WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden paid tribute to hundreds of police officers who died in the line of duty, singling out those killed or wounded after defending the U.S. Capitol during the insurrection on Jan. 6.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden attended the 40th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service in front of the Capitol building on Saturday, which recognized officers killed in 2019 and 2020.
Biden’s speech mostly honored officers for their service and touted his hope to fund services that would ease the work of policing in the U.S. He made brief mention of demands for racial justice in policing and called for more funding for departments, a rejection of calls from his party’s progressive wing to defund the police.
“It always amazes me how the public doesn’t fully understand what we expect of our law enforcement officers,” Biden said. “We expect you to be everything, we expect everything of you, and it’s beyond the capacity of anyone to meet the total expectations. Being a cop today is one hell of a lot harder than it’s ever been.”
Biden, whose speech received modest applause, recalled his inauguration at the Capitol on Jan. 20, two weeks after the attack on the building.
“Nine months ago, your brothers and sisters thwarted an unconstitutional and fundamentally un-American attack on our nation’s values and our votes,” he said. “But because of you, democracy survived.”
Certain crimes have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, fueling attacks from Republicans that Democrats are wavering in their support for police officers. Talks on a police reform bill in Congress have ground to a halt.
Biden’s speech was filled with praise for officers and their families and made brief mention of the frequency of fatal encounters with communities of color that sparked protests and demands for racial justice as well as calls to defund the police.
“Too many funerals for police officers; too many funerals for brave servants who kept us safe,” he said. Yet “we must also hear something else,” including a call “to heal the breach we now see in so many communities” and to recognize that justice isn’t always impartial, the president said.
“Too many communities, Black and brown, too many families are grieving unnecessarily losses of their sons, their daughters, their fathers, their brothers,” Biden said.
Biden touted provisions in the American Rescue Plan to fund police departments. He said he particularly supports funding for community policing and mental health services, including those who can accompany police in responding to mental health calls.
“You shouldn’t be the one having to talk someone off the edge of a roof; you should have professional help with you,” he said. Police departments “need help to do better,” he added.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was the only Member of Congress announced as an attendee, and was seated on stage with Biden and others. It’s not clear how many other members attended.