This week, weather permitting, the soft glow of thousands of candles will illuminate the Washington Mall between 4th and 7th Streets. A great many of those holding the candles and passing the flame that gives them light will be law enforcement leaders and beat cops, supporting each other and recognizing the devastating loss of dozens of their brothers and sisters while “on the job.” Most important of all, those gathered will try to share burden of loss visited upon the mothers, fathers, spouses, sons and daughters of the fallen who will be in their midst and in their hearts.
In May 1963, President John F. Kennedy issued Proclamation 3537, recognizing that from our nation’s very beginnings, “law enforcement officers have played an important role in safeguarding the rights and freedoms which are guaranteed by the Constitution and in protecting the lives and property of our citizens”, noting that Police Week, which occurs during the week of May 15 each year, is intended to honor peace officers who “through their courageous deeds, have lost their lives or have become disabled in the performance of duty.”
The Kennedy proclamation invited governments, organizations and the people to observe Police Week with ceremonies in which all could join to commemorate, “law enforcement officers, past and present, who by their faithful and loyal devotion to their responsibilities have rendered a dedicated service to their communities, and, in so doing, have established for themselves an enviable and enduring reputation for preserving the rights and security of all citizens.”
Fifty-five years after that noble proclamation, Police Week events are again centered around the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial near Judiciary Square in Northwest Washington D.C., where the names of over 21,000 officers who lost their lives in the line of duty are carved into low stone walls. This year, over 300 more names will be added to the growing list that now includes officers and agents who responded to the 9/11 plane crash sites and were later felled because of their exposure to deadly toxins at the sites.
In the days before and for a few weeks after Police Week ceremonies, gathering memorials, large and small, decorate the curved marble walls of the memorial and spaces nearby. In the renewing sunshine of late spring, it’s a sight to behold, very much a celebration of the once vibrant lives that have been reduced to line after line of names carved into stone. Yet it’s a place that’s understated, unobtrusive, and easily be overlooked by the throngs of tourists who flock to the D.C. Mall from spring to fall. It shouldn’t be so easily overlooked because behind those names are amazing acts of selfless sacrifice, incredible dedication to public service, and true reflections of the heart of policing in America.
Law enforcement is a resilient profession and it needs to be. The mistakes or missteps of a few can too often be interpreted as a reflection of the character of all, initiating a cycle of attack and defense to attack. On occasion, as we’ve witnessed in recent years, the attacks haven’t been just rhetorical but literal. The names are on those marble panels: NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos (53-W: 29) and Wenjian Liu (49-W: 29) were gunned down outside a Brooklyn apartment complex in December 2014. Eighteen months later, Dallas Police Officers Lorne Ahrens (3-E: 30), Michael Krol (27-W: 30), and Michael Smith (55-W: 30), and Dallas Area Rapid Transit Officers Brent Thompson (23-W: 30) and Patricio Zamarripa (46-W: 30), were cut down by a police assassin in Dallas in the deadliest attack on law enforcement since the 9/11 terror attacks. There have been more.
This year, deadly firearms attacks on police are outpacing 2017, with 28 gunfire fatalities, compared to 17 a year ago, a chilling 65 percent increase. Every cop traveling to Washington, D.C. for Police Week has those numbers in their head as they contemplate their next shift.
In a welcome turn for law enforcement, they have both a president and attorney general who recognize their sacrifices and celebrate their successes. The president has taken repeated opportunities to proclaim the greatness of the nation’s law enforcement officers. Police across the country have heard that and welcome the vocal support. Likewise, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken steps to reset police relationships with the Justice Department which, just a few years ago, were accusatory and frayed.
But Sunday night’s vigil and other Police Week events are about much more. They invite public attendance and public support, the latter being critical to the success of law enforcement everywhere. In our politically polarized nation where police and community relationships can be marked by distrust and distance, both police and citizen would do well to see the world through the lens of the other. The words of President Kennedy’s proclamation and the solemn start of Police Week provide a good starting point for that new understanding.
Ron Hosko is president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and a former FBI assistant director.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.