Oct 16, 2021
Joe Biden Speech Transcript National Peace Officers’ Memorial
President Joe Biden spoke at the National Peace Officers’ Memorial on October 16, 2021. Read the transcript of the speech remarks here.
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President Joe Biden: (00:00)
Thank you, Sergeant. My name is Joe Biden. I am Jill Biden’s husband. That’s how I’m better known. President Yost, Auxiliary President Hennie, Auxiliary President Layman, excuse me, Lehman 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, the families here today, this is all about you, about you.
President Joe Biden: (00:52)
I’ve been coming to this memorial for 40 years, missed a couple, and I’ve spoken it 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 people ready to stand in the way and take a bullet tourist. 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 confront together to step back. We expect you to be everything. We expect everything of you.
President Joe Biden: (01:52)
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 … We’re waking up to the notion then unless we change the environment in which the job could be done, we’re going to have trouble having enough women and men come forward and want to do the job. I hope all the families, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, moms, dads, hope you’re able to take a measure of comfort and strength from the extended family you have here and all around you.
President Joe Biden: (02:58)
In remembrance of to this memorial 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. It’s particularly appropriate today is here at nine months ago, your brothers and sisters thwarted an unconstitutional 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 US Capitol Police Force, Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department, other law enforcement agency, who once again, literally put their bodies on the line to protect our democracy.
President Joe Biden: (03:51)
That’s why I have no hesitation, had none at all in … Awarding, the Congressional Gold Medal of Congress, the highest expression of our nation’s appreciation to the US Capitol Police and Washington, DC Metropolitan Police and other responding law enforcement agencies. 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, five lost in the attack’s aftermath. The toll on this profession these past years has been heavy, too heavy.
President Joe Biden: (04:44)
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 attended this memorial service many times, as I said, to pay my respects. Sometimes I’ve been the speaker. Other times I’ve sat on the stage and just thought about all of you sitting on the lawn. Although this year, I don’t know any of the personally who have fallen, any of the individuals. I’ve gone through all the names.
President Joe Biden: (05:33)
I feel I know them without having ever met them. You see, I grew up in a neighborhood, the neighborhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Claymont, Delaware, and Bellefonte where I grew up with the guys and women that were honoring today. One of my best friends in grade school, Eddie Hill, became the superintendent of Delaware State Police, a great friend and competitor in the other major high school we played ball against one another. Charlie Daugherty became the head of the chief of the Wilmington Police Force and so many more.
President Joe Biden: (06:17)
So, although I didn’t know them personally, I know you. I know you. I always joked that I grew up in places where either became a cop, a firefighter or a priest. I wasn’t qualified for any of them, so I had to settle us. But all kidding aside, over the years, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I’ve got to know you. Even as kids, we could see in the women and men around us, who the ones who had the heart. They were the ones who ran in to help you. When everyone else was running away, they ran toward [inaudible 00:07:09] even when they’re in grade school knowing they’d be able to help a little bit, even if they a were outnumbered.
President Joe Biden: (07:21)
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, Bo, was in Kosovo for about six months and in Iraq for a year.
President Joe Biden: (08:13)
He was the chief law enforcement officer for the state of Delaware, the attorney general. I’d watch every morning, because she left for school before I got on the train, Jill standing there mouthing a prayer as she drank a cup of coffee over the sink, praying, praying for Bo. Well, you do it every day. You did it every day. There was 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 on television?
President Joe Biden: (09:02)
Thousands and thousands of American families stand and wait so their husband, their wives, their fathers, their mothers, sons, and daughters can serve the rest of us. We not only owe them. We owe you. It’s not hyperbole. I mean this from the bottom of my heart. We owe you. We’ll need to support 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 are here today, my heart aches for you. Believe it or not, Jill and I understand.
President Joe Biden: (09:48)
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 his hard. The fact that he was the 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 always about family. It’s like losing a piece of your soul.
President Joe Biden: (10:47)
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 Enrique from Honolulu.
President Joe Biden: (11:34)
She was one of two officers killed by responding to a call, was the first female officer to die in the line of duty in the Honolulu Police Department. Her boyfriend also an officer called her “The most hardworking, amazing fiercest officer I’ve ever known. My heart is shattered and she was my love, my rock, my strength.” So many. Officer Charles, excuse me, Brazilda passed away in 2016, but he was recognized in this line of duty this year … Unit, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, unit trained to perform technical rescue operations.
President Joe Biden: (12:31)
After the terrorist attack on September 11th, he was assigned to search and recovery efforts in 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 and hunting expeditions. As you call the roll today, we’re acutely aware that behind each name are families that said we know from personal experience that every time there’s a ceremony 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.
President Joe Biden: (13:28)
So I want you to know, I know although you look 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. 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, even if you don’t know them in a city, a town, a place you’ve never been before. As much as we hope not, there’re going to be more names added to this roll call of bravery and sorrow.
President Joe Biden: (14:14)
There already have been. As I was preparing these remarks, early this morning in Houston, 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 him. Seven Houston police officers in his department were killed in the line of duty since 2019. Chief, I’m here for you pal, so is everybody else. We mourn the fallen. We pray for the recovery of the wounded. As I said, I’ve spoken too many times, too many funerals for police officers, too many funerals for brave servants who kept us safe.
President Joe Biden: (15:08)
So under the mournful sound of the bagpipes, we must also hear something else, call to do better, to do more, to keep you safe, to keep our communities safer, for us to step up, 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.
President Joe Biden: (15:49)
I want to acknowledge the FOP as was mentioned earlier for sincerely trying to reach an agreement on meaningful reforms, congressional reforms, and the negotiations over the George Floyd and 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 to thank you for being a 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.
President Joe Biden: (16:28)
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 are going to be more resources, not fewer resources help you do your job. That’s why I propose we invest again in community policing. We know it works. One thing that protects cops is another cop and the training you and the community have requested.
President Joe Biden: (17:01)
The community-based programs and interventions that can stop violence before it starts provide specific guidance, explaining the communities can and should use funds from the American Rescue Plan, 350 billion in aid to city 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 has more police.
President Joe Biden: (17:38)
We’re also investing in community violence intervention programs, which are proven, have a proven track record of reducing violence for up to 60% in cities across the 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, mental health professionals who can respond to mental health crises 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.
President Joe Biden: (18:12)
Supporting our law enforcement officers requires that we invest in systems that provide adequate healthcare, counseling, drug treatment prevention, housing, education, and other social services in the community so there is not the discord. We need to work together to confront 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 of the leadership and Attorney General Garland is working with state and local law enforcement across the country to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals.
President Joe Biden: (18:52)
They now have zero tolerance for gun dealers who willfully violate the law, putting firearms in 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 have family members or law enforcement to petition a court order to temporarily remove firearms from people who are in crisis representing the 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.
President Joe Biden: (19:30)
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. 40% of all calls that result in an officer’s death were domestic violence related, 40%. 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 front lines in those dark early days of the pandemic.
President Joe Biden: (20:14)
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 and 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.
President Joe Biden: (21:03)
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 they will come sooner and later.
President Joe Biden: (21:50)
There’s 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 part of you. The souls of those you love and those with whom you serve rest in peace and rising 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.