Thirty years after a shooting left him a quadriplegic, Detective Steven McDonald is still on the city's police force, spreading a message of faith and forgiveness that is especially poignant during the holiday season. He spoke exclusively to NY1's Criminal Justice Reporter Dean Meminger:.
To WATCH the full interview with Det. McDonald, scroll to the bottom of this page.
"I try to do something good every day," says NYPD Det. Steven McDonald.
That is not easy for McDonald, who is paralyzed from the neck down after being shot 30 years ago. But this holiday season, he is preaching faith, forgiveness and peace, as he does all year long.
"That is what motivates us," McDonald says. "We want everybody to feel safe and everybody to feel the peace that we all need."
New Yorkers of a certain age know McDonald's story well. In 1986, he stopped a group of young teens in Central Park because he thought they had a gun. The oldest, 15-year-old Shavod Jones, shot McDonald and left him for dead.
"Shot me in the head and then shot me in the throat, and I as I laid on the ground, he stepped over me and fired a third shot into me," McDonald recalls.
With what he calls the miracle of science, McDonald has been living on a ventilator for 30 years, 25 years longer than what doctors initially expected.
But he says it's not just the skill of doctors that have kept him alive. He credits faith in God and his forgiving the teen who shot him, something his son Conor, an NYPD sergeant, agrees with.
"If he did not let love in and forgive Shavod Jones, I don't think my dad would be here," Conor McDonald told NY1. "I think that hate would have eaten him alive and he would be six feet under right now, and I would not have the relationship that I have."
McDonald says faith and forgiveness is especially important after another tough year for relations between the police and communities, especially communities of color.
NY1 caught up with the detective as he spoke to fellow officers at the 33rd Precinct in Washington Heights. Many of the officers were not even born when he was shot. He encouraged them to use professional tactics to protect themselves and the community.
"I want them all to be safe," McDonald says afterward. "I don't want anybody to be hurt like I was hurt. As far as the community, I have always seen the best in them. We work very well together."
Although he is paralyzed, McDonald is still an NYPD employee. In the late 1970s, the city made a decision to keep certain officers on the job who were critically injured.
"Providing for police officers who were catastrophically injured in the line of duty, and I was among the first and the most serious," McDonald says.
He spends up to three days a week speaking to officers and the community.
"All those years ago, I would have never pictured to myself speaking publicly," McDonald says.
His voice is strong, and so is his message — for peace, improved community relations, and suicide prevention.
At the 33rd Precinct stationhouse, he urged officers to get help if they are thinking about suicide, as he did many years ago.
"I thought, in my lifetime being like this, suicide was a way out of this," McDonald said.
But he says he wife Patty Ann convinced him to seek help. He describes her as an amazing wife and mother.
"I could be so close to her, yet I can't touch her with my arms, with my hands," McDonald says. "The pain, it knows no depth, the pain and suffering."
He offers his condition as an example of what can happen when the bonds between police and the communities they are sworn to protect are broken.
"Connor and I and so many others, for all of you out there, we take this very seriously," McDonald says. "We will give you everything. I hope I have demonstrated that."