One of the two police officers who was ambushed and assassinated on Saturday, Rafael Ramos, was a noted graffiti artist in Brooklyn before he joined the New York Police Department, two of his friends told BuzzFeed News.
Ramos, 40 years old, was Puerto Rican and grew up in East New York, a predominantly black and and Latino community. Many adolescents in the neighborhood at that time were shaped by the hip-hop movement, which invited young people like him to express themselves through music, dance, emceeing, and the art of graffiti.
Israel Marrero said he met Ramos when they were students at Rafael Cordero Junior High School. Marrero said that back then, everybody who knew Ramos called him Pote (which loosely translates to "can of goodness" in Puerto Rican Spanish slang), and that he was actively involved in the graffiti art community. That nickname, his friends said, was his signature tag.
Marrero, who goes by "Iz," was more interested in rap and hip-hop than graffiti art. He said the last time he spoke to Ramos was in 1995 or 1996, when he moved out of East New York to New Jersey, and eventually South Carolina.
He remembers Ramos as an "extraordinary person" who was "always willing to collaborate with people" to create graffiti art.
Once, Ramos mentioned to Marrero his interest in a career in law enforcement.
"I was talking to him one day, and he told me he was thinking of becoming a cop," he said. "I told him, 'I think you'd have an edge because you'd have a better understanding of how to police.'"
The idea that Ramos could use his experiences in East New York to be a more effective officer was echoed by Ivan Sanchez, another New York-based graffiti artist, who posted a photo of Ramos after he heard news of his murder.
Sanchez grew up in the Bronx and was familiar with Ramos through their mutual friends in the graffiti community. He believed that Ramos' experiences growing up gave him a different perspective as a police officer.
Some individuals, particularly black and Latino police officers, occupies a gray space in rhetoric that has largely been boiled down to two polarizing views: pro-cop and anti-cop. Ramos's childhood friends said he was one such person.
"He knows what it's like to walk those streets, knows what it's like to be profiled," he said. "He absolutely had to have had those experiences growing up."
Lenny Mosley was another of Ramos' neighborhood friends who remembers him as a graffiti artist. He had just seen the officer a few months before he died, and said they were making plans to reunite the crew of their youth.
"We're like family," Mosley said. "We were friends for 10 years. Some people don't even stay married that long."
A funeral service has been scheduled for Officer Ramos on Dec. 27.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to the NYPD and will update this post with any comment.