Let’s honor peacemakers every day
In 1962, our nation dedicated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week on which it falls as National Police Week. Every year during this week, we honor and remember the commitment and sacrifice of our brave men and women in law enforcement who give their all to us every single day.
And specifically on Peace Officers Memorial Day, we lift up and pay tribute to our law enforcement officers who were killed or disabled in the line of duty while protecting and serving the public. As the Chief Federal Law Enforcement Officer for over half of our state, it is a privilege to be able to work firsthand with these dedicated public servants and to see up close and personal their devotion to duty. While this week is set aside each year for us to thank our police officers and their families for their selflessness in service and commitment to the cause of justice, in reality, we should be thanking these heroes every day all throughout the year.
Attorney General William Barr recently said, “There is no more noble profession than serving as a police officer. The men and women who protect our communities each day have not just devoted their lives to public service, they’ve taken an oath to give their lives in order to ensure our safety.” These courageous women and men did not choose a career in law enforcement for the money, the fame or fortune. As we all know, our law enforcement work long hours, are paid low wages, labor in high-risk environments, and, most recently, have been treated poorly and disrespected publicly by many throughout our country. However, in talking with many law enforcement officers throughout our state, the main reason they pursue this noble profession is because they love people and love serving others.
Those serving in law enforcement are unlike almost any other public servant. Where most people run away from danger, they run toward it. They work to save not just law-abiding citizens, but all human life, even those who break our laws and put others in danger, endeavoring to bring them to justice.
And sadly we are reminded every year just how dangerous their work is. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 89 police officers in the United States gave their last full measure in the line of duty last year, with a majority of these deaths, 58, being intentional killings. In Mississippi, we lost four brothers in blue while they were serving others.
Biloxi Police Department Officer Robert McKeithen, a 24-year veteran of law enforcement, was gunned down while standing outside the police department helping others. Panola County Constable E. Raye Hawkins, a 27-year law enforcement officer, was killed during the pursuit of a stolen vehicle. And Chickasaw County Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Allen Voyles and Lowndes County Constable Willie Houston “Hoot” West, the latter having served 52 years as constable, died separately in tragic car crashes while on duty.
A quote from a widow of a slain U.S. Capitol Police Officer, inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., sums up the lives of these men and so many others who have gone on before them: “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.” May we never forget how they lived, their service and sacrifice, and the families they left behind who loved and supported them.
Over the past year, the City of Natchez and Adams County have benefited greatly from a partnership among local, state and federal law enforcement and the relentless pursuit of justice by their officers, deputies and agents.
In February 2019, my office launched Project EJECT in partnership with the Natchez Police Department, Adams County Sheriff’s Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and other law enforcement. As Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong and Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten announced in January 2020, the result of this hard work has paid off in the City of Natchez over the past year: a 75% decrease in murders, a 66% decrease in attempted murders, a 66% decrease in kidnappings, a 54% decrease in robberies, and a 51% decrease in car burglaries. We will continue to partner with our law enforcement at every level to ensure that justice is done for all of our communities and our citizens.
So today on Peace Officers Memorial Day, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which these first responders never left their duty station and continued putting themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others, let us all make a special effort to reach out to and serve those who wear a badge and support them, as they always serve and support us.
As Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” They are always protecting and serving us, so let’s recommit to always have their back and our eternal gratitude.
Mike Hurst is the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.