Public Papers

Remarks at the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the National Law Enforcement Officers' Memorial


Thank you all very much for that -- Sarah, Jim -- for that very warm welcome, Jim, and the kind words and for the hard work that you and Craig Floyd here and so many others have contributed to making this spectacular day a reality. Craig leaned over to me and said, ``This beats May 15th.'' [Laughter] And some of you may remember the event that we had, drenched in front of the Capitol up there. And the Lord is looking down on this one with a little more favor, I think.

I want to salute our able Attorney General, Dick Thornburgh, that rode over here with me -- doing an outstanding job. And I might say I'm very pleased to see his predecessor, Ed Meese, with us. He stood strong and tall for law enforcement, and I think we still all appreciate that very, very much. I'm delighted to see Chief Fulwood here and, of course, my friend Al D'Amato. Senator Pell has been detained, but there are several other Members of Congress, and I'd like to ask them to stand. I see Connie and Ben Gilman, but there may be others there, and I want to salute them because we're getting -- [applause] -- there's Senator Domenici back there also. And of course, I'm delighted to see my friend Dewey Stokes and Lee Greenwood with us, and so many others -- Phil Caruso -- so many others that are supporting all of this. It's a pleasure to be here.

All these leaders deserve our thanks, but I really also want to say thank you, America. More than 400,000 individuals have stepped forward to donate the funds for this memorial, a gift from a caring people and a grateful nation. And the sacrifices that we honor today began on a cold winter's day in January 1794. Robert Forsythe, a veteran of the Revolutionary War and one of George Washington's new Federal marshals, enlisted two deputies and went to serve some routine court papers on the Allen brothers of Augusta, Georgia. But then as now, every cop knows there's no such thing as a routine assignment. And when the marshal found the brothers, they fled upstairs and fired a single shot right through the door, and Robert Forsythe became the first casualty in an undeclared war that continues to this day.

Routine assignments continue to hold special danger for law enforcement. In 1988 Chicago police officer Irma Ruiz was a mother of four and a beloved mother figure to dozens of elementary students in the hallways she patrolled. But when a drug-crazed gunman attacked the school, Irma died protecting nearly 200 children and teachers.

Two cops, two sacrifices, two centuries apart, but both part of one tradition: the thin blue line that protects our nation from the evil within. The story to be carved on these walls is the story of America, of a continuing quest to preserve both democracy and decency and to protect a national treasure that we call the American dream.

You know the numbers. An estimated 30,000 officers have died defending law and order in America. And added to this are the wounded, a toll of disability and pain that rivals those of America's overseas wars. And each loss represents a hometown hero, a city of flags at half-mast, a somber procession of white gloves and black armbands, the bagpipe strains of ``Amazing Grace'' rising in the wind. And with each casualty is told the tale of a family so often forgotten: the brave spouses and parents and children who pay a terrible price in loneliness and loss. And many of you are here today, and many of you have played a critical role in bringing this memorial to life.

The law enforcement memorial ensures that what is so real to you today will never become a statistic. Each loss has a name, and each name has a story to tell. The polished granite walls of America's police memorial will bear witness to the sacrifice of frontier lawmen like Frank Dalton of Fort Smith, Arkansas, one of more than a hundred deputies gunned down by outlaws in the American West; and prohibition detectives like Harry McGinnis, killed in 1933 in a shootout with Bonnie and Clyde; Federal agents like Secret Serviceman Leslie Coffelt, mortally wounded while preventing two terrorists from assassinating President Harry Truman; and extraordinary policemen like Philadelphia's Albert Valentino, shot down just last week investigating a burglary.

For all who have lost their lives protecting the public, this memorial will stand as a tribute to their courage and their sacrifice. They will always be remembered here in the oval border of the Pathway of Remembrance. And they will always be remembered down the street in the Oval Office, where since the day I took office I've kept the badge of a rookie cop martyred last year in New York.

This memorial is also a tribute to the living: to the partners and the teammates of the fallen, to their families, and to all of you who are foot soldiers in the battle against lawlessness. In an age of indifference, you took a stand. You made a choice. You made your lives count for something. And your service matters not only because it saves lives and families and neighborhoods. It matters because it is the right thing to do.

And on May 13th, many of you -- I said 15th, maybe it was the 13th -- you gathered here in this same square to hold a candlelight vigil for your fellow officers. The night sky was pierced by one of the most appropriate and imaginative memorials ever brought to Washington: a single, crystal-blue beam of light, a laser, representing the thin blue line.

I'm right. Two days later on the 15th, a dismal, drizzly Washington afternoon, I stood shoulder to shoulder with many of you up there on Capitol Hill, armed with new proposals to help protect the pure, blue light of law enforcement. And we invited Congress to join us in a new partnership with America's cities and States, a new national strategy to take back the streets by taking criminals off the streets. The States need to do their part as well. We need mandatory prison terms for those using firearms for crime and an end to plea bargaining for violent firearms offenders. And for cop killers, for those who commit the ultimate crime, I feel strongly that they should pay the ultimate price. Congress has had our crime package since May. It is time to act because these improvements are a vital part of our national drug strategy and because, before any more names are added to that wall, the protection you deserve should be added to the books.

And so, it is with that hope and with great personal pride in America's police and in all who have contributed to this historic effort that I will now join in the groundbreaking for the National Law Enforcement Officers' Memorial. Thank you for coming. And thank you all, and God bless you. And especially, God bless those we honor here today. Thank you all very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:17 p.m. at Judiciary Square. In his remarks, he referred to James S. Brady, former Press Secretary to President Reagan, and Sarah Brady, his wife; James Kearns, chairman of the corporate leadership committee for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, and Craig Floyd, chairman of the fund; Isaac Fulwood, Jr., Washington, DC, police chief; Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York; Representatives Constance A. Morella of Maryland and Benjamin A. Gilman of New York; Dewey Stokes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police; country music singer Lee Greenwood; and Phil Caruso, president of the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.