Justice News

Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the 23rd Annual National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Candlelight Vigil
Washington, DC
United States
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Friday, May 13, 2011

Thank you, Craig [Floyd]. It is an honor to stand with you again this year – and to join you in welcoming so many outstanding leaders, public servants, and proud members of our nation’s law enforcement family. I also want to thank you – and your colleagues at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fundfor bringing us all together this evening.

During National Police Week, and every day of the year, the partnership that you provide to law enforcement officers across the country is essential. And your work to ensure that their contributions – and sacrifices – are never forgotten is a source of comfort and inspiration for us all.

Tonight’s ceremony commemorates another year that has been distinguished by extraordinary acts of valor and selflessness, but also marked – unfortunately – by senseless and unspeakable tragedy.

In the large crowd gathered here, too many of our colleagues, friends, and loved ones are missing. But, in both spirit and memory, they are still with us. And their examples will continue to guide and inspire our own efforts to strengthen the cause they served so faithfully and well – the cause of justice, which now is ours to carry forward.

Of course, this work will be led – as it always has been – by a thin blue line of heroes; by a community of men and women whose courage, commitment, and daily efforts keep our communities safe and our homeland secure.

Throughout my career, I have been privileged to work with many of these heroes. And, every day, we are all the beneficiaries of their service – and their willingness to stand on the front lines of our nation’s fight against crime, violence, and terrorism. Tonight, as we honor their work, we also pay a special tribute to 316 remarkable individuals. Each one of them was an important part of our nation’s law enforcement community – and their names now will be a permanent part of this memorial.

152 were killed in the line of duty in the past year – while saving the lives of their colleagues, working to end violent disputes, disrupting acts of theft and illegal trafficking, and – in one case – shielding an 11-year-old child from a spray of bullets.

We also recognize 164 other law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty before this past year – and whose stories were only recently revealed to us. These brave officers might have been unknown to this wall forever without the Memorial Fund's extraordinary efforts to unearth the details of their heroic service.

For example, we now know that, in 1791, Sherriff Cornelius Hogeboom of Columbia County, New York, became the first known American law enforcement officer to fall in the line of duty. One October night, while out on a routine call, he was ambushed by a group of men in disguise – and he was killed.

It has taken nearly 220 years to uncover his story – and to bestow the honors he deserves. But tonight, at long last, we add his name to this memorial, alongside thousands of others who have given t heir lives in order that justice itself might live. In order that dangerous criminals might face the consequences of breaking our laws, threatening our communities, and infringing upon our rights. In order that their children – and your children, and my children – might wake up to find their neighborhoods a little bit safer; to find their homes and schools a little more secure; to find their futures just a little bit brighter, and a little more full of promise and opportunity.

As we read the names of these fallen heroes – and reflect on their legacies – we are reminded that our safety and security often comes at a terrible price. And while no words, no ceremony, and no salute can relieve this burden – we can, and we must, ensure that their sacrifices were not made in vain.

How? By supporting our nation’s law enforcement officials; by joining them in standing up against crimes large and small; by helping each other in times of need; and by doing everything within our power to protect those who have made the service of others their life’s work.

At every level of the Justice Department, ensuring the safety of our law enforcement partners is – and will remain – a top priority. And we will continue working to better understand the challenges – and to mitigate the risks – that they regularly face.

As we’ve seen too often, these risks are real – and effectively addressing them couldn’t be more urgent. Over the past two years, we’ve seen an alarming increase in the number of line-of-duty officer deaths. In just a few months this year, we’ve lost a shocking number of federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials.

This is appalling. It is unacceptable. It is a stain on our nation. It must, and will, be stopped.

In the names of those we remember tonight, we must pledge to continue – and to strengthen – the work of protecting every member of our law enforcement family. We may never completely eliminate the criminal element that menaces our communities. But, looking out over this crowd, I am confident that – by working together, and by walking in the footsteps of those we’ve gathered to honor – we can make our streets safer. And we can overcome many of the threats that law enforcement officers regularly confront.

As of this evening, nearly 20,000 names have been etched indelibly into this wall. And it is a fitting tribute to their service that we gather – more than 20,000 strong – to celebrate the enduring impact they have left on the communities that they served, and the countless lives that they touched and enriched.

This memorial bears an inscription that reads: “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes. It is how they lived.”

With their stories and examples to guide us, let us carry on their work. And let us fulfill the promise they worked so hard to keep – the promise of security, opportunity, and justice for all.

Thank you.