October 15, 1998
The East Room

10:30 A.M. EDT

MRS. CLINTON: Good morning and welcome to the White House. We are delighted to have all of you here to begin this important national conference on school safety and youth violence.

We're here because we believe that every child in America deserves to grow up in homes and communities free from fear and violence, and to attend a safe, orderly school where he or she can learn and flourish. We've come together today after a lot of hard work by many, many people around our country, as well as in our government, to help make that vision a reality.

I'm glad to see so many of you here today who contribute to the safety and well being of our children -- parents and teachers, law enforcement officials, religious leaders, elected officials, heads of youth organizations, counselors, child advocates and young people. I also welcome those who are participating in this event by way of satellite. There are over 650 down-linked sites in communities nationwide. And we're also being cybercast on the Internet. I'm heartened that so many of you have joined us here today, because to be successful we must reach out and get our message out and mobilize communities beyond these walls and this White House.

This year, the words "children," "guns" and "death" were tragically linked in our national consciousness. Shootings in schools across the country -- from Jonesboro, Arkansas, to Springfield, Oregon -- refocused our attention on the problem of youth violence and brought us together in national mourning and grief. These terrible events also left us asking over and over again how could this have happened, what does it mean, what can we do about the countless acts of violence that occur in our nation every day and that affect our children in communities, in their homes, on their streets and in their schools.

We know that this conference cannot find all the answers or solutions; but we can make significant headway by listening to those on the front lines about the many challenges we face and by learning to work more effectively together. Today we will hear how critically important it is to get responsible adults back into the lives of our young people and give our children positive alternatives to violence and crime. We will also be reminded once again how schools so often reflect the problems and needs of the neighborhoods around them and how we must develop comprehensive school safety plans that engage the broader community.

We have a busy day ahead and I know that there have already been some very stimulating workshops earlier this morning that many of the participants here in the White House participated in. And now conference panelists will build on existing knowledge about the problems of young people and violence. You've already looked at some of the root causes of youth violence and at some of the early warning signals of violent behavior.

In this first plenary panel we are pleased to be joined by the Attorney General, Janet Reno, and the Secretary of Education, Dick Riley; as well as three people who have firsthand experience and expertise about the problems we're discussing today: Suzann Wilson, Marlene Wong and Paul Kingery. We will look in-depth about the challenges from the recent incidents of violence in our schools, to the more familiar problems of guns, drugs and gangs. And we will also talk about what happens in the early years of a child's life that may in some way direct that child more toward violence and what we can do to help break the cycle of violence in families and communities.

After lunch, the President will lead a discussion about solutions and will unveil new initiatives that we believe will help address the problems of youth violence. And the panelists will talk about successful strategies, from community policing to mentoring, that are making a real difference across our country.

At the third and final conference panel later this afternoon, community leaders and legislators will highlight some of the nations most effective programs that are helping to lower juvenile crime and delinquency. And we will look at how entire communities have developed comprehensive intervention and prevention strategies that not only cut youth violence but also lower dropout rates, teen pregnancy rates, and arrests for possession of drugs and weapons.

The President has also said there are no problems facing America that haven't been solved already somewhere in America. And we have seen firsthand how the enforcement of laws, like zero tolerance for guns in schools, are combined with prevention measures like art classes and after-school sports and tutoring, and that together they help keep our children in school, off of drugs and out of trouble.

But sometimes the word doesn't spread. A successful program in one city may not be known about across the country. And part of our goal today is to make sure everyone concerned about these problems knows what is going on, so they can seek out the help and the ideas and the assistance they need.

We're going to recognize the progress this country is making in creating safer schools and communities. And we're going to highlight how it does make a difference what political leadership does, whether it's at the national level with the passage of anti-crime measures like the Brady law or the ban on assault weapons that are keeping thousands of handguns and assault weapons out of the hands of felons and fugitives and stalkers and away from children. And I'm delighted that we're going to be joined today by Sarah and Jim Brady as well.

We've also funded 100,000 new police officers on the street, and we know the effect of community policing and how it has helped to reduce crime -- but not only decrease crime, but also create better networks of support within communities between law enforcement and neighbors. The fact is that we know works. We just have to get about the business of doing it, and we have to learn from each other.

Too many of our children are not benefiting from what we know works, and I'm delighted to see some of the mayors from our cities here today who have done such great work in implementing effective anti-crime and anti-youth violence measures. We have to do more than develop safe strategies. We have to teach our children that guns won't earn you respect and that violence won't settle an argument. And we have to give them a positive vision of their future.

So we're going to get started now, and we're going to see a short video, made by MTV, that gives us a chance to hear from the