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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 15, 1995
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

West Front of Capitol Grounds

12:49 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you, Dewey Stokes, for your kind introduction, for your stirring call to continued vigilance in the cause of law enforcement, and for your eight years of fine leadership of the FOP. I have enjoyed working with you, and I know that I speak for all law enforcement and, indeed, all Americans who know anything about what has been done in this town in the last eight years to fight for more sensible and more peaceful laws for our people, when I thank you for eight years of service and congratulate you on what you have done.

Thank you, Karen Lippe, for what you said. Attorney General Reno; Secretary Rubin; Senator Biden; Congressman Lightfoot; -- I see Senator Thurmond and Congressman Ramstad out in the audience -- there may be others; members of the law enforcement community in the United States and their family members; and most especially to the fine families whom we honor here today for the awful losses they have sustained.

I am proud to be with you here today to honor the 157 men and women who died for their country, for law, for order, for peace and freedom last year. They will be long be remembered for their service to our communities, to their families and to the nation. They were in every sense American heroes.

Just before I came out here I had the privilege of meeting with the family of Hank Daly, who was gunned down in Washington last November by a man who brought an assault weapon to the station house. To the Daly family and to all the families who are here, I say a profound thank you.

Today we pay tribute not only to those who died but to the families and friends who lost them, and to the fellow officers who carry on the work that they did. We are here as well to carry on that work, to ensure that we live in a nation that is safe, just and free.

Freedom has endured in this country for more than 200 years now because we have always recognized that we cannot have liberty without responsibility. If we are going to preserve the enormous freedoms we have in America -- the freedom to speak, the freedom to assemble, to freedom to bear arms -- then all Americans must join in and join you and recognize that we cannot preserve the freedoms without responsibility. (Applause.)

If we aren't safe in our homes at night, if our children aren't safe as they go to and from school, if our parents and grandparents are afraid to leave their apartments, if our shopkeepers are afraid to go to work and stay there, if our police officers have to live in mortal fear every single day, then to that extent, my fellow Americans, we are not free. And it is not enough for citizens to say fighting crime is the government's job, and as long as I'm not violating the law, I have utterly no responsibility to help; I'll oppose any reasonable law enforcement measure I don't like; I will go about my business; I have no responsibility. Neither it is enough for people in government to say, we've gone so far, we can't go any further; until our people, our culture, our values change, we'll just be too lawless and too violent.

My friends, violence in America can not pose a choice between individual responsibility and social responsibility. The level of violence and crime, the death we mourn and honor today demands more of both.

Government's first responsibility is law and order -- to prevent crime, to punish criminals, to give you in law enforcement the tools you need to do both. That is why I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you last year to pass the crime bill, and the Brady Bill before it. The FOP and every major organization of law enforcement in our country supported and fought for those measures.

The crime bill, as Dewey said, will put 100,000 more police officers on our streets, prevent crime and toughen sentences. And it will make clear, as Dewey called for, that anyone who murders a law enforcement officer from now on will face the death penalty. (Applause.)

Police officers like you engaged in community policing are the single best way to fight crime and to prevent it. I will not stand for any attempt to undermine our common efforts to put 100,000 more police officers on the street. I will not allow you to be outnumbered or to be outgunned. The Brady Bill was the right thing to do. And it is saving lives in America today. The people who are against you and would not support you were wrong. We have evidence, you were right, and we must stand with you. (Applause.)

And you asked us to ban deadly assault weapons for a reason. You were tired of seeing criminals like drug dealers use weapons of war to gun down police officers on our streets. We did that in a bill which also protected hundreds of sporting and hunting weapons. And because of the ban on assault weapons, every year from now on there will be fewer names on the memorial not far from here. (Applause.)

We have also done a great deal to increase the partnership between national law enforcement and those at the state and local level. For that I thank the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury. I thank the Directors of the Secret Service and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms who are here; and the FBI Director, and all who have worked so hard so that we could do our part to help you to keep America safer.

But the guts of what we did was in the crime bill, the Brady Bill, and the assault weapons ban. So when the NRA holds its annual meeting later this week, I want them to know they can pressure Congress all they want to try to repeal the assault weapons ban, but as long as I am President that ban will be the law of our land. (Applause.)

