Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Police Memorial Candlelight Vigil
Thursday -- May 13, 2004
Thank you, Craig. You, your staff, and the law enforcement community have made this vigil and this memorial a fitting tribute to the men and women of law enforcement who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
I also thank all of you who traveled from across our nation to be here tonight. Your presence is a testament to the men and women who wear the star of justice. It is a tribute to the men and women we honor here tonight.
As Attorney General, I see firsthand every day the dedication and the courage of public safety officers. I see the daily sacrifices they make to protect the American people.
Thomas Jefferson wrote eloquently that governments are instituted among men to secure the inalienable rights of the people . . . treasured rights to life and liberty. This is the first priority of government -- to protect the lives and liberties of the people. The men and women of law enforcement do this every day.
Across America, in our towns and cities, on highways and on back roads, public safety officers battle against the enemies of life and liberty, security and justice. Tonight is a night that reminds us that we must never take our life and liberty -- our peace and security -- for granted. The men and women we honor here gave their lives so that these values will endure.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, rekindled America's appreciation for the men and women of law enforcement. On that day of horror and heartbreak, our nation witnessed the defense of our highest ideals. Police and firefighters ran toward the World Trade Center and the Pentagon when others were running away. We witnessed public safety officers exhibiting the values they live daily: duty, honor, service, and courage.
I would like to share with you a story from another September 11 - September 11, 2003. On that evening, the citizens of Omaha, Nebraska, turned in, believing the night would pass without incident.
Out on the streets, Police Officer Jason Pratt was on patrol and made a traffic stop. The driver was a repeat offender and the car was stolen. The suspect took off on foot. Officer Pratt gave chase.
Running down the dark streets, Officer Pratt was ambushed by the suspect, shot, and grievously wounded. For nine days, Officer Pratt fought valiantly to continue his life with his wife, Stacy, and their two young daughters, Madison and Jordan.
Tonight, Jason Pratt's name will be placed here on the wall of honor. He will join 144 of his fellow officers who, last year, in times of challenge, stood with the innocent against the guilty, with the peaceful against the violent, with the righteous against the unjust.
Law enforcement -- the protection of our citizens -- is not merely a job. It is a calling. The men and women we honor and remember were no doubt drawn to their role in life by an inner voice calling them to serve, to protect. That they answered this call with such selflessness brings us to stand in wonder at their courage and to mourn the loss we have suffered.
The work public safety officers undertake has become more challenging in the past two and half years. Today's world has revealed an expanding inventory of danger that the defenders of our communities must confront.
Every day, the officers we honor faced willingly the unknown. They put themselves in harm's way voluntarily. Their lives have made a difference. Their lives have built a better world.
Joining with the justice community across America, these honored dead changed America for the better. Their dedication has been part of a nationwide team that has driven the violent crime rate to its lowest level in 30 years. Between 1999-2000 and 2001-2002, the violent crime rate plunged 21 percent.
This means that compared to the year 2000, almost one million fewer Americans were spared the pain and anguish of being victimized.
The success in our nation's fight against crime means that 27 percent fewer people were robbed . 23 percent fewer men and women were assaulted . And 27 percent fewer people--sisters, mothers, and daughters--were raped.
The teamwork of the men and women of state, local and federal law enforcement has made our streets and our homes safer. Under Project Safe Neighborhoods, by working together we are fulfilling the President's promise to lock up those who commit gun crimes. The results speak for themselves: There were 130,000 fewer victims of gun crime between 2001 and 2002 than in 1999 and 2000.
On behalf of all Americans, I thank all of the men and women of law enforcement. I thank you for upholding justice and the rule of law. I thank you for your strong commitment to safeguard all that is good and just in our society. Government's commitment to public safety officers must be equally strong.
We must continue our fight against all forms of crime. We must continue to do everything we can to ensure our public safety officers have the training and the equipment they need to get the job done. We must continue to strengthen sentencing guidelines to keep dangerous offenders off the streets and behind bars. And we must remember.
Last September, I was privileged to speak to a number of gatherings of law enforcement personnel around the country. On Friday, September 19, as I was traveling to Omaha to speak to law enforcement officers, I learned of Officer Jason Pratt's death earlier that day.
When I arrived in Omaha, I was honored to meet Officer Pratt's widow, Stacy, who is here with us this evening. Stacy gave me Jason's SWAT team medallion. She asked me to carry it as a reminder of Jason's life and the cause of justice to which he was dedicated.
I have Jason Pratt's medallion as a reminder not only of him, but to honor his example and the sacrifice he made for the values he and every law enforcement officer holds dear: Duty. Integrity. Courage. Justice.
To the families of the men and women we honor here, know this. We will not forget. We will make sure that the names and the ideals of your husbands and wives, your fathers and mothers, your sons and daughters or brothers and sisters, will live in the hearts, minds, and souls of citizens for generations to come. That is our duty and our commitment to you.
Shortly, we will recite the names of the 362 men and women of law enforcement who demonstrated their character, their devotion and proved their ultimate measure. They were officers of the law who performed their duty -- serving justice, protecting lives, preserving freedom -- and gave their lives for the safety and security of others.
"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history," Abraham Lincoln told the nation in the midst of the Civil War. "We will be remembered in spite of ourselves. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We - even we here - hold the power and bear the responsibility."
Memorials such as this ensure that the men and women who dedicated their lives to the cause of justice will not escape history. They have held the power and borne the responsibility for the security of our communities and the safety of its citizens. And the fiery trial through which they passed - the ultimate sacrifice they made - has lighted each of them down in honor for generations of Americans to see.
May their service and sacrifice inspire all of us to do justice to their memories and the ideals they held dear.
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