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At a memorial ceremony for officers, Biden renews calls for police reform

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden attend the 40th Annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday.
Brendan Smialowski
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden and first lady Jill Biden attend the 40th Annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday.

Speaking at a memorial service for fallen law enforcement officers and their families, President Biden acknowledged the pain that accompanies losing a loved one.

"It's like losing a piece of your soul," Biden said at the 40th National Peace Officers' Memorial Service on Saturday. "Some of you still have that feeling like you've been sucked into a black hole in your chest, wondering, 'My God, will it ever change?' "

The event is held annually at the U.S. Capitol to honor law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.

Biden also specifically acknowledged the role of police in responding to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

"Here, nine months ago, your brothers and sisters thwarted an unconstitutional and fundamentally unamerican attack on a nation's values and our votes," Biden said. "Because of you, democracy survived."

The annual memorial event is part of National Police Week, organized by groups including the Fraternal Order of Police, which brings tens of thousands of law enforcement officers and other attendees to Washington, D.C., each year.

Biden has a close relationship with police

Biden has attended the memorial several times during his nearly five decades of public service. He gave the ceremony's keynote address while serving as vice president.

His close relationship with law enforcement dates back to the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, championed by Biden during his tenure as chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee.

The legislation, which was drafted with the help of police, enjoyed wide support among Democrats at the time of its passage. It has since been blamed for driving mass incarceration, which disproportionately impacts Black Americans.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden said supporting the law was a mistake.

As president, Biden has pushed for police reform in the wake of several instances of high-profile violence at the hands of police.

The primary legislative effort, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, is unlikely to come up for a vote in the Senate after police reform talks collapsed last month.

In his speech Saturday, Biden thanked the Fraternal Order of Police for being constructive partners and renewed his calls for reform.

"It's a hard time to be a police officer in America," he said. "I want to make sure you have the tools to be the partners and the protectors your communities need."

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Eric McDaniel
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.