Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft

Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association
January 24, 2002

      It is a particular privilege to be here this evening with so many police officers. As you are no doubt aware, the nation's trend watchers and fashion mavens have declared police officers – along with firefighters – to be the new ideal of American manhood.

      The good news for the young men in the audience is that today, more than ever, police officers are making young women's pulses race. The bad news is you're still running a distant second to my colleague, Don Rumsfeld.

      It is my pleasure to be here tonight in this Great Hall of justice to pay tribute to those who have served – and in some cases given their lives – for the cause of justice.

      September 11, 2001, has become a defining moment in the history of our nation. For decades to come, we will look back and remember where we were that morning, and what we were doing.

      September 11 was a day of unspeakable violence and outrage, but also a day of heroism and sacrifice. As terrified men and women struggled to make their way out of burning, collapsing buildings, police officers, firefighters and emergency rescue personnel struggled to make their way in.

      Tonight, we pause to honor those officers who never escaped those burning buildings, and those who risked life and limb so that others could escape.

      Tonight we pause to honor and remember Ramon Suarez, a New York City Police Officer and an Hispanic-American who lost his life on September 11. Officer Suarez was a father and a dedicated police officer. He commandeered a cab on the morning of September 11 to rush to the World Trade Center, where photographers captured him helping people out of the buildings.

      Tonight is an evening which honors Ramon Suarez. But it is also, in a profoundly important way, an evening for us. It is an evening for us to learn from Ramon Suarez's example -- an opportunity to be inspired by his sacrifice.

      When Abraham Lincoln spoke on the battlefield at Gettysburg, he sought to inspire his listeners by citing the deeds of those who had gone before. Lincoln put it this way: "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." Lincoln understood the crucial distinction between that which is said and that which is done. Words may move us momentarily, but deeds change us. And heroic deeds change us for the better.

      Nowhere was this more apparent than on December 22, thousands of feet above the Atlantic, on American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami. Press reports have recounted in vivid detail the heroism of the passengers and crew of Flight 63. First-hand accounts describe how a man named Richard Colvin Reid was confronted in mid-flight attempting to ignite a wire protruding from his shoe. Reid is alleged to have attacked the flight attendant who tried to stop him, and her cries for help sent passengers rushing to her aid.

      The press reported that one French man reached over the seat to restrain Reid's arms as he struggled, while other passengers restrained his legs. Other passengers donated their belts and whatever else was available to tie Reid down. One man on board, a doctor, sedated Reid. Another passenger held a fire extinguisher as a weapon, guarding Reid for the remainder of the flight.

      On Flight 63, for a few minutes at least, every passenger was vigilant, every passenger was an air marshal, every passenger a hero. One of those who helped restrain Reid told reporters later that it was the heroism of September 11 that inspired him; that had it not been for the sacrifices he witnessed that day, he may not have had the awareness and the courage to act.

      But because the passengers and crew on Flight 63 did act -- because they dared to sacrifice -- 197 passengers and crew made it to the ground safely that day. And last week, a grand jury in Massachusetts was able to charge Richard Reid as an al Qaeda- trained terrorist who attempted to destroy Flight 63 with explosives hidden in his shoes. Reid faces up to five life sentences if convicted.

      The group of heroes that stood up to Richard Reid – like the heroes of September 11 who inspired them – were of all races, ethnicities and nationalities. The spirit that rose from the rubble in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania knows no prejudice, and defies division by race, ethnicity or religion.

      The symbol that you have chosen to award your fellow officers – the eagle – epitomizes this spirit. The eagle is a very personal symbol to me. I was at my farm in Missouri a couple years back and looked up to see an eagle fly overhead. There had not been an eagle seen in those parts for a quarter century.

      I was so moved, I wrote a poem, which I think, although it was written almost four years ago, captures the unity and strength that exists in America today, a unity and strength that the eagle symbolizes -- a spirit for which we can be grateful and about which we ought to celebrate. That unity and strength is reflected in this evening, in you, your work, and the work of the hundreds of thousands of police officers who serve their country and its citizens every day.

      Thank you. God bless you and God bless America.