Remarks by President Biden at the 40th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service

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Remarks by President Biden at the 40th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service

U.S. CapitolWashington, D.C. 12:39 P.M. EDT THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Sergeant.  My name is Joe Biden.  I am Jill Biden’s husband

U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C.

12:39 P.M. EDT
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Sergeant.  My name is Joe Biden.  I am Jill Biden’s husband.  (Laughter.)  That’s how I’m better known.
 
President Yoes, Auxiliary President Hennie, Auxiliary President Leamann [sic] and — excuse me, Lehmann — and a guy I’ve known for a long, long time, Jimmy Pasco, Executive Director: Thank you for this invitation to be with you today.
    
To Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas, thank you for being here and for the great job you’re doing for us.  Thank you very, very much.  And it’s a tough job.
 
Most importantly, to the families here today, this is all about you — about you.  You know, I’ve been coming to this memorial for 40 years.  I missed a couple, but — and I’ve spoken at many — too many police memorials all around the country.  And it always amazes me how the public doesn’t fully understand what we expect of our law enforcement officers. 
 
We expect you to be people ready to stand in the way and take a bullet for us.  We expect you to be able to track down the bad guys.  We expect you to be the psychologist who talks the couple that are having a violent confrontation together to step back.  We expect you to be everything.  We expect everything of you.  And it’s beyond the capacity of anyone to meet the total expectations.  Being a cop today is one hell of a lot harder than it’s ever been. 
 
And to the families of the fallen: You’ve suffered an enormous loss.  But understand, your loss is also America’s loss.  America’s loss.  And your pain is America’s pain.
 
We’re waking up to the notion that unless we change the environment in which the job can be done, we’re going to have trouble having enough women and men come forward to want to do that job.
 
I hope all the families — sons, daughters, husbands, wives, moms, dads — I hope you’re able to take a measure of comfort and strength from the extended family you have here and all around you.
 
In remembrance and respect of this memorial and this day, I ordered our flags to be flown at half-staff.
 
We’ve met here, in front of this United States Capitol, many times before to memorialize our fallen heroes.  And it’s particularly appropriate today, because here, nine months ago, your brothers and sisters thwarted an unconstitutional and fundamentally un-American attack on our nation’s values and our votes.
 
But because of you, democracy survived — but only because of the women and men of the U.S. Capitol Police force, the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, and other law enforcement agencies who once again, literally, put their bodies on the line to protect our democracy. 
 
That’s why I have no hesitation — had none at all — in signing the law awarding the Congressional Gold Medal of Congress — the highest expression of nation’s appreciation — to the U.S. Capitol Police and Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police and other responding law enforcement agencies.  (Applause.)
 
Because of these men and women, we averted a catastrophe.
 
But their heroism came at a cost to you and your families: 150 officers injured; 5 lost in the attack’s aftermath.  The toll on this profession these past years has been heavy.  Too heavy.  2020 was the deadliest year for law enforcement on record.
 
And today, we’re here to remember nearly 500 of your brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, sons and daughters.
 
2019 and 2020 — we lost so much.
 
I’ve attended this memorial many times, as I said, to pay my respects.  Sometimes I’ve been the speaker; other times I’ve sat on this stage and just thought about all of you sitting on the lawn.  Although this year, I don’t know any personally who have fallen — any of the individuals.  I’ve gone through all the names.  I feel I know that with- — them — without having ever met them.
 
You see, I grew up in a neighborhood — a neighborhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania; and Claymont, Delaware; and Bellefonte, where I grew up with the guys and women that we’re honoring today.
 
One of my best friends in grade school, Eddie Hill (ph), became a superintendent of the Delaware State Police — a great friend and competitor in the other major high school.  We played ball against one another.  Charlie Doughert- — Dougherty (ph) became the head of the — chief of the Wilmington Police force.  And so many more.
 
So although I didn’t know them personally, I know you.  I know you. 
 
I always joke that I grew up in places where you either became a cop, a firefighter, or a priest.  I wasn’t qualified for them, so I had to settle for this.  (Laughter.)
 
But all kidding aside, over the years, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I’ve gotten to know you.  Even as kids, we could see, in the women and men around us, who are the ones who had the heart.  They’re the ones who ran in to help you when everyone else was running away.  They ran toward cries for help, even when they were in grade school, knowing that they’d be able to help a little bit, even if they were outnumbered.
 
And I’m not making this up.  Think about it.  Think about your son, your daughter, your husband, your wife — who they were and what was inside them.  It was about service, to protect, defend.
    
