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2006 Candlelight Vigil

Remarks from the Attorney General of the United States

By The Honorable Alberto Gonzales, U.S. Attorney General, May 13, 2006

It is truly awe-inspiring to look out on this sea of law enforcement officers. You provide a wonderful tribute and a powerful expression of love. This gathering shows how committed you are to those we honor tonight and to those who carry on.
You now bear a painful burden, but a burden made lighter, I hope, by the fellowship and sympathy you offer one another. You have become each other's brothers and sisters through your common sorrow and pride.

And I hope your pride increases with your understanding of what the fallen officers mean to this country. You can literally see the purpose of their sacrifice in the location of this Law Enforcement Officers National Memorial: We are flanked by courthouses. Behind me is the National Building Museum, designed in part as a Civil War memorial.

Here we are at the crossroads of the rule of law and a reminer of America's costliest war. Here we honor the long blue line that enforces the decisions of courts and that serves in a cause - the securing of the American Dream - as worthy as that of the Civil War. Securing the American Dream is the goal of law enforcement, by protecting us from terrorism and violent crime, by ridding us of illegal drugs and cybercrime such as child pornography, and by guarding our civil rights and public and corporate integrity. These are my priorities for the Department of Justice.

Just last month at Engraving Day, 466 more names were added to the more than 17,000 now honored. Over 300 of these are from history, starting with a peace officer killed in an anti-Catholic riot in 1805. Several others honored were killed in the anti-draft riots in New York, during the Civil War. The history of police in America is a history of the growth of the rule of law. These engraved names remind us of how far we have gone in the quest for the American Dream — and of how much farther we have to go.

For some we recognize today, the end of the watch came amidst notoriety, as in the Atlanta court murders of last March or from a suicide bomber on a sandy road in Iraq. But many died in the routines of their job, just going to or from work, making sure traffic could safely pass, or in carrying out what should have been a routine traffic stop. Of course, as we know, there really are no routine traffic stops.

Whatever the cause of their passing, all died as they lived, committed to duty. Our culture today, with its insistence on quick satisfaction, is often at odds with the ethic of duty. Unlike those who seek high salaries or quiet comfort, those we honor today donned a uniform and chose a life dedicated to service. That requires discipline, hard work, and long hours. It takes its toll on families. And sadly it cost them their lives.

Here locally we were reminded of the demands of duty earlier this week by the death of Fairfax County detective Vicky Armel and the wounding of two other officers in a senseless shooting outside their police station. She leaves her husband, who is a fellow officer, and two young children. Vicky was laid to rest today, and we will recall her name again, next year.

Two examples from among the dozens I could have chosen further illustrate this ethic of duty.

Manuel Gonzalez, Jr., was a take-charge kind of officer. He served in the California Department of Corrections. A prison, it is often and correctly said, is the toughest beat to walk. Yet he did his job, at the California Institute for Men, in Chino, with eagerness and a sense of humor, for more than 16 years.

On January 10 of last year, a convict, reportedly a gang member, attacked Officer Gonzalez with a shank.

As if this tragedy weren't enough for Officer Gonzalez's widow, six children, and many relatives, less than six months later, his brother-in-law, Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Jerry Oritz was also killed, again in a suspected gang-related incident. Deputy Oritz had served for 15 years and was assigned to the Anti-Gang unit. While interviewing a witness, he was shot in the head at point-blank range.

The alleged gunman had a rap sheet 15 pages long, including an outstanding warrant for attempted murder. Somehow he was on parole.

Deputy Oritz had been decorated with the Award of Valor. He had been married three short weeks and leaves two sons from a previous marriage.

What can we say to families that faced such tragedies?

I fear any words I might say would be inadequate. I have not lost a son or daughter or spouse. I have never felt your pain, your sorrow, your loneliness. I have never sat alone in anger, asking God "why?"

Rebecca and I have three sons. I still put our two youngest to bed. Graham is 14 and Gabriel is 11. Soon they will find themselves too old to be tucked in by their dad. Sometimes as I say goodnight, I marvel - and I'm a little saddened — at how quickly they have grown. The memories of birthday parties, vacations at Disney World, school concerts, and soccer games flash through my mind. We invest so much in our children, all of our hopes and dreams are right there in them. To lose them, suddenly, senselessly, savagely, I fear would be more than I can bear.

And so it is hard for me to find the words to say to you. I do not understand your courage. Where does your strength come from? To those of you who have lost a loved one, to you who pick yourself up after suffering an incomparable blow, I say simply "thank you" for your sacrifice. I am here tonight to express my gratitude, I stand here shoulder-to-shoulder with you as a sign of my commitment to your cause, as a partner and as a friend.

Securing the American Dream is a cause worth sacrifice that unites the long blue line stretching from the earliest days of our country, through the Civil War, and into our grandchildren's future. It unites Americans with bonds of unbreakable gratitude to those who did their duty.

May God bless you all, may He provide understanding and comfort to those who grieve, and may He continue to bless the United States of America.