I also agree with the fine letter that President Bush wrote just a few days ago. Law enforcement officers in this country deserve our respect and support. No one has the right to run them down or to suggest that somehow it is all right for them to be put in harm's way. That is not the American way, and anybody who does it ought to be ashamed of themselves. (Applause.)

You never walk away from your responsibility. And your country is not about to walk away from you. If you're going to do your job on the streets, we all have to do a better job, not just here in government, but as citizens and parents. We have to do a better job knowing that we are raising children who understand that actions have consequences, who know the difference between right and wrong, who understand that they need to be part of a country and a community that looks out for them and gives them people to look up to, like all of you and all the men and women we honor today.

The tragic bombing in Oklahoma City last month first unmasked the evil that humans are capable of. But the incredible response of the brave people of Oklahoma City and those who came from all over America to lend a hand also shows us that in this country of ours, in the end, good can prevail.

Eight federal law enforcement officials died in the line of duty in the Oklahoma City bombing. One of them, Al Whicher, a Secret Service agent, who served on my security detail, and President Bush's, had just recently moved to Oklahoma City, where we all thought he and his family would have a more regular and more relaxed life.

I will never forget the look I saw this morning in Mrs. Daly's face when she said, I knew my husband was going to be in law enforcement, and I was proud of that, but I never expected this to happen to us. As I look across this sea of people wearing their corsages today, I'm sure that you never expected it to happen to you.

Let me say, first of all, to you that I know this is a painful day for you. And I applaud your personal courage in enduring the pain to be here. But you have set an example for your country by being willing to be here. You have let America see you. And as long as America sees you, we will not be able to forget what our duty is to those whom you loved and all others who do that work. Thank for your courage for being here. (Applause.)

Here in Washington our duty is to bring the terrorists who committed the horrible act in Oklahoma City to justice. And we will do that. And we must do everything in our power to make sure such a tragedy never happens again. Because open societies all over the world are now more vulnerable to the organized forces of destruction and evil, whether they rise up from within our country or come here from without, we must do what we can to ensure that law enforcement has the tools to deal with this profound threat to our security and our way of life. I have sent Congress legislation that will do exactly that.

Last month in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy, congressional leaders promised that I would have the antiterrorism legislation on my desk by Memorial Day. Since then we have seen disturbing signs of the old politics of diversion and delay. This plays into the hands of those who would blame the law enforcement officers who keep the law, rather than the criminals who break it. We make a grave mistake in this country, my fellow Americans, when we confuse responsibility in that way. And we must not tolerate it.

Come Friday, a month will have passed since the Oklahoma City bombing. Congress must act and act quickly. It would be a good way to honor the victims of Oklahoma City and the police officers we honor today if the Congress would say, this is not a political issue, this is an American issue. We're going into the next century with the tools to fight the kind of outrage we endured in Oklahoma City. And we are going to do it without delay. (Applause.)

My fellow Americans, we can win the fight against terrorism and we can lower the crime rate in America. We can reduce the number of law enforcement officers we have to honor here every year. And we can reduce the number of innocent citizens who are killed, the number of innocent children who are deprived of the chance even to grow up. We can do this if we will stand shoulder to shoulder, citizens and law enforcement, and do what we know works to lower the crime rate, catch criminals and punish them appropriately. If every law-abiding citizen will raise a voice against crime and violence, that is the beginning of wisdom and progress.

So I ask you all today, never forget that the overwhelming majority of people in this country honor you, value you, care for your welfare and the welfare of your families. But never forget, until our job is done we must live with the burning reminder of the heartbreak of the families here today, and we must do our duty. No turning back. And we must not let any group in this country say that they don't have responsibility for improved law enforcement and a lower crime rate, that they don't have a responsibility to help, that they can ignore what you know works to save lives and build a better future.

You can be very proud of the progress which has been made in the last couple of years, not just here in Washington with the crime bill, the assault weapons ban and the Brady law, but on your streets -- on your streets, where in place after place the crime rate is declining. But we are a long way from home.

The happiest day in the lives of people in law enforcement will be the day when we can come here and have not one single solitary heartbroken family to honor. (Applause.)

Thank you, and God bless you all. (Applause.)

END1:06 P.M. EDT