Tonight more than 20,000 officers, police survivors, dignitaries, and invited guests participated in a candlelight vigil at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. The annual ceremony honors officers who have fallen in the line of duty.
This year, the vigil included the reading of 334 names of officers who have been added to the memorial walls, including 116 who ended watch in 2009.
Dignitaries attending the vigil included Attorney General Eric Holder who gave the keynote and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano who gave a brief speech. Holder began his remarks by saying, "I am honored to be here, and I am grateful for the opportunity to pay my respects to so many fallen heroes … We are all safer for their sacrifice."
The evening began with the story of a fallen officer being told by Craig Floyd, chairman and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). John Coor-Pender of the Wayne County (N.C.) Sheriff's Office was killed escorting a prisoner, in 1816. Floyd said the story was a reminder of the sacrifices made by American law enforcement officers throughout the nation's history.
Floyd read off a litany of statistics to prove that the law enforcement profession remains extremely hazardous. "One law enforcement officer dies in the line of duty in this country every 53 hours," he said. Last year 116 officers died in the line of duty and 16,000 were injured. Floyd added that there was a 23 percent increase in officer deaths by gunfire in 2009. "America's law enforcement has never been more challenged nor more vital," he said.
Much more powerful than any of the speeches by Holder, Napolitano, or Floyd were the simple heartfelt moments of the vigil. Floyd introduced the crowd to young Cody Lassiter whose father Larry Lassiter was a Pittsburg, Calif., officer who was killed before Cody was born. Watching Cody and his mother react to the mention of their loved one and his sacrifice was enough to bring a tear to the eyes of many of the veteran cops in the audience.
The pain felt by loved ones who lose officers to the hazards of the job was also the theme of an emotional speech by Jennifer Thacker, president of Concerns of Police Survivors. Thacker talked about the "painful absence" experienced by survivors and she said that the people gathered for the vigil were there to shine some light on the "dark path" of the survivors' grief.
Thacker's presentation was followed by the candlelight ceremony and the reading of the names of the officers whose names had just been engraved into the memorial walls. Each name was read loud and clear as the wind whipped across the memorial plaza and the crowd sat and contemplated the sacrifice of each officer.
Cantor Michael A. Shochet of the Fairfax County (Va.) Police Department had summed up the feeling of all in attendance in an invocation at the beginning of the ceremony when he said, "Any additional name on this wall is one too many."