DOJ Seal


Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Wreath Laying Ceremony

National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial

Washington, D.C.

May 1, 1999

Thank you for inviting me to be here with you on this occasion. It is certainly my privilege to stand with you this morning honoring the lives and legacies of the correctional officers who have given their lives in the line of duty. This is a solemn occasion, and while we mourn the loss of these dedicated individuals, let us rejoice in the lives that they led and their commitment to serving their fellow citizens.

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

The work of our nation's law enforcement officers and the risks that they take too often go unappreciated. However, America recently received a painful reminder of the sacrifices that our law enforcement 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. These men sacrificed their lives in the line of duty to protect our Nation's symbol of freedom. We know that in every aspect of law enforcement and in every community across this nation our brothers and sisters take these risks everyday and put their lives on the line for that same freedom, and America is a greater nation because of it.

During the ceremony, the members of the honor guard will be carrying a rose. Each rose represents the life of a slain officer and symbolizes everything that is good about America and our enforcement community. Each rose represents honor, courage, valor, and the sense of duty that our dedicated peace officers exhibit everyday. As we look at these symbolic roses, I encourage you to remember the qualities that our fallen heroes have exhibited and take them with you when you leave today; follow their example and use these qualities in your daily lives -- pass them along to your children. By doing this you will honor their lives, add to the significance of this ceremony, and help make this nation a better place for all Americans.

Thanks to the courage and commitment of all of you here today, the individuals forever inscribed into the National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial, and other law enforcement personnel across the nation, the crime rate has fallen for over six consecutive years. Every level of law enforcement has played a crucial role in reducing crime rates. The police walking the beat, the investigating officers, and the rehabilitating corrections officers all deserve credit for making our neighborhoods safer places for our children. However, because we will never be able to completely eliminate crime we must continue our efforts. The successes that we have achieved, the successes that we will achieve, are built on the sacrifices made by our colleagues and their families. For the everyday and ultimate sacrifices that you and your fallen loved ones have made, America owes you a deep debt of gratitude.

Across the country, there are over 700,000 law enforcement officers. You and I both know that the vast majority of these individuals are hard-working public servants who do a dangerous job justly and fairly, with excellence and with honor. We cannot tolerate any officers who cross the line and abuse their position by violating people's civil rights or bringing their own individual biases to the job. Equal justice under the law must be for everyone, and I ask you to be mindful of perceptions that others may have of you when you do your job. A little time taken to simply explain yourself can go a long way in erasing any mis-perceptions. We must do everything possible to maintain the trust between law enforcement officers and all Americans. Without public trust we cannot effectively do our jobs.

In addition, we must push forward and take the necessary steps that will reduce the risks that too many Peace Officers face everyday. Time and time again our law enforcement officers are gunned down. Last year alone, over sixty-five were killed in the line of duty, and all but three of these lives were taken by firearms. Quite simply, we must keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals. And if making it only slightly more inconvenient for law-abiding citizens to obtain guns is what we need to do then we must. If filling out additional paperwork or waiting for a background check to be completed is needed to save a law enforcement officer's life, then every American must be willing to do this. In light of the recent school shootings and in the memory of those that we are honoring today, I hope that you will support reasonable restrictions on the purchase and transfer of guns.

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- with 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 will probably never know the answers to these questions, but we do know that we can take efforts to prevent hatred and intolerance from developing. I'm sure that you all have witnessed the rehabilitation of a prisoner who felt that there was no answer to his problems and no foreseeable future, and I'm sure that you were fulfilled by seeing him return to society, and become a productive citizen. As you know, a little time invested and a little care shown can make a dramatic impact in a person's life. We must make this same investment for all of our children. We have to listen to them and try to understand them. We must not be hesitant to set rules for them. Parents, teachers, and community leaders must all engage our children to ensure that they grow physically and mentally and morally strong.

All of you-- our nation's law enforcement officers, our nation's corrections officers-- should take a leading role. I ask all of you to become a mentor to a needy child. You are role models in your communities. You can have a substantial impact on the lives of our young people. Teach them the difference between right and wrong. Make them understand the difference between video games and real life, and, most importantly, simply be there for them to talk to. I think you will be surprised at what a difference you can make.

I know that nothing can be said today to undo the tragedies that we have witnessed or bring back our friends and loved ones. There is nothing that can be said to erase the pain or explain why they had to leave us. 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 and the embrace of a nation that mourns with you. Always remember that these law enforcement officers made the ultimate sacrifice, but they did not die in vain. All of you must make sure of that by continuing their life's work.

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.