ITHACA, NY — The Ithaca Police Department and The Badge of Honor Association worked together on Thursday morning to dedicate a sign to Ithaca’s first African-American police officer, who died in the line of duty.
Officer Levi Spaulding suffered a fatal heart attack after a 36-hour manhunt on September 11, 1930. More than 80 years later, Spaulding’s life is commemorated near the place of his death – the old police station – which is now the Seneca Street bus station.
“It’s absolutely difficult to be a police officer in 2016, and I think this is a reminder that it’s always been difficult,” said Mayor Svante Myrick in remarks following the ceremony.
As the ceremony began, Myrick recounted the history of Spaulding’s life. He moved to Ithaca from the South, where his parents were slaves. He was a small business owner, and began his career as an officer in Ithaca.
“It is so important to learn about our shared history – especially times which were painful or uncomfortable,” Myrick said. “Officer Spaulding certainly lived in a time which was painful and uncomfortable.”
Myrick recounted a certain instance when Spaulding stood in to protect the community during a KKK rally of more than 500 people. As he spoke to the lessons to be learned from Spaulding’s time as an officer, Myrick said “[Spaulding] had every reason to be angry, vengeful, and instead he chose to do the opposite. Sometimes you stand by and protect people you don’t agree with.”
As Chief John Barber spoke during the ceremony, he personally thanked the entire police force who stood in front of him.
“I think it’s important for all of us to realize that there are people who protect us every single day in the community and communities all across this great nation,” he said. “I personally want to thank every member of law enforcement for honorably serving our communities.”
Deputy Chief Pete Tyler shared a similar sentiment to the mayor, addressing the imagined struggles of Spaulding during this period of history. Tyler, who is Black, just began his 26th year with the IPD.
“In that time it must have been very difficult for him to be a police officer, and that just means much more to me personally,” Tyler said. “I was given Levi’s badge number when I first started…I carried that badge for 13 years, and it just means so much that he’s now being recognized for his sacrifice.”