The month of May is Memorial month. We all celebrate Memorial Day on the last Monday in the month of May. Memorial Day is a federal holiday, but it is intended to be more than a day off of work or school and even more than the beginning of the summer camping season or a good excuse for a barbecue. It is intended to be a time of remembrance for those who have passed on from our presence, especially for those who have served our nation.
There are several other days of remembrance during the month of May. Every year since 1963, on May 15, law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty are recognized and remembered for their service and their sacrifice. John F. Kennedy signed the bill into law on Oct. 1, 1962, after the idea was first brought up in Congress in October the year before.
Since records have been kept, beginning in 1791, there have been 23,721 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The worst period of history for violence against those who serve in law enforcement was 1927-1932. In five of those six years, there were more 300 each year killed in the line of duty, with 1930 being the worst when 335 were killed. The next worst period of history was 1970-1975, the worst during that stretch being 1973 with 278 killed and 1974 with 285 killed. The year 2001 saw another spike in line of duty deaths among officers, as well as other first responders, due to the heroic and selfless efforts by these professionals to rescue people in the 9/11 World Trade Center Towers attacks by terrorists. In the past 10 years, we have had several years with spikes in the deaths of those who serve to protect us. The worst of those years, during the Obama administration era, were 2010 and 2011 when more than 180 were killed each year. In 2016 and 2017, 174 law enforcement professionals were killed in the line of duty each year.
The sad reality is that officers are often being killed because of the uniform they are wearing. In many of these deaths of law enforcement personnel, the investigation has shown the attacker was targeting those who serve in law enforcement. In some cases, they were lured into an ambush attack with the intent to kill those who responded to the 911 call. One incident of a killing of officers in Washington state took place while they were on their lunch break at a café. These are crimes of hatred toward people who represent the laws of our land and who serve to protect law-abiding citizens from those who desire to bring others harm.
As our society erodes and our civility declines, attacks on law enforcement professionals are worsening along with attacks on schools. It is the result of the devaluing of life by many different influences and the deterioration of respect of others, especially those in authority.
In a recent meeting, I was serving as a volunteer chaplain for our local law enforcement professionals, and Capt. Craig Ward made this staggering statement: “In the calendar year 2018, 166 officers were killed in the line of duty from all causes. According to Officer Down Memorial, which includes officers who died as a result of effects of the 9/11 attacks, 52 of those death were from gunfire. In the same year there were 15 combat duty deaths for our U.S. military branches, all in Afghanistan, according to Stars and Stripes and Army Times. There are roughly twice as many combat troops in the U.S. military as there are law enforcement officers on the streets of America.”
So, you can see from the math, last year was about seven times more dangerous for an officer in America than for a soldier in Afghanistan. This in no way detracts from the heroic service of those in our military, but it is a startling reality about the condition of our society. In 2019, 39 law enforcement professionals have already been killed in the line of duty.
We, as parents and guardians, must begin to teach our children to respect those who serve in a uniform that represents professionals who put their lives in harm’s way to protect law-abiding citizens, including those who serve in our military.
As you think of memorials this month, please do not forget to remember those who serve in our local community. There is a memorial monument at the entrance of the La Grande Police Department and Sheriff’s Office that reminds us of those who have died in the line of duty in the history of our own community. Let us make sure to remember the fallen and thank those who serve to protect us and are willing to put their lives on the line for the benefit of a peaceful community.
Franklin Humber is the pastor of Summerville Baptist Church in Summerville.