Biden mourns fallen police at memorial: ‘We owe you as a nation’

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U.S. President Joe Biden walks during the annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., May 15, 2024. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

By Jarrett Renshaw

(Reuters) – President Joe Biden addressed police officers on Wednesday gathered in Washington to honor slain colleagues as he tries to prevent his Republican rival Donald Trump from capturing high-profile endorsements from their unions in the coming weeks.

Biden’s speech, at the annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol honoring slain officers across the country, was an opportunity to speak directly to law enforcement as he competes against Trump in the Nov. 5 presidential election.

Sixty officers were killed in the line of duty in 2023, one fewer than the previous year, according to FBI data. The three-year period ending in 2023 had the highest total number of law enforcement deaths, 193, out of any such three-year period in the past 20 years, the data shows.

“We owe you as a nation,” Biden says. “Police officer is not just what you do. It’s who you are.”

Some Biden campaign officials said privately that Democrats are losing support among rank-and-file police officers who view the Democratic Party as soft on crime and biased against police when their on-the-job actions come under scrutiny.

Trump has already won endorsements from statewide police unions in Michigan and Florida. The National Fraternal Order of Police and the New York City police union, which both supported Trump in 2020, have yet to announce their endorsements. The FOP’s foundation sponsors Wednesday’s memorial service.

In their case to law enforcement, Biden strategists highlight Trump’s public support of the violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, part of an effort to reverse his 2020 election defeat, as well as declining crime rates under Biden and the president’s union ties.

Some 140 police officers were injured when thousands of Trump supporters attacked the Capitol. One Capitol Police officer died the next day. Four others later died by suicide.

“Donald Trump pretends he cares about violence against police officers, but apparently not the ones who lost their lives after being violently assaulted by his supporters,” said Biden campaign spokesperson T.J. Ducklo in a statement.

Biden has tried to occupy the center on law enforcement issues. He rejected calls by some liberals to “defund the police,” and instead called on local governments to use federal money to hire more officers from the communities they police.

Biden pledged to enact laws to hold officers to a higher standard after high-profile killings of unarmed Black people, including the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, but those efforts have stalled amid gridlock in Congress.

Allies have warned Biden’s campaign that it must convince voters he is tough on crime. Recent FBI data showed significant drops last year in almost every crime category, including homicides and violent crime, from their COVID pandemic-era highs.

But a Gallup poll last fall found that 63% of Americans said crime nationwide was “extremely” or “very” serious, up from 54% in 2021 and the highest in the survey’s history.

“Democrats have turned great American cities into cesspools of bloodshed and crime,” said Karoline Leavitt, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign.

Despite the Capitol riot, police unions endorsed many more Republican candidates in the congressional midterm elections in 2022 than the previous cycle.

Jim Tignanelli, president of the 12,000-member Police Officers Association of Michigan, said the union endorsed Trump for the 2024 race partly because of illegal migration under Biden, which he said has created a sense of lawlessness that jeopardizes police officers.

He also cited Trump’s promise to grant police officers broad immunity from criminal prosecution and to impose the death penalty on criminals who kill on-duty police officers.

But former Capitol Police officer Aquilini Gonell, 44, who was beaten by rioters on Jan. 6, said he is amazed police officers have turned a blind eye to Trump’s actions that day and afterward including saying he would consider pardoning people convicted in connection with the Capitol attack .

“Only one candidate is dangling pardons for people who attacked police officers and is advocating for political violence. And that’s Trump,” said Gonell.

 

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw; editing by Trevor Hunnicutt, Cynthia Osterman, Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

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