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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks at the Dedication Ceremony for the Police Memorial in Portland, Oregon


Thank you, Chief Walker, and I just want to repeat what I told you: I've been looking forward very much to being here today, pay my respects to so many. And thank you for doing the introduction. Wonderfully brief -- a wonderfully brief introduction. [Laughter]

And let me just say what a pleasure it is to have Bill Bennett with me. He is our leader in the Federal Government, all across the Federal Government, in the fight against narcotics. And in my view, he is doing not only a job of sacrifice but an outstanding job for our country, and we ought to be very, very grateful to him.

And also, one of our great Congressmen is here, Denny Smith, one of the people I count on in Washington in our efforts to fight crime, and also Secretary of State Roberts and Attorney General Frohnmayer, my great friend who is doing a fine job in this law enforcement field -- has been for years -- out front long before its time.

And Mayor Clark and friends, relatives, and all of us who are admirers of Portland's finest, it's a privilege to be with you and to officially dedicate a monument that embodies integrity, sacrifice and, above all, courage -- just plain courage -- qualities that define the essence of law enforcement officers and of the United States of America as well. In the Bible we read: ``Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.'' The men we salute today laid down their lives for us. We meet today to thank them on behalf of every American.

There will be 21 names on the Portland Police Memorial, names like McCarthy, Owens, Palmer. They ranged in age from 26 to 68. Yet their story eclipses mere stone and masonry, as striking as they are. Each life was precious; each life very, very precious indeed. Each loss, searing and individual. They left behind fathers and mothers and children and wives.

The first to give his life, Thomas O'Connor, died in 1867. He was shot in a saloon, trying to break up a brawl. Like other cops of his day, his task was to civilize society. Six years ago, Stanley Pounds became Portland's last police officer killed in the line of duty. He knew, as we do, that our task must be to defend civility through America's system of law.

Achieving this will require character to rival these 21 policemen who gave of themselves and their lives, cops who knew that in a job where one sees too often man's inhumanity to man one could also prove man's fidelity to honor. They, like the disabled law enforcement officers here, are heroes of the great Pacific Northwest. We must salute them, remember them. But how?

First, in the most elemental sense, by recalling what they stood for -- and against, as well. They were men of peace, fighting crime. They stood for good, against evil. They knew that black and white hats were not Hollywood fiction. They despised the cruelty of thugs who brutalize America's quiet, gentle, decent people.

Second, we can honor them by enacting laws which free our country from the fear of crime and drugs. When we ask what kind of a society the American people deserve, our answer is a nation in which law-abiding citizens are safe and feel safe. We must reject those who soft-pedal the need to be hard on crime.

One year ago this week, I stood on Capitol Hill before a group of law enforcement officials and announced my comprehensive package to combat violent crime. One year later, Congress has addressed part of the problem by providing the new Federal troops we asked for: new agents to arrest violent criminals, new prosecutors to convict them, and new prisons to hold them. But our job isn't finished; it's just begun.

So, today, I call on the United States Congress to pass the major part of the Violent Crime Act, legislation that will back up our new lawmen with new laws, laws that are fair, fast, and final. Fair: an exclusionary rule designed to punish the guilty and not good cops who've acted in good faith. Fast: we need habeas corpus reforms to stop the frivolous appeals that are choking our courts. And final: fair, constitutionally sound death penalty provisions.

I hope by now the country knows my belief; I hope you know my belief: For anyone who kills a law enforcement officer, no legal penalty is too tough. And that goes for drug kingpins who threaten a Federal witness, a juror, or a judge. We want Congress to enact the steps needed to expand the death penalty not sometime, not someplace, but across our great country, America. And I mean now.

The Violent Crime Act will achieve these reforms. And yet for the past year it's gathered dust in the House, spawned weak imitations in the Senate. America deserves better, and so do the 163 police officers who died last year. And tomorrow the Senate begins debate on our crime legislation, and I call on it to honor the memory of police, both living and dead.

Now, I know some say there are reasons for crime, and I say there's never an excuse. And, yes, we support programs for rehabilitation and recovery -- we should. We do. We support education, the goal of which is to keep people off drugs and away from crime. And we support counseling and other steps to prevent crime. But we cannot and we must not neglect law enforcement. When it comes to understanding, I say let's have a little more understanding and caring for the victims of crime and certainly for our law enforcement officers. And that is why our Violent Crime Act is based on three principles: Criminals must understand that if they commit crimes they will be caught; and if caught, they will be prosecuted; and if convicted, they will be punished. By taking hoods off the streets, we can, and must, take back the streets.

Already, we've acted administratively to ensure no deals when criminals use a gun. Our Violent Crime Act goes still further. Remember, it does no good to send law troops into battle wearing handcuffs. And so, I urge the Senate and, in coming weeks, the House to act quickly and build America up by opposing those who would tear America down. Together, let's pass this bill and help win our war on crime.

Yet I was talking to the attorney general coming in here. Our war on the Federal level alone isn't going to get the job done -- can't be won on the Federal level alone. Here in this great State, here in Oregon, as elsewhere, you know that crime is personal; it's not remote. And so, led by Denny Smith, your outstanding Congressman, you founded Oregonians Against Crime, a citizens' crime-fighting group of 115,000 law-abiding Oregonians. We can honor the heroes of the great Pacific Northwest by doing nationally what you're doing locally.

Oregonians Against Crime successfully passed the anticrime initiative that requires repeat, violent career criminals to serve their full sentences behind bars -- no parole, no temporary leave, no time off for good behavior, no weekend passes, none of this mumbo jumbo which blames the failings on the TV or on the schools or other scapegoats of society for the evil of certain individuals.

This initiative, supported by close to 1 million Oregonians, the highest vote total in this State's history, led the Oregon Legislature last year to pass a full slate of anticrime legislation, from more prison cells to tougher sentencing. You have shown the way, and every State in our country should follow. So, I call on all legislatures to boost local law enforcement through new prosecutors, police, and new prisons and by toughening crime laws at the State level, including the death penalty for the killing of local enforcement officers.

This brings me then to the final way we can honor the heroes of the great Pacific Northwest. We must tell their story to generations yet unborn, like the story of two men who are with us today. One is Sergeant Earl Johnson, shot and blinded while trying to cover his fellow officers. The other, Stanley Harmon, shot by a drug addict, now a paraplegic. To you, to your colleagues: a grateful nation salutes you.

Nothing we can say here can equal the sacrifice of Americans like these. What we can do is ensure that that sacrifice was not in vain. So, let us honor the men of this memorial, acting not only through words but deeds, to ensure a future as great as America herself. This memorial will be a monument to a nation that is right-minded and resolute, a people at once unafraid and free. It's my great privilege to now open the tribute to the greatest heroes any country could have: the Portland Police Memorial.

God bless them, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you all very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 4:35 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum. In his remarks, he referred to William J. Bennett, Director of National Drug Control Policy; Barbara Roberts, secretary of state of Oregon; and David Frohnmayer, State attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate.

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