This isn’t just what law enforcement does.  It’s who you are.  It’s what makes you who you are.  And when you put on that shield in the morning and walk out the door each day, every family member dreads the possibility of receiving that phone call.
 
I was talking to Steny about this.  Just as our son, Beau, was in Kosovo for about six months and in Iraq for a year, he was the chief law enforcement officer for the state of Delaware — the attorney general.  And I’d watch every morning — because she left for school before I got on the train — Jill standing there mouthing a prayer while she drank a cup of coffee over the sink, praying — praying for Beau.  We’d do it every day.  We did it every day.  
 
You know, there’s a line from an English poet, John Milton. He said, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  How long have you had to stand and wait and wonder when you heard something on the news or saw it television?  Thousands and thousands of American families stand and wait so their husbands, their wives, their fathers, their mothers, sons and daughters, can serve the rest of us.

We not only owe them, we owe you.  And it’s not hyperbole. I mean this from the bottom of my heart: We owe you, willing to support to them.
 
And too many of you sitting out there have received that terrible call that your loved one won’t be coming home at the end of his or her shift.
 
To the mothers and fathers here today: My heart aches for you.  Believe it or not, Jill and I understand.  We got one of those calls in a different circumstance.
 
No parent should have to bury a child.  I lost a baby daughter in an accident.  I lost a brave son to cancer after coming home from a year in Iraq.  But you know what?  What you’ve gone through is hard.  The fact that he was a chief law enforcement officer of Delaware, he wasn’t out there — literally, he’d go on patrols, but he wasn’t out there walking up those stairs to make that arrest or try to stop that fight.  He was al- — it was always about family. 
 
It’s like losing a piece of your soul.  Some of you still have that feeling like you’ve been sucked into a black hole in your chest, wondering, “My God, will it ever change?”
 
Sergeant McClain from Detroit decorated for exemplary service during his 16-year career.  He turned down promotions so he could continue to work as a mentor to other officers in his district.
 
Every two weeks, he’d send his wife flowers at work, like clockwork, to brighten her day and her office.  He was killed responding to a domestic violence call.
 
Officer Tiffany-Victoria Enriquez from Honolulu.  She was one of two officers killed while responding to a call and was the first female officer to die in the line of duty in the Honolulu Police Department. 
 
Her boyfriend, also an officer, called her, quote, “the most hardworking, amazing, fiercest officer I have ever known.  My heart is shattered, and she was my love, my rock, my strength.” 
 
So many.
 
Officer Charles Bra — Braz — excuse me, Brazydlo — excuse me, Barzyldo — passed away in 2016, but he was recognized in his line of duty this year.  He was part of an elite unit of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — a unit trained to perform technical rescue operations.
 
After the terrorist attacks on September 11th, he was assigned to search and recover — recovery efforts at the World Trade tower.  He, like so many others, contracted cancer.  He died of cancer following that assignment.
 
He made friends wherever he went.  He loved the outdoors.  He was his neighborhood go-to guy, organizing almost anything, including hunting expeditions.
 
As you call the roll today, we’re acutely aware that behind each name are families.  As I said, we know from personal experience that every time there’s a ceremony or memorial honoring your lost husband or wife, son or daughter, it can summon that pride but also that terrible feeling, as if you’re just hearing the news for the first time.
 
So, I want you to know: I know although you looked forward to honoring your family member, it’s hard.  It’s hard.  I mean this sincerely: Jill and I admire your courage for just being here. 
 
And we hope you take some comfort in the knowledge that the men and women here assembled today, they’ll always be with you.  Not a joke.  They’ll always be with you, wherever you are — and even if you don’t know them — in a city, a town, a place you’ve never been before.
 
And as much as we hope not, there are going to be more names added to this roll call of bravery and sorrow.  There already have been.
 
As I was preparing these remarks, earlier this morning in Houston, the deputy killed — one deputy killed and two wounded.
 
Chief Finner from Houston is here today.  I don’t know where the Chief is, but he’s here today, I’m told.  Known them — seven Houston Police officers in his department were killed in the line of duty since 2019.
 
Chief, I’m here for you, pal, and so is everybody else.
 
We mourn the fallen.  We pray for the recovery of the wounded. 
 
As I’ve said, I’ve spoken many — too many times, too many funerals for police officers; too many funerals for brave servants who kept us safe.
 
