House GOP members decry ‘defund the police’ while honoring fallen officers during ‘one of the deadliest years in history’
This week marks the 30th Anniversary of National Police Week and it comes during one of the deadliest years in history for law enforcement officers. The names of 394 fallen officers will be added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C.
House Republican lawmakers sought to honor the fallen officers on Thursday by participating in a “Back The Blue Bike Tour” where they joined U.S. Capitol Police Officers for a bike ride through Washington D.C. and laid wreaths for the deceased officers from their respective home states. This year, added to the memorial’s walls will include the names of Sgt. Chris Eney, Det. John Gibson, Officer Jacob Chestnut, Sgt. Clinton Holtz, Officer Brian Sicknick, Officer Billy Evans, Officer Howard Liebengood. 4 of them were Capitol Police Officers.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy thanked the officers for their sacrifice. “To all the officers, please know you are making a difference,” McCarthy said. “You are helping people. We the American people. appreciate your tireless work. If you don’t hear it in the times of struggle if you don’t hear it in the times of someone protesting maybe yelling in your face, know that you’re loved, respected, and appreciated.”
He continued, “This is a year the Capitol Police have not seen before. Every morning, you wake up, you go out, you don’t realize what the day holds.”
McCarthy also touched on recent movements calling for the ‘defunding’ of police departments and he shut down the notion that it would make communities better off.
“Now, more than ever, Congress must show our gratitude for the service and sacrifice of our fallen heroes. We should not talk about defunding of the police, we should talk about providing what they need to protect us. We should not make politics out of security and safety for our communities,” McCarthy explained.
Later asked about how people can support law enforcement when many journalists are being “hostile” towards officers, McCarthy said the public should learn “to respect the job that the men and women do every day,” adding that “the struggle that they have today is even greater than it was years before.”
“We saw one of the deadliest years that we haven’t seen where they lost their lives in protection and security and safety,” he told the reporter. “We have people across America afraid to be out in their communities, afraid to be out at night. I think we should all take a very deep breath and understand the men and women come from all walks of life and they all do it for one reason… making a difference. And I think the respect we should give them goes above and beyond and I don’t think we should be cutting them, I think we should help and support and give them the training that they need and the community policing. That’s something that we put forward in our commitment to America that we’d actually add money, more body cameras, more community training, more community policing…”
Capitol Police Acting Chief Sean Gallagher followed McCarthy’s remarks to speak on what has been a “tough and challenging year” for his officers. “We will get through these tough times,” he said as he thanked the lawmakers.
National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund CEO Marsha Ferranto also spoke during the “solemn” day. “We are preparing this evening at 8 pm to read the names of 394 fallen officers,” she said. “One of the deadliest years in history for law enforcement. 182 of those names are COVID deaths, confirmed law enforcement COVID deaths. We will be reading the names of law enforcement officers who didn’t have the choice to shelter in place, but put their lives on the line to make sure our communities were safe.”
Former Police Officer Rep. Pete Stauber, R-MN, who was once shot in the line of duty, fought back tears as he thanked the men and women in uniform. “As a former police officer, I know firsthand how dangerous the job is, I know what it is like to put on the uniform, kiss your family and kids goodbye, and head to work uncertain what type of call or situation you will encounter that day,” he said. “It is a hard job, it is a noble job, and it’s an honorable profession. I know that the men and women who serve and protect our communities each day do an excellent job.”
Stauber, like McCarthy, acknowledged the rise in anti-police rhetoric and denounced the “defund the police” movements. “In my 23 years with the Duluth, Minnesota Police Department, I served with some of the most compassionate and honorable people I have ever had the privilege to meet,” he said. “They became police officers because they love their community and they want to make a difference. That’s why it absolutely breaks my heart when I hear anti-police rhetoric and calls to defund the police.”
He added, “This kind of rhetoric is demoralizing and dangerous as it puts officers increasingly at risk. This reckless rhetoric cannot be tolerated. As a former police officer, I am so grateful for the chance to serve in Congress during this period and stand in defense of my brothers and sisters in blue. I will always have your back and so will my Republican colleagues. We will never forget the sacrifices that you have made and the sacrifices that your families have made. So thank you for protecting us from those who wish to do us harm. Thank you for bettering our communities. Our country is exceptional because of your courageous service. May God bless each and every one of you and God bless your families and God bless the fallen officers and their families. We will never forget them.”
Rep. Kat Cammack, R-FL, held back tears as she spoke about her experience as a wife of a law enforcement officer. “I’d like to talk to you today not as a member of Congress, but as the wife of a first responder,” she said. “Right now, my husband’s on his way to work, he’s headed to a SWAT callout and this is just a normal every day for us, but the feeling in the pit of my stomach never changes. To the families of the first responders of our LEOs that are having very uncomfortable, scary conversations at the dinner table, thank you. I know that those conversations are not getting any easier. I know because I’ve had them.”
Cammack also called out her Democrat colleagues who are pushing to ‘defund the police’ and invited them to experience the day to day of a law enforcement officer, saying it will change their perspective. Her passion was evident.
She explained, “To my colleagues who stand here today, thank you, thank you for having the backs of our LEOs and their families. To my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who have been calling for the defunding of our men and women in uniform, please consider joining us for an educational ride-along. I think it would be very illuminating. Thank you to all of the communities who’ve stood strong against the push for taking the critical lifesaving equipment off the backs of our men and women, despite tremendous pressure in the media, from local and national leaders, thank you. And to the families of all those that have a name on the wall behind us, please know that there is an army, a thin blue line army behind you, who thinks of you every single day. And for every man and woman who has given their life in the line of duty, please rest easy and know that we’ve got the watch.”
Rep. John Rutherford, R-FL, who was the sheriff in his community, spoke as someone with lived experience in law enforcement. “As we remember the men and women whose names are inscribed on these walls this morning, I want to talk about their life and their death,” he said. “And I’m gonna share with you the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said ‘the purpose in life is not to be happy, it’s to be useful, it’s to be compassionate, it’s to be honorable, it’s to have it make some difference that you lived and that you lived well.’ I’m here to testify the men and women on these walls, the men and women wearing that uniform lived well and they are living well. God bless them and God bless all of our first responders.”
McCarthy concluded the press conference with the following statement: “Many of us never knew them, but they ran in when the bullets were being fired, they came when we called, even if you didn’t support them, and they’re there to protect you to make your communities safer.”
You can follow Jennie Taer on Twitter @JennieSTaer
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