Vice President Joe Biden during his visit to Ireland in June, 2016. RollingNews.ie photo.
By Sean O’Brien
“Every day when a police officer pins on that shield and walks out the door, that officer’s wife, husband, mother, father, brother, sister – and children – knows that anything can happen. And all too often, it does. Police officers, and police families, are a different breed. Thank God for you.”
Six years ago, I stood outside a Queens church with 25,000 of New York’s Finest, listening to Vice President Joe Biden speak those words to the grieving families of Officer Rafael Ramos and Officer WenJian Liu.
“It is a sacred trust you take on when you kiss your children’s forehead as they sleep,” said Biden, “and head out on the night shift to watch over all of the children of this great city, treating and protecting each of them as you would your own.”
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I’ve never seen a crowd so quiet as that sea of blue outside the church that day. So united in purpose, grief and determination. They stood in solidarity for the families of their brothers – shot in their patrol car days before Christmas, solely because the uniform on their backs.
And Joe Biden stood by them all.
“I didn’t know the two officers who kept watch on Myrtle and Tompkins avenues on that terrible afternoon,” he said, “but I do know why they were there. They were there to protect and defend. Sometimes fearful, but always watchful. I knew them.”
Biden took the time to honor the humanity of Officers Ramos and Liu. “A former school safety officer, who became a cop at 37. An active member of his church, studying to become a chaplain. A father. A husband. A son. A seven-year veteran of the force. Son of Chinese immigrants, conversant in several dialects. A newlywed. Confident. Committed. Passionate. Vigilant. They were cops.”
Joe Biden understands what police families go through. And he understands why they do it.
“Being a cop is not what they did,” he said at that December funeral, “It’s who they were. And they, like every man and woman in uniform within the sound of my voice, they all joined the force for the same reason. To help. To serve.”
Then he noted, “I have spoken at too many funerals for slain police officers. And I’ve observed that, unfortunately, it takes a tragedy like this to remind Americans of the sacrifices that they and their families make, every day, on our behalf.”
Joe Biden has never needed that reminder. The first time he met my father, a former patrolman in the 41st Precinct in the Bronx, he thanked him for his service, and he also thanked my mother, a New York public schoolteacher, for all that she had done.
My father’s Fort Apache patch now holds a place of pride in Joe Biden’s office, along with mementoes from the many other police families he’s known and touched through his extraordinary career. And those families will never forget.
When Beau Biden, Delaware’s top law enforcement officer, died of cancer in 2015, one of the many who patiently stood in line to offer condolences to the Biden Family was the father of Officer WenJian Liu.
He embraced Vice President Biden, returning the comfort that Biden had given him only months before. They hugged as two grieving fathers in two families of service.
Joe Biden understands what it means to serve. Not everyone does.
Joe Biden will never gleefully tweet about putting our police in danger. He’ll never brag about putting “the young ones on the front lines” while hiding in a bunker and inflaming tensions. He’ll never describe those who serve as losers, or ask why they don’t enrich themselves instead.
He’s not that kind of guy.
As Rudy Giuliani put it about Joe Biden after hearing his eulogy that December day, “At least somebody gets it.”
Indeed. At least somebody does.
Sean O’Brien is an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. He has served under both Democratic and Republican administrations as a senior official in the Pentagon, the White House, and the House of Representatives.