Remarks at the National Police Officers Memorial Service
Thank you very much. Thank you so much, Dewey Stokes, not only for that very fine introduction but for the 13 years that the Fraternal Order of the Police has sponsored this National Police Officers Memorial Service and for your many terms as leader of this distinguished organization. Thank you, Karen Lippe, for your service. It's an honor for me to be here with so many of our distinguished Federal law enforcement officials, including Chief Gary Albrecht, the chief of the Capitol Police; John Magaw, the Director of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau, formerly the Director of the United States Secret Service and once a member of the FOP as a trooper in Ohio, a person who's given his entire life to law enforcement. I'd like to say a special word of thanks, too, to our Attorney General for bringing to the National Government a real understanding of what it's like to be involved in the world of law enforcement at the grassroots level, where the crimes are committed, where the violence is greatest against our law enforcement officials, where so much of our work needs to be done.
My fellow Americans, you know better than anyone else for every name that is added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, there's a face, a family, and a human tragedy. Three months ago in Columbus, Ohio, I met the widow and the precinct sergeant of police officer Chris Klites, who was shot to death on duty after he stopped a suspicious car. He had married just a month before he was killed. This morning I met the families of police officer Stephen Faulkner of Kansas City—and I had met Mrs. Faulkner earlier at a health care forum; I saw her two fine sons today— and Deputy Sheriff Norman Tony Silva of Denver, I met his wife and his wonderful young son today. Raymond Silva wrote me a letter at age 7, which I still have and which I reread this morning before I came over here. He said in his letter, "My Dad was 30 years old when he got shot. He used to play games with us and make us laugh. His badge number was H7048. I wish you could know him. He was the best Dad ever."
We owe a lot to that young boy. We owe a lot to every spouse, every child, every grandchild, every parent, every uncle, every aunt, every brother, every sister, every friend of all those whom we come here to honor today. We pay tribute not only to those who have died but to those who have lost them, to the survivors. And we pay tribute to the more than half million law enforcement officers who still go to work every day, not knowing for sure if that day they will be required to make the ultimate sacrifice.
I hope all of you today who come here with your personal grief bear also a continuing pride in the work that your loved ones did. I hope those of you who come to honor others will not flinch in your pride and will continue to pray for the safety of those who serve.
Today I would say that more than anything else, we ought to rededicate ourselves to becoming a country worthy of the heroes we come here to honor. Every day, law enforcement officers take the oath to uphold the law and defend citizens. Fear is a constant companion; still, law enforcement officers go out every day wearing the badge and the uniform that symbolize that commitment. These are, these commitments, in a way, acts of faith that most Americans most of the time are going to do what is right and deserve to be protected, deserve to be honored, deserve to have the risks of life, as we all work together to be the country we ought to be.
That is why I say today as citizens, we are the ones who should be taking a solemn oath to the law enforcement community that this next year we will all work harder to be the country we ought to be. Because if we don't restore the fabric of civilized life in this country, then it is ultimately futile for us and unfair for you to ask you to go out on the streets and risk your lives. We must determine that we are going to become a less violent, less dangerous, less crime-ridden, more hopeful, more unified society. We owe that to the people who we will honor today, to their families, and to the future of this country.
We are clearly moving in the right direction, but sometimes it takes us too long to do the right thing. I appreciate what Dewey said about the Brady bill. Those of you who understand how it works know it is already moving to save lives, but it should not have taken 7 years and a whole national election to get that done. We are moving in the right direction, but we must move more quickly.
Under the leadership of the Attorney General, the Justice Department has already granted funds to 250 American communities of all sizes to increase their police staff. Much of what we still need to do is in the crime bill now before the Congress to which Dewey Stokes referred. If we pass it, as we should, it will put another 100,000 police officers on the street in community policing settings, not only working to catch criminals but to work with each other to make policing safer and to reduce crime before it occurs.
This bill will take assault weapons off the street, 19 different ones, making sure that police officers will not be outgunned by criminals armed with weapons of mass destruction. It should not have taken this crime bill 5 years to get to this point, but it has, and now we are moving. Against enormous odds, 216 courageous Members of the House of Representatives stood up and were counted in favor of the assault weapons ban. I hope all of you in law enforcement will go home to the districts of those 216 Representatives, without regard to their political party, and stand up for them because they stood up for you.
Many of them put their political lives on the line in the hopes that it would help you never to have to put your life on the line. That is the sort of attitude we need among the American people today. This bill has tougher penalties, including the "three strikes and you're out" provision. We recognize that there should be capital punishment for people who kill law enforcement officials in the line of duty. And we recognize, too, something that Congress will be called upon to grapple with as we finish this crime bill, and that is that we must invest in prevention and use law enforcement officials in the work of prevention.
Law enforcement officials tend to be much more supportive than many politicians in the work of keeping young people away from crime in the first place, because people in law enforcement know how some tender, smart, intelligent act to a young child may head off a whole life of crime and another tragedy 1 or 2 or 5 or 10 or even 15 years down the road. And I thank the law enforcement community for their leadership to keep prevention a part of our efforts to make America a safer place.
I also want to thank all of you who personally give your time to that. I'll never forget the first time my daughter came home from school and talked to me about her D.A.R.E. officer in her fifth grade class. And I'll never forget in that year how I learned more about that man and his work and his family than I did about anything else going on in the school. Do not ever think that you don't have a big impact on the young people of this country when they see you in the uniform, standing up for what's right and showing that you care for them. There are so many kids in this country in so much trouble. They need you, and you can make a difference.
The job of law enforcement is so dangerous today not only because criminals are better armed but because our society is too often coming apart when it ought to be coming together, because too many of you deal with the wreckage coming from the breakdown of family and work and community. And I think you know that we all have to do something about that.
Just yesterday I saw the tragic story of the young 13-year-old boy here in a community near Washington, DC, who came from a poor family and had just won a scholarship to a fine school to give him a chance to live a better life. And he was standing, waiting for a bus when he got caught in the crossfire between two gangs, senselessly killed, his whole life taken away just when so much hope was opened up.
There is something profoundly wrong when so many children are out there killing other children with no thought, apparently no understanding of the consequences. And I tell you, my fellow Americans, it is still true that the vast majority of us are law-abiding, God-fearing, family-loving, hard-working people. But too many of us are falling between the cracks of life.
And so I say again, today we must dedicate ourselves, all of us, to making America worthy of the sacrifice of the law enforcement officials who have fallen and those who still risk their lives every day. I ask today that we say a prayer on this beautiful Sunday for the law enforcement officers and their families who paid the ultimate sacrifice, for our fellow citizens who have been victims of crime and violence, and for those who live halfway in prison, behind locked doors and barred windows, and a prayer, ultimately, that somehow we can change the heart and mind of America. We must change our country so that more of us live up to its best hopes and its ideals.
I am encouraged that we are moving in the right direction. The Brady bill, the grants to communities for police, the crime bill: this means America is awakening to this problem. But in the end, it is you, the people who live in our streets, in our neighborhoods, who work in our communities, who go to our churches on Sunday, who must help to teach America to keep faith with justice, with our fellow citizens, and with our country's proud heritage. The whole future of America is riding on it. We have turned the tide, now we must continue until the work is done.
Thank you all, and God bless you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 10:22 a.m. on Capitol Hill. In his remarks, he referred to Dewey Stokes, national president, Fraternal Order of Police, and Karen Lippe, president, Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at the National Police Officers Memorial Service Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/219912