Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed spoke to the annual meeting of the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police (NCACP) held at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort on Tuesday, Jan. 23. The presentation was well received, a topic of conversation among conference participants the following day, and Chief Sneed was notified that one Police Department was using some of this speech in the departmental oath. The entire speech will also appear in the Post Conference Edition of the North Carolina Police Chief magazine. The NCACP have held their annual conference at Harrah’s Cherokee for several years.
Following is Chief Sneed’s speech he delivered to the conference:
On behalf of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, I want to say welcome to all of the men and women of law-enforcement and corrections from across the state of North Carolina. It is indeed an honor to stand before so many men and women of service and to again extend a hand of welcome to our sacred homeland.
As I had spent a great deal of time thinking about what I would say this evening, I was taken back to my years of service in the United States Marine Corps. I thought a great deal about the oath that I had sworn to defend the Constitution with my very life. An oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies both foreign and domestic. It is an oath that I believed in then and I believe even more in now.
While I was willing to defend the Constitution with my very life at the tender and very naive age of 18, I have an even greater conviction now in the position as Principal Chief. Once again, I have sworn an oath to defend the rights of those whom I now represent. It is this oath that we hold in common. An oath to defend the rights of those who we do not know, who often times do not respect us, and sometimes even despise us. But it is we who serve who understand the bigger picture and the greater good.
We understand that if we knowingly allow one human beings rights to be violated, that we have allowed the crack in the dam that could potentially one day open the floodgates to absolute tyranny. I’m reminded of the quote from Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) who was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quote, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”
But, it is we who serve who understand the bigger picture and the greater good.
We understand that every human being has value because they are created in the image of God. And we therefore place ourselves in harm’s way and stand in the gap for the defenseless and for the weak and for those who do not have a voice. But it is at this point our oaths of office part ways dramatically. It is true that we are public servants serving our fellow man and our communities. I do so at the risk of people possibly saying mean and hurtful things about me, and they do!
Law officers do so at the risk of their very life, each and every time they suit up and answer the call of duty. It is because of your unyielding commitment to protect and serve that law enforcement and corrections officers are worthy of our highest respect and greatest honor.
You choose each and every day to stand in defense of the law and the rights of those who may never know your name, who may never respect you and who may even bear hatred towards you, and yet you choose to protect and serve and defend.
It is the law officer who recognizes that the office held and the badge of honor that he stands behind is one of authority. Not the authority nor the strength of an individual, but the Power and the righteousness of the rule of law. A law that is greater than the voice of the individual, and yet protects and defends the individual. A law that is greater than the strength of any individual and yet will bring its full force to bear against anyone who seeks to harm another individual.
It is the law officer who lives a life of continual sacrifice. Weekends and holidays are part of the regular work schedule. Missing family events, kids sporting events and dinner with the family are all part and parcel for the men and women who bear the title of officer. It is the law officer who is the daily witness to the destruction of a generation ravaged by pills and heroin. The one who must break the news to parents that their child isn’t coming home because of an overdose. It is the law officer who is first on the scene when there is tragedy and death on the highway. Who holds the hand and prays with an injured motorist barely clinging to life on the roadside. And it is the law officer whose daily interactions are most often with their fellow man when he or she is at their lowest and behaving at their worst. And even then, the officer maintains his professionalism and bearing.
It is indeed a tremendous responsibility that you bear. One that you may not receive so great a reward or recognition in this life for, but instead you continue to strive with great anticipation, for an eternal reward that will not perish, but will stand the test of the refiner’s fire.
You are the officers and the agents of so great a law. You bear this responsibility with great respect and humility. It is because each of you has chosen to place yourself in harm’s way on a daily basis and to protect and serve the rest of us mere mortals that I salute you this evening and offer with the greatest of my own humility, my thanks and gratitude on behalf of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the citizens of the state of North Carolina. God bless you and your families and thank you for your service. I salute you one and all.
– EBCI Public Relations