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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks at the Dedication of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial

1991-10-15

Thank you all very much. Thank you, Senator D'Amato. Please be seated, all of you. And Barbara and I are just delighted to be with you here today. Mr. Speaker, honored to have you here, sir. I understand that Senator Mitchell was here, had to leave. Senator Pell is with us. And, of course, your friend and mine, Al D'Amato, who's out there on the firing line day in and day out on behalf of our law enforcement officers. Al, thank you for that introduction, sir.

May I thank especially Craig Floyd. And I heard Barbara Dodge's moving remarks, in the back, Barbara and I just when we came here. I salute her. Of course, our Acting Attorney General Bill Barr; former Attorney General Ed Meese; the head of the FBI is with us; head of the Secret Service; and so many others that are committed to law enforcement.

I also was told that Jim and Sarah Brady are here. I don't know if that's true or not, but in any event, they're here in spirit if they're not here in purpose. Here they are over here as a matter of fact: Jim.

This Nation has erected many monuments to generals and admirals, privates and seamen who defended our Nation's freedom against tyranny and oppression. We gather here today to dedicate this memorial to uniformed heroes of another sort: Those who enforce the law and keep us secure here at home.

For too long, America's lawmen and women have been the forgotten heroes, forgotten until there's trouble, until we're stranded on the road, or frantically dialing 911 at home.

Today we remember these heroes and heroines. ``Now the real healing can start,'' says Vivian Eney. Vivian, as you know, past president of Concerns of Police Survivors, here's her quote, ``When the grave doesn't look new anymore, when the grass has grown over it, this will be the place to come, to see the names, to touch the names.''

Visitors will come here. Some will be children, perhaps looking for a father or mother they never really knew. Who were these people? they will ask. They were policemen and policewomen, marshals and sheriffs, State troopers, special agents. They gave their lives in the line of duty. And they were young and old, ranging from 19 to 81. And they had names as diverse as America itself: Donald Kowalski, Patrick O'Malley, Freddie Lee Jackson, Tommy DeLaRosa, Jose Gonzales, Donna Miller. And they had wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, and so many young children. Most of all they had love: Love for their profession; love for their communities; love for their families; love that can still be felt in this special place right here today.

They devoted themselves to the timeless values that society shares. They valued the law. They valued peace: The peace of a civilized community that protects children at play, families at home, and storekeepers at work. They valued human life so much that they were prepared to give their lives to protect it.

They gave much and asked little. They deserve our remembrance. Here in America's Capital, for as long as these walls stand, they will be remembered, not for the way they died, but for how they lived.

They didn't ask for honors, though honor them we will. We honor them with these walls, with these trees and grass, quiet pool of water. But we can honor them in a more profound way, a more lasting way, by strengthening the laws that they swore to uphold.

Since 1989, on a rainy spring day I know many of you remember, I've tried to persuade Congress that our police need help. Too many times, in too many cases, too many criminals go free because the scales of justice are unfairly tipped against dedicated lawmen and women like you. With your help, that will change.

We need a crime bill that will stop the endless, frivolous habeas corpus appeals that waste time prosecutors could be spending on new cases. We need a crime bill that says to police, ``Look, if you act in good faith, evidence will not be suppressed in court based on needless technicalities.'' We need a crime bill with tough penalties, such as a 10-year minimum sentence to anyone using a semi-automatic weapon in a violent or drug-related crime with no plea bargains, no parole. And Al D'Amato touched on it, but we need a crime bill that warns would-be killers out there, ``Be prepared to pay with your own life.''

I asked Congress to pass these proposals more than 2 years ago. And we've gotten, very candidly, only a piecemeal response. This week, the House of Representatives is voting on a crime bill. But for that bill to be worth anything, it must contain the crucial elements that I've just cited, elements the House Judiciary Committee refused to include, unfortunately, in the bill itself. Congress is only a few blocks away. And they've heard from me, and they're going to keep on hearing from me. But really, on this one, if you feel as strongly as I do, and I know you do, they need to hear from you.

There is a war going on out there, a war between criminals and a good society. We know that war will not end as long as evil dwells in men's souls. But we can work to lock up those who are too violent to live in civilized society. And we can support the law enforcement officers who are on the front lines saving us every single day of our lives. And we can put new laws on the books to keep new names off of these walls.

President Coolidge long ago told us, ``The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.'' We will not forget. America will not forget. And we will not forget, obviously, those we honor, those who died. We will not forget those who protect and serve every single day of the year.

In the Oval Office, as you all know, a lot of important papers and documents cross that desk in that majestic office, no matter who's President, every single day. Most of them stay there just a day or two. But inside the drawer, one thing stays: a New York City patrolman's badge, number 14072. I brought it along today. It belonged to Eddie Byrne, a rookie cop who was guarding a witness when he was gunned down on the orders of a drug dealer in jail. Eddie's father, Matt Byrne, asked me to keep that badge as a ``reminder of all the brave police officers who put their lives on the line for us every single day.'' Well, I've kept it. And I have it with me here today, and I will always keep it, when I'm President and long after I leave this majestic office I'm so proud to hold.

When society asks someone to put on a badge and place it over his or her heart, we make a sacred covenant, a covenant that says, ``We as a society stand behind those who enforce the law against those who break the law.'' And that's what Eddie Byrne's badge means to me.

This memorial gives meaning to that covenant, gives meaning to these lives, gives meaning to the law and what it stands for. No number of words or wreaths, no amount of music or memorializing, will do justice here today, but we have begun the remembrance and begun the healing.

And once again, thank you very much for allowing Barbara and me to share this moment with you. And may God bless the law enforcement officers of our great country. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:34 p.m. at Judiciary Square. In his remarks, the President referred to Senators Alfonse M. D'Amato, George J. Mitchell, and Claiborne Pell; Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas S. Foley; Craig Floyd, chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund; Barbara Dodge, president of Concerns of Police Survivors; Acting Attorney General William Barr; former Attorney General Edwin Meese III; William S. Sessions, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; John R. Simpson, Director of the United States Secret Service; former Press Secretary James Brady and his wife, Sarah; and Vivian Eney, former president of Concerns of Police Survivors.

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