Archbishop Elpidophoros of America gave a eulogy on Monday at the funeral of George Zapantis, the 29-year-old resident of Whitestone, New York who died of a heart attack on June 21 after being tasered twice by police officers.
According to the New York Daily News, NYPD officers had arrived at Zapantis’ home after a neighbor reported that he was armed with a gun. But the officers found Zapantis in the basement dressed as a gladiator, wearing a helmet and wielding a samurai sword.
After refusing officers’ orders to drop the sword and instead coming toward them, Zapantis — who reportedly suffered from bipolar disorder — was tasered inside his house. A video shot by a neighbor showed he was tasered again during a struggle with officers outside the house.
Police took Zapantis into custody and he suffered an apparent cardiac arrest in an ambulance after which he died at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Queens.
During the funeral service at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Whitestone, Archbishop Elpidophoros described Zapantis’ mother, Athanasia, as “A mother whose heart is rent in two, a mother who has come to the Church of the Holy Cross upon which the Son of the Theotokos died, to bury her son. To mourn her son. To grieve her son.”
Elpidophoros spoke to her directly in front of the small crowd permitted to gather in church for the service.
“Beloved Athanasia, I want you to know that your cry is heard,” he said. “[Your cry is] heard by your Church. Heard by your community. Heard by your People, the ‘Omogeneia’ around the world.”
“We are in the midst of this global pandemic, and we are in the midst of our American society that has been rocked by the very kind of abuse that brings us around George’s coffin today,” Elpidophoros said. “And there is no justice in this moment as we pray for God’s mercy upon his soul, as we pray for comfort for Athanasia, a mother bereft of her son.”
The archbishop continued his remarks.
“We are a community—not the biggest for certain, and not the most influential. But we are a family of believers and a family of Hellenes. Our responsibility is to work for the justice that George was denied,” he said. “Our vocation is to stand up for him because he was brought down, even into the shallows of death, by ignorance, by cruelty, by mistrust and by incompetence.”
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America published Elpidophoros’ full remarks on its website.
The archbishop’s statements come in addition to those from other Greek American community leaders who have spoken out in response to Zapantis’ death.
George Horiates, Supreme President of the Order of AHEPA, released a statement on Thursday welcoming a legal investigation into what the organization called a “tragic” death.
“We welcome reports that the NYPD’s Force Investigation Division has opened an investigation into the circumstances leading to the incident,” Horiates said. “We echo the call of the family’s attorney in requesting full transparency from the investigation. If proper guidelines were not followed, we call for those officers responsible for Zapantis’s death to be held accountable.”
In a formal statement, New York City Council Member Costa Constantinides called the current set of facts surrounding Zapantis’ death “deeply troubling” and said he mourns alongside fellow Greek Americans.
“There must be a full, transparent and independent investigation as to what happened,” Constantinides said. “While that’s underway, we must have a serious conversation about the reasons why New Yorkers like George Zapantis, who reportedly had a history of mental health issues, died during an arrest.”
George’s cousin Marina Zapantis of Queens, New York has set up a GoFundMe page in his memory. The page has received nearly $60,000 in donations at the time of this article’s publication and funds raised will cover the costs of his funeral, burial and other expenses related to his death, according to the page.
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