January 29, 2022

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Remarks by Attorney General William P. Barr at the Funeral of Cleveland Police Detective and Operation Legend Officer James Skernivitz

11 min read

Good Morning. I am honored to be here on behalf of the United States Department of Justice to pay tribute to an American hero, Detective James Skernivitz. And Kristen, thank you for allowing me the privilege of honoring Jim today. On behalf of the department, the FBI, the entire federal law enforcement community, I extend my deepest sympathies to you, your family, Jim’s friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

Jim served with distinction, as we have heard, on the Cleveland police force for over 20 years. And in his final days, he was also a sworn officer of Operation Legend, a critical federal initiative to support state and local law enforcement in combatting violent crime here in Cleveland and in other cities. He died serving his city and the country, and both will be forever grateful. The stated mission of the Cleveland Division of Police is to “serve as guardians of the Cleveland community,” and Jim embodied that mission throughout his life. He was raised in this area, and as the chief just said, when he was asked why he wanted to become a police officer, he said because it gave him a chance to keep the city in which he grew up safe. And like so many in law enforcement, Jim was also a family man. He joined the force a year after he married Kristen and they raised their children together, while he served the city. And as we have heard, he was great at his work. He was the kind of person critical to making a successful department work. And while he never asked for recognition, he earned it, and we have heard of the many awards and distinctions that he garnered.

Two weeks ago I had the honor of visiting the gang impact unit where he worked, Jim served as part of the FBI task force in Operation Legend. As a veteran officer, he did not have to take on that dangerous mission. He could have let someone else do it, especially given the risks to police officers nowadays. But once again he volunteered, and once again he made a difference. I witnessed firsthand the superb work that he and his colleagues were doing to get violent criminals off the streets. It was only a few days after my visit that Jim was killed in the line of duty, making the ultimate sacrifice by laying down his life for the community he served.

Unfortunately, I did not know Jim personally, but in a sense I do know Jim. I know him well because I know the strength of character, the decency, the courage and the commitment, which although too uncommon in society generally, are common virtues in the ranks of America’s police. Jim represents what is great and good about our police. As has been said he was a policeman’s policeman. He epitomized the greatness of our police. And I pray his tragic death may help remind people, those that need reminding, of some of the basic truths, and help stop some of the vilification of the police that is going on these days in some quarters.

These are difficult days for law enforcement around the country. At a time when our officers have never faced greater danger and challenges, there are vocal, powerful forces, segments of society that vilify the police. Acts of resistance and physical violence against the police are not just tolerated, but sometimes glorified. Whatever one’s views are on the issue of the day, I hope people outside this arena pause and reflect on Jim’s sacrifice, and what it represents. Not just the sacrifice of his life, the ultimate sacrifice, but the sacrifice inherent in the vocation of policing. The grueling work, the gnawing stress, the ever present danger of sudden deadly violence, and the burdens and anxieties placed on family life.

I remember as I was growing up during the Vietnam War, some people were so blinded by politics that they vilified our soldiers and even spat on them. Fortunately, people have come to their senses today, and now people go out of their way to thank soldiers for their service, as well they should. You know during the first Gulf War when our troops rolled out of their bases to their embarkation points, there were crowds of people along the highway cheering them on. And when they came back there were ticker tape parades.

But when our police leave the precinct each day, to protect the safety of the community, there are no crowds cheering them and they do not get their ticker tape when they return home safe. And when they deploy, it’s not for a certain period of time, to accomplish a particular objective. Police are on deployment everyday of their service, and our police don’t have a final victory in their fight against crime. No matter how great the achievements on any day, the next day our officers put on the badge and do it all over again.

There is a special kind of courage and commitment to do this job. It’s the courage we saw 19 years ago on September 11, when officers responded to the attack on the World Trade Center, and Jim had that courage. Our officers don’t ask for thanks, but it’s time that the American people give our police the recognition and appreciation they are due, and thank them for the sacrifices they and their families make. That would be a great legacy, if we could bring some good out of the evil of Jim’s death and move closer to the day where the public recognizes the commitment and service and sacrifice of their guardians. 

Jim, thank you for your sacrifice. Kristen, Bayleigh, Peyton and Matthew, thank you for your sacrifice. And thank all of you in blue in this arena and outside this arena for your service. God bless you all, and God bless the United States. Thank you.

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