By Craig W. Floyd
Chairman and CEO, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund
When most people think of law enforcement in America, one thing comes to mind: crime fighting. Whether their impressions are based on personal experience or, more likely, the news and entertainment media, Americans tend to view law enforcement as the people who patrol our streets, respond to 911 calls, investigate crime and apprehend the bad guys. All of which is true, and all of which captures one important aspect of law enforcement work.
But from the earliest days of our nation, our law enforcement professionals have played another vitally important role – a role that is not always evident to the general public, but one that is fundamental to the strength and greatness of our country. That role: defender of freedom and protector of individual liberties.
Think about it. Whenever people gather to exercise their right to free speech, who do they call upon for protection and safety? They call on law enforcement. Whether it is single person on a soapbox in a municipal park or a million people marching in our nation’s capital, law enforcement is there to safeguard the First Amendment rights of our citizens.
Many times, of course, ideas or opinions are in conflict, and people on opposing sides of an issue clash during protests and counter-protests. Again, it is law enforcement that has the unique responsibility not only to protect the free speech rights of each side, but also to maintain the safety of everyone involved. And when people gather to petition their government and call for change – something that many countries of the world simply do not tolerate – in the United States, it is law enforcement that defends these precious rights as well.
As human beings, our peace officers may personally detest the opinions or policies being advocated by a particular group. I will never forget, for example, the police officer who was safeguarding the right of three individuals protesting against police brutality several years ago at the sacred grounds of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. But as law enforcement professionals, these public servants have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitutional rights of all Americans. Day in and day out, they do so with tremendous skill, objectivity and courage of conviction.
Tragically, far too many law enforcement professionals have lost their lives protecting our communities and safeguarding our freedoms. The walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial contain the names of 18,274 heroes who have died in the line of duty throughout our nation’s history. Their collective sacrifice reminds us of the nobility of their mission and the dangers inherent in their work.
So, this Independence Day, as we take time to celebrate our freedom and remember those who make it possible, let us not forget the brave men and women of law enforcement – those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our safety and freedom, as well as those who continue to serve and protect our communities and staunchly defend the rights we, as Americans, will always cherish.