So, under the mournful sound of the bagpipes, we must also hear something else: a call to do better, to do more, to keep you safe, to keep our communities safer; for us to step up; to build trust and respect, and heal the breach we now see in so many communities; to recognize that the promise of equal
and impartial justice remains a promise but not always a reality for you or others, particularly in low-income communities, too many communities — Black and brown.
 
Too many families are grieving unnecessary losses of their sons, their daughters, their fathers, their brothers.
 
I want to acknowledge the FOP, as was mentioned earlier, for sincerely trying to reach an agreement on meaningful reforms, congressional reform, in the negotiations over the
George Floyd [Justice] in Policing Act.
 
But here’s the part: A lot of the help has to come to police departments.  They need help to do better. 
 
I want thank you for being the constructive player in this process.  We haven’t gotten there yet, but we must get there. 
 
Look, there’s too much pain.  There’s too much loss. There’s too much at stake for the safety and for the safety of those you serve. 
 
It’s a hard time to be a police officer in America.  So I want to make sure you have the tools to be the partners and the protectors your communities need. 
 
That when you look at what your communities need and what you’re being asked to do, there isn’t going to be — there are going to be more resources, not fewer resources helping you do your job. 
 
That’s why I proposed we invest in — we invest again in community policing we know works.  Wanting to protect cops is another cop.  In the training you and the community have requested.  The community-based programs and interventions that can stop violence before it starts.  Provide specific guidance explaining that communities can and should use funds from the American Rescue Plan — $350 billion in aid to cities, states, counties, Tribes, to hire and retain officers.  Many cities, from Albuquerque to St. Paul, are doing just that.
 
And I proposed an additional $300 million in my budget to support community policing across the country.  It’s hard when you don’t know the community.  And the most important way to get to know them — it has more police. 
 
We’re also investing in community violence intervention programs, which are proven — have a proven track record of reducing violence by up to 60 percent in cities across our nation. 
 
At the same time, we have to stop asking law enforcement officers to do every single job under the sun. 
 
I’m committed to investing in mental health services and mental health professionals who can respond to a mental health crisis alongside you.  You shouldn’t be the one having to talk someone off the edge of the roof.  You should have professional help with you.
 
To support our law enforcement officers it requires that we invest in the systems that provide adequate healthcare, counseling, drug treatment and prevention, housing, education, and other social services in the community so there is not a discord.
 
We need to work together to confront the ecidemic [sic] — the epidemic of gun violence.  Your brothers and sisters have told me, over the years, sometimes you feel like you’re “outgunned.”
 
Right now, the Justice Department, under the leadership of Attorney General Garland, is working with state and local law enforcement across the country to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals.
 
They now have zero tolerance for gun dealers who willfully violate the law, putting firearms into the hands of people who are a danger to the community and you.
 
I also want to make it easier for states to adopt red-flag laws — laws that allow family members or law enforcement to petition a court order to temporarily remove firearms from people who are in crisis, representing a danger to themselves and to others.
 
By the way, more people die of gunshot wounds in America as a consequence of suicide than any other reason.
 
I’ve called on Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and to close the domestic violence loophole to keep guns out of the hands of abusers.  Forty percent of all calls that result in an officer’s death were domestic violence related.  Forty percent. 
 
These steps will protect you, protect the people you serve.
 
And finally, and tragically, in the past two years, COVID-19 has caused more deaths in the line of duty than all the other causes combined. 
 
Many of those lost their lives keeping our society safe, serving on the frontlines in those dark, early days of the pandemic. 
 
But now, let us prevent the preventable tragedies.  The last time I stood here was to take the Oath of Office as your President.  I said that day we have much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, much to gain.
 
It remains true.  I believe with all my heart there’s nothing you’re unable to do if we equip you; that we can unite this nation to fight our common foes: anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, racism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness, hopelessness.
 
We have never, ever failed in America when we’ve acted together.  So let’s act together to support you in the service of the nation we love.
 
In closing, let me say that I know there are no words,  no memorials that can fill that void, that black hole in your chest so many of you feel.
 
But I promise you, the day will come when the memory of your loved one will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye.  That’s when you know you’re going to make it.  That’s when you know.  That will happen.
 
But my prayer for you is that that day will come sooner than later.
 
There is a headstone in a cemetery in Ireland that reads: “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal.  Love leaves a memory that no one can steal.”
 
They’re with you.  They’re in your heart.  They’re a part of you.
 
May the souls of those you love and those with whom you served rest in peace and rise in glory.
 
In the meantime, you’re in our prayers.  May God bless you, and may God protect all those who serve us in uniform.  Thank you.  (Applause.)
 
1:01 P.M. EDT