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Gonzales at the National Police Survivors' Conference
Washington, D.C. May 14, 2007
Thank you, Last night, my wife Rebecca and I attended the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Candlelight Vigil. For those who have never attended, the audience includes thousands of law enforcement officers and the surviving families and friends of fallen officers. Those families who have lost a loved one during the most recent year sit in the rows closest to the stage. After the program, Becky and I went down into the audience and said hello to some of the survivors and we were particularly moved by one mother, Tamara, and her young twin daughters, Rachael and Emily. Last August, Corporal Eric Sutphin from Virginia was shot and killed while participating in a manhunt for an escaped prisoner. Last night the little girls cried for their daddy and the mother appeared numb with grief. Our words of comfort seemed so inadequate for their loss. It is for them and the thousands of other survivors that I am here, to be able to participate, if only for a few minutes, in the tremendous sharing of support, cooperation, and healing that is the purpose of the Concerns of Police Survivors. This organization grew out of the very basic need of the widows and loved ones of fallen police officers to share the burden of their grief and protect the interests of those left behind. Jean Hill, Susie Sawyer and Shirley Gibson do a wonderful job harnessing the power that you all have to help each other through what is a truly a unique grieving experience. Because you are not just widows and widowers, friends and family, brothers and sisters… you are the vital structure that supported these fallen heroes. It was your fidelity and patience that enabled these beloved police officers to do the selfless and challenging work that earned their communities’ respect and gratitude. Your love and support for these heroes in life makes your sacrifice in their loss even more painful. You bear so much grief precisely because you gave so much. So I want to thank you for the sacrifices you made, and continue to make, in support of
the law enforcement mission. That’s why you must not be forgotten, just as your husbands, wives, parents, and siblings will not be forgotten. I liked what Jean said recently about the construction of the National Law Enforcement Museum. She said “It’s a matter of honor that we not forget the sacrifice of the living or the dead.” It is a matter of honor. It’s a matter of honor that local, state and federal government do its best to support those who serve while they serve, and, it is our solemn obligation, if those heroes make the ultimate sacrifice, to support those who survive them. I believe it is also a matter of patriotism. After all, your loved ones were patriots. They enforced the laws of this great nation. And without enforcement, our laws would be nothing more than words on paper. But the rule of law does not come cheap. It exacts a heavy toll on the men and women who serve, and the families whose love makes that service possible. Only the cop, the investigator, the first-responder leaves his or her home and family every morning not knowing whether they will return that night. And no one – no one but those who have loved and supported a police officer – knows what all of you have given in service to your neighborhoods, cities, states and nation. It is hard to make sense of the death of someone who gave so completely of themselves. Someone who protected the lives of strangers, who was willing to face danger so that the rest of us didn’t have to. Their hard work made possible all that is fair and good about our “land of the free.” And they are the people we think of when we sing of the “home of the brave.” So when we lose them, it is almost more than a community can comprehend. And it can be almost more than you, their loved ones, can bear. That is why you, who have always known how to give support, now need support. You find that support here, in COPS. And you seek it from the government systems that were designed to help you in the darkest hours of your service-oriented lives.
I know that dealing with the government to claim the financial help you need and deserve can be frustrating. Sometimes the government is not quick or responsive enough, and that hurts. I appreciate these frustrations and want to reassure you that we take your claims seriously. Though the workload of Public Safety Officers Benefits cases is heavy, I promise you that the Bureau of Justice Assistance is working hard for you, and that they appreciate the sacred nature of their work. That’s why Hope Janke, from our Bureau of Justice Assistance, is here at this conference – so you can meet with an actual person, face to face, who can give you an update on your claim. We have to do better, and we will do better meeting your needs. And I know that many of you are also fighting for justice in the courts. If your loved one was murdered, justice must be done. I feel very strongly about this, and I have a lot of confidence in our judicial system. I’d like to leave you with something that Henry James wrote that I think offers insight and hope as you grieve. He wrote that, quote, "sorrow comes in great waves… but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, in as much as it passes and we remain." I hope you know today, or you will know soon, that you are, in fact, stronger than the sorrow, and you are unquestionably stronger than the criminals who brought that sorrow upon you. Thank you for having me here today, and thank you for the sacrifices you have made for your country. May God bless you and give you strength. May He ease your burden and give you peace and understanding. And may He use your experiences to help others. Thank you. ###