfect depiction of the American dream – a shining example of our city's great diversity, as well as the extraordinary call-to-service that so many courageous New Yorkers embrace – even if only for just part of their lives.
But, for Lou Alvarez – he was far from done. Lou believed strongly in the equality of all people, especially in political, social, or economic life. And, as the world clearly saw recently, he actively – and with trademark stubbornness – promoted that belief until his dying day.
For the last three years, Lou fought cancer in a truly incredible – and, ultimately, very public – manner. I refer to his battle as "incredible" because it wasn't just Lou's valiant struggle against a debilitating illness – cruelly revealed years after his unwavering dedication to public service. It was also his enduring commitment to the people of New York City and our nation – including every single first-responder and volunteer who saw their work on September 11th and in the weeks and months afterward, as a duty, plain and simple.
He, and they, viewed their efforts as an obligation that they'd promised long ago to the people we serve. And all Lou wanted in return was to have his government recognize the labor and pain of his brothers and sisters by making sure they're taken care of medically when they fall ill.
As Lou, himself, told the House Judiciary Committee in Washington three weeks ago: He was covered, but there are a great many others who aren't – or who won't be.
"My life isn't worth more than the next responder to get cancer," he testified. "My family's needs are not worth less than others that have already died."
Lou emphasized with blunt grace that future families stand not only to experience the stress of fighting these terrible illnesses, but that their struggles will be compounded by the unconscionable financial burden of trying to fund their health care.
The NYPD, alone, lost 23 brave souls on that day the terrorists attacked our nation. And more than 500 of our members have since contracted various ailments and life-threatening illnesses. As of this morning, 222 of them have already died – including Detective Lou Alvarez.
And tomorrow, that number could rise again.
And in the years ahead, it most-assuredly will.
No person who responded on 9/11, or who worked to the point of exhaustion during the lengthy rescue-and-recovery period that followed, should ever need to beg our elected officials to act. But I'll tell you this: We can thank God it was Lou Alvarez who stepped forward to make the demand on behalf of every citizen and resident of our country.
And so, with the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund running out of money and set to expire next year, and Congress considering – considering – a "possible vote" sometime this summer, the time for action is long overdue.
It is in Lou's memory that we must strenuously urge all our representatives to recognize that the United States of America cannot, in good conscience, place a financial cap or a temporal limit on this slow-moving crisis. They absolutely must vote to extend and to shore-up adequate funding for the VCF – indefinitely.
Because as Lou – a paragon of resolve – flatly insisted: It's the right thing to do.
This is all really very simple: These heroes responded to calls for help – they did not hesitate. That's who they were, and still are – they are the very best among us.
So I'd ask everyone to take a moment to appreciate that these people – your neighbors – put themselves in harm's way to keep you safe. And understand that they will always do everything in their power to protect you. That's what Lou and so many others did. That's his enduring legacy, and that legacy protects us still.
We pray that Lou now finds rest, and that we find solace and peace and strength to live the lives he fought to give us all.
God bless Detective Luis Alvarez. And God bless every member of the NYPD – and all first-responders – who will forever now carry on his most important work. Thank you.