The 40th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service was a difficult one indeed: 491 fallen officers were honored in front of the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, and the number wasn’t higher than average just because the 39th annual event was canceled due to COVID-19.
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Law enforcement deaths in the line of duty in 2020 were up a staggering 96 percent over the year before, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum, with 264 in 2020 compared to 135 the year before. (Massive riots and lawlessness can have that effect.)
“Being a cop today is one hell of a lot harder than it’s ever been,” Biden said in his speech, according to a White House transcript.
“We expect you to be people ready to stand in the way and take a bullet for us. We expect you to be able to track down the bad guys. We expect you to be the psychologist who talks the couple that are having a violent confrontation together to step back. We expect you to be everything. We expect everything of you.”
Just don’t expect the nation’s top law enforcement official to be there to honor them.
According to Fox News, Attorney General Merrick Garland wasn’t at the ceremony on Saturday for officers who died in the line of duty in 2019 and 2020, despite FBI Director Christopher Wray and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas attending.
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Garland attended a candlelight vigil for fallen officers on Thursday, according to a news release from Customs and Border Protection. Then again, so did Mayorkas, who found time to attend Saturday memorial — and Garland’s absence wasn’t the only thing that likely sounded a wrong note to police, either.
Biden’s speech managed to split duty — and not successfully — between paying tribute to fallen law enforcement heroes and paying lip-service to the president’s legislative agenda, much of it not beloved by the law enforcement community.
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See, for example, if you can tell just where the jaws started dropping among the men and women in uniform in attendance during this part of the speech:
“So, under the mournful sound of the bagpipes, we must also hear something else: A call to do better, to do more, to keep you safe, to keep our communities safer,” Biden said.
“For us to step up, to build trust and respect, and heal the breach we now see in so many communities. To recognize that the promise of equal and impartial justice remains a promise but not always a reality for you or others, particularly in low-income communities, too many communities — black and brown.”
Within mere moments, the president transitioned from honoring fallen police officers to a clarion call for social justice on racial and economic fronts. Not even the most deft rhetorical prestidigitator could have pulled that one off, and this is a president who, just a day prior, mispronounced “Nazi” as “nasity” and “transgender” as “chansgender” during a bizarre speech in Connecticut.
Moments later, Biden pitched the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the Democrats’ police reform plan that would mostly eliminate qualified immunity — the legal doctrine that protects government employees, including police officers, from civil lawsuits if they had reason to believe their actions were legal and justified — and give broad new powers to the federal government to oversee local police.
Biden used the speech to paint his trillion-dollar-plus American Rescue Plan as a funding vehicle for police. He proposed “we invest again in community policing we know works” — even if we don’t necessarily know that it works and that “community policing” is often seen as existing in an either-or dichotomy with enforcing the law.
And speaking of that, there was also some of the coded language of the defund the police movement slipped into the speech, with Biden positing that “we have to stop asking law enforcement officers to do every single job under the sun. “
“I’m committed to investing in mental health services and mental health professionals who can respond to a mental health crisis alongside you,” Biden said. “You shouldn’t be the one having to talk someone off the edge of the roof. You should have professional help with you. To support our law enforcement officers, it requires that we invest in the systems that provide adequate health care, counseling, drug treatment and prevention, housing, education, and other social services in the community so there is not a discord.”
Cops aren’t stupid. They know the rhetoric of police-defunders involves promising residents moving money from law enforcement to “mental health professionals” and “community services” under the theory that safety won’t be jeopardized.
Biden went on to stump for gun control measures, including so-called “red-flag laws.” In fact, there was just about as much in the speech about Democrat agenda items as there was about fallen police officers. Let not “the mournful sound of the bagpipes” take away from a political opportunity, apparently.
But then, what were we to expect? The administration and the party that undergirds it have been openly hostile to law enforcement since the death of George Floyd turned the left against police with a grotesque vehemence. For the tone-deaf Biden administration, the speech was probably considered a “win,” even though cops and anyone else who was listening had to realize the duplicitous cynicism on display.
It’d naturally be unseemly for the president to skip out on the 40th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service, particularly after a year of unprecedented death and destruction aimed at police and sheriff’s deputies.
Don’t expect Merrick Garland — the nation’s top law-enforcement officer — to save the date, however. The message that sends to the men and women charged with law enforcement across the country is as clear as Biden’s message was muddied:
You’re on your own.