Garner Remembered as Passionate Gentle Giant. His life was a legacy of putting others before him
Veteran Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Kenneth O. Garner was remembered by family members, city officials, colleagues, fraternity members and a bevy of community friends as a passionate law enforcement officer and doting family man who put others before himself at the Crenshaw Christian Center Faith Dome on Monday March 9.
Garner, who collapsed and died of apparent heart failure on March 1, was celebrated in a decorated home going where officers from every LAPD division was represented, including police from Long Beach, public schools, Inglewood, Highway Patrol and members of the Air Force.
As sounds of bagpipes pierced the silence at the Faith Dome, uniformed LAPD officers carried his steel blue coffin draped with American flag to begin the funeral for one of the most beloved members of the community.
"This is a celebration of life," bellowed Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa during his remarks of Garner, but the enormous void vacated by his departure kept many of the thousands of feeling as such.
Crenshaw Christian Center pastor Frederick K. Price Jr. called the many law enforcement officers present, "Men and women [who] are truly angels of this city."
That certainly could describe the life of Garner, whom the mayor hailed as, "a friend, a leader and human champion.
"His achievements and actions will shine bright for many years to come," Villaraigosa stated.
Elaborating further, the Mayor added that Garner was a "model of courage, respect, compassion and honor."
That respect was largely demonstrated by vast number of gang intervention specialist who showed up in mass to pay tribute to him.
It was Garner who first believed that police needed to rely upon and have an existing partnership with gang intervention that is a staple for lowering crime in urban communities today.
However, it was Garner's more than three decades on the local police force that earned him perhaps his greatest accolades.
The native of Hot Springs, Arkansas, moved to Southern California with his parents Mary and Otto garner and, after graduating from San Pedro High School in 1973, surpassed every goal that he personally established for himself.
He attended Harbor Junior College in Wilmington where he graduated in 1975 and then went on to join the LAPD force in 1977.
Always one to focus on education, Garner graduated from Cal State Dominguez in 1981 and by 1986, he was a sergeant for the LAPD.
Eight years later he ascended to the rank of captain and by 2005, he was promoted to rank of commander. In 2007, he was promoted again to his highest rank of Deputy Chief.
Los Angeles Police Commissioner John Mack credited Garner for courageously joining the department when it was embedded in racial profiling and discrimination, and then for being instrumental in diversifying the LAPD to what it has become today.
To Garner's family, Mack said, "We share your pride. Kenny was a great, great human being."
"He joined the LAPD when he was not welcome. Kenny was a key leader in the new LAPD," Mack said to applause. "He believed in developing a relationship with the community and led recruitment in the most diversified LAPD."
It is primarily because of Garner that the LAPD will boast 10,000 officers before the end of 2009, the largest number of police in the history of the department.
Chief Bratton echoed the sentiments of Mack. "Kenny Garner was blessed with three families. The family that he was born into, the police family and the community family. He loved life, his families and his job. He was a dreamer who got things done," mentioned Bratton.
Bratton spoke of poignant moments such as when Garner's mother Mary would spend nights at her son's house to awake at 3 a.m. and see the light in his home office illuminating because of his tireless commitment to his job.
He also shared of the time when Garner and other community leaders met with the police chief at Harold and Belle's, a popular Black-owned eatery in West Los Angeles to discuss the plight of Blacks in the community.
Earl Paysinger, the highest-ranking Black on the force, knew Garner for 36 years and the two were almost joined at the hip in their arrival at LAPD.
"He loved being a police officer. It was never about him, but always about who he could help. Kenny counseled and listened to so many people," Paysinger added.
Paysinger called Garner a humanitarian who spent his entire life caring deeply about others.
Paysinger recalled when the two were playing high school football against each other, Garner leveled him and then extended his hand to pick him up.
"He has been extending his hand ever since," praised Paysinger.
Desmond Gray, Garner's 15-year-old nephew, spoke of an uncle who was a great family man who encouraged us to work hard and go to college.
"He was the greatest hero to me and I want to follow in his footsteps."
One person after another praised him glowingly and openly as they referred to his undaunted love and affection for his daughter Lauren.
Longtime friend Jim Tanner thought back to murdered SWAT officer Randy Simmons whose service were held in the same building.
"I told Kenny he should retire after that," Tanner offered. "But Kenny told me there were people in the world with bad intentions and it was his job to stop them.
During the eulogy, Bishop Noel Jones of City of Refuge Church told the thousands in attendance, "Kenny Garner was a solution to the problem and this city shall be a better place because he stood. Because he lived. A changer of men and women, he lived a life of joy and celebration.