By Matthew Fischetti
NYPD Detective Barbara Taylor-Burnette was many things: a mean point guard on the basketball court, a proud product of the Williamsburg Houses and a tireless advocate for 9/11 first responders.
Dozens of people piled into the corner of Humboldt and Scholes Street, now known as “Detective Barbara Taylor-Burnette Place,” to celebrate the legacy of the 18-year veteran of the force this past Saturday. Fifty-eight-year-old Taylor-Burnette passed away on Dec. 30, 2021 after battling interstitial lung disease, inoperable lung cancer and other illnesses she contracted due to her first responder work in the weeks following 9/11.
She began her career working in the 73rd Precinct in 1988 when shootings in Brownsville were as high as 250 per year.
“When she left 10 years later, there were 80. Make no mistake about it, a reduction in violence like that does not happen by accident,” said Intelligence Operations and Analysis Section Inspector Joseph Seminara.
After her stint in the 73rd Precinct, she moved on to the Narcotics Division and worked as an undercover.
“I can tell you from personal experience that is the most dangerous and unpredictable assignment that you can imagine,” said Jeffrey Ward, treasurer of the Detective Endowments Association. “But she had the guts and the fortitude to do that. And as a result of that, she earned her detective shield. Earned.”
She later moved on to the Intelligence Division, now known as the Intelligence Bureau – a high-profile unit that is in charge of trying to prevent terrorist attacks.
In the weeks following 9/11, Taylor-Burnette selflessly spent time at the piles helping clear debris. And in the years following the attacks, she testified in front of Congress twice, advocating for the funding of the 9/11 Compensation Fund.
“Mom was a helper. If somehow, somewhere, someone she knew needed help – and it made it through the grapevine to her ears – she would move heaven and Earth to make sure that she was able to help,” her daughter, Yasmeen Burnett said. “When the towers fell, there was no second thought, there was a call to action. When asked to testify before Congress for the extension of health care benefits and compensation twice, there was no second thought.
Nicholas Papain, a personal injury lawyer who worked with Taylor-Burnette to fight for the Zadroga Act, described her as a “hero who would never call herself a hero.”
“For her, it was an opportunity to serve,” Papain, 69, said in an interview about her work in Washington D.C. “She was rather invigorated by the opportunity to go down there and once again serve her fellow first responders.”
Besides her work with the NYPD, current and former residents of the Williamsburg Houses, whose tight knit community refers to each other as family, fondly remembered the second floor resident of 185 Scholes Street for the love she gave people and her basketball prowess.
Aaron Jones, 58, first met Taylor-Burnette on the court. He remembers her as a disciplined person in everything she did, a talented ball player who used to beat up on all the guys and a smack talker that pushed him to be a better player.
“It’s kind of surreal to see one of your own be forever enshrined in the community that you grew up in. We have many great people here. But it takes someone to fall in the line of duty in order to bestow this honor,” Jones said. “And that’s the sad part of it. But you know, we’re happy that one of our own will always be remembered.”
Seventy-four-year-old Alvin Mack lived right above Taylor-Burnette. And while he said that it was good to see her memory honored with the street co-naming, he said that he wished more people from the Williamsburg Houses were able to speak at the ceremony.
“They should have allowed more of the people in the community who grew up with her, who loved her, who was poor with her because you would have got a real aspect of who she really was,” Mack said.
“She’s lovable. She was raised to love. She was raised to care. She was raised to be who she was,” he continued. “There’s not a bad thing you could say about her.”