President Biden spoke a different tone during remarks honoring members of police officers who died in the line of duty, saluting law enforcement members currently serving while calling for more funding for police departments, a rejection of calls from his own party’s progressive wing who are demanding to fully defund the police.
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden attended the 40th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service in front of the U.S. Capitol complex Saturday, recognizing police officers who were killed in the line of duty in 2019 and 2020.
"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. And it’s beyond the capacity of anyone to meet the total expectations," Biden said in 20-minute remarks that received modest applause on Saturday.
"Being a cop today is one hell of a lot harder than it's ever been, and to the families of the fallen, you've suffered an enormous loss, but understand your loss is also America's loss, and your pain is America’s pain," Biden continued. "Too many funerals for police officers; too many funerals for brave servants who kept us safe."
"Today, we’re here to remember nearly 500 of your brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, sons and daughters. 2019 and 2020 — we lost so much," he added.
Biden's remarks was filled mostly with praises for police officers services and their families, and also vowed to fund police services such as "community policing," that he said would ease the work of policing.
"It's like losing a piece of your soul," Biden said, recalling the death of his two children — Beau who died of Brain cancer in 2015 and his baby daughter in 1972. "Some of you still have that feeling like you've been sucked into a black hole in your chest, wondering, 'My God, will it ever change?'"
"It’s a hard time to be a police officer in America, so I want to make sure you have the tools to be the partners and protectors communities need. That’s why I proposed we invest again in community policing we know works. Wanting to protect cops is another cop. In the training you and the community have requested. The community-based programs and interventions that can stop violence before it starts."
"To support our law enforcement officers requires that we invest in systems that provide adequate health care, counseling, drug prevention, housing, education and other social services in the community, so there is not the discord," he added.
Biden briefly touched on renewing calls for a federal police reform bill — the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, while thanking the Fraternal Order of Police for being a "constructive player" in the talk process as well as their openness to work on changing some elements of police reform measures.
However, talks from a bipartisan group of lawmakers spearheading police reform negotiations ended last month without a deal to reform police tactics and put new accountability measures in place. Negotiators for the police reform bill included Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) who has been in talks with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) for months on a bipartisan bill, but stalled over deep divisions that they weren't able to overcome.
"Here nine months ago, your brothers and sisters thwarted an unconstitutional and fundamentally un-American attack on our nation's values and our votes," Biden said. "Because of you, democracy survived. But only because of you."
Biden also commented on the shootings early Saturday of three officers who had been working security jobs at a Houston bar when they came under fire in an ambush attack. One Houston deputy was killed while the two others were wounded and taken to surgery. The wounded officer was shot in the back was listed as critical condition, while the second officer was shot in the foot.
Hundreds gathered on the Capitol’s West Lawn to hear a reading of the names of the 491 officers killed in the line of duty in 2019 and 2020. The annual memorial event, organized by the National Fraternal Order of Police, is part of National Police Week, normally held in May, was pushed back amid COVID. On Friday, Biden ordered flags to be flown at half-staff as a tribute to the fallen. Last year’s event was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was the only Democratic lawmaker that was announced as an attendee, seated on stage with Biden and others. It’s not clear how many other members attended.
During his time as Senator from Delaware, Biden had a close relationship with law enforcement due to his tough law-and-order persona. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, Biden took the lead championing the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act — known as the 1994 Crime bill. The bill has since been blamed for driving mass incarceration amongst Black Americans.
His view of the law changed during the years, especially during the 2020 Election and now with Biden saying supporting the Crime Bill was a "big mistake" and joined along side the Progressives wing of his party in their push for police defunding amid the death of George Floyd.