Remarks of Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Deputy Attorney General

Peace Officers Memorial Day Ceremony

Federal Law Enforcement Training Center

Glynco, GA

May 20, 1999

Thank you for inviting me to be here with you on this occasion. It is certainly my privilege to stand with you today to honor the lives and the legacies of the officers who have given their lives in the line of duty. Every year during National Police Week, memorial services are given in remembrance of our fallen heroes. These are solemn occasions, as they should be and we should also view this as a time to grieve. But we should also view this as a time to rejoice- to rejoice in the lives that these brave law enforcement officers led and the commitment they made to serve their nation and their fellow citizens.

Everyday across America, everyday, brave men and brave women put on their uniforms and report for duty with the knowledge that some day, perhaps that day, they may have to pay the ultimate price for the job that they do. We are here today because your colleagues and family members came to know this painful reality, came to make that ultimate sacrifice.

The work of our nation's law enforcement officers and the risks that they take go unappreciated. However, the nation as a whole recently received a painful reminder of the sacrifices that our Peace Officers make in the line of duty when an armed gunman invaded our Nation's Capitol- the very heart of our Democracy- and gunned down two valiant officers. Officer Chestnut and Detective Gibson did not retreat in the face of danger, they stood their ground and sacrificed their lives to save the lives of others. They acted with courage and valor and were true to their oath until the very end. Though they were unspeakably brave, they were not unique. Because of where they died their acts received national attention- the attention they deserved. But others who also paid the ultimate price were equally brave and equally deserving of that kind of attention. And that is why we are here today: to say, as a nation, "thank you".

To the families of those brave officers and to all of you whose loved ones have died as heroes, we all say "thank you" to you as well. Because of the sacrifices you have made, our communities are safer places for America's children and for ourselves.

Thanks to the courage and commitment of the individuals forever inscribed into the hallowed walls of the National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial, and of all the other law enforcement personnel across the nation, crime rates have fallen for seven consecutive years, and the rate of violent crime and murder are at their lowest point in a generation. All levels of law enforcement deserve credit for making our neighborhoods safer places for our children, but we know that we will never completely eliminate crime. Indeed, low crime rates and statistics offer little solace to those of us here remembering a lost loved-one, or to the residents of Littleton, Colorado, who have suffered so greatly in recent weeks. To these victims violent crime is very real and very painful. Therefore, we must press forward in the fight against crime, and it will be you, our nation's law enforcement officers, who will continue to sacrifice by valiantly occupying the front-lines in the day-to-day battles of this war. For this, America owes you a continuing deep debt of gratitude.

Across the country, there are over 700,000 law enforcement officers. These are individuals who are hard-working public servants who do a dangerous job justly and fairly, with excellence and with honor. They are worthy of our praise. But we must never forget that they are able to do their jobs because of the love and support they receive from their families and loved ones who also mus pay a price. These people also sacrifice- not truly knowing that at the end of every day if husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters will return to them. To those people who serve as the foundation, the base upon which any good law enforcement career is based- to those people let me, on behalf of a grateful American people, also say "thank you" to you as well. We also honor you today.

To honor the memory of those who have fallen, we must push forward and take the necessary steps that will reduce the risks that our law enforcement officers face everyday. Time and time again they have been gunned down. Last year alone, over sixty-five law enforcement officers were shot in the line of duty. Quite simply, we must take guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals and others who should not possess firearms. There is no doubt that restrictions on access to guns would have saved innocent lives last year. I am not naive, however. Restricting access to guns, by itself, will not solve all of this problem and so when it comes to restricting access to guns, I ask America only to do that which is reasonable. And if implementing access regulations makes it slightly more inconvenient for law-abiding citizens to obtain firearms so that others might live isn't this reasonable? If filling out additional paperwork or waiting for a background check to be completed is needed to save someone's life, isn't this reasonable? In light of the recent school shootings and in the memory of those that we are honoring today, I hope that you will support the reasonable restrictions on the purchase and transfer of guns that we are fighting for.

Guns were the instruments of death in the tragedy we just witnessed in Colorado. Although guns helped those students to carry out their crimes, we all know that they had a deeper problem - the hatred in their hearts. I think many of us are still searching to try to find an answer to where such hatred could come from. We may never know the answers to these questions, but we do know that we can take steps to prevent hatred and intolerance from developing. Last week, I was at the White House with the President and the Attorney General for the announcement of the Clinton Administration's new crime control legislation. At that ceremony, there was a guest speaker from Wilmington, Delaware. He was a former 5th grade school teacher who became a police officer through our COPS program. He became an officer because he felt that he could do more to influence his community as a police officer than as a teacher. However, in making his transition he knew that he could not abandon his role as an educator of children. To this day, he continues to return to school and to talk to children to discuss their problems and make sure that they have a positive role model and to make sure that they feel like someone cares about their problems. More importantly, he shows them that law enforcement officers are to be trusted and relied upon. I hope that when all of you return home, you will make this type of investment in the children in your community. Parents, teachers, community leaders, and law enforcement officers must engage our children to ensure that they grow physically strong and mentally strong and morally strong. They are our future and as law enforcement officers we have a special responsibility to try to make a positive difference in their lives.

I know that nothing can be said today to undo any tragedies or to bring back your friends and loved ones, and there is nothing that can be said to erase the pain that their deaths have caused. However, as we join together to remember their passing, please know that you are not alone. May you feel the embrace of those around you who mourn with you, and also feel the embrace of a grateful nation. As we go forth from this place and return to our everyday lives, please also know that we will forever remember that these law enforcement officers made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. They gave their lives so that we might lead better lives. To truly honor them we must do all that we can to make better still the lives of those most in need.

I close by noting that the Scriptures say "Greater Love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." May our dear friends rest in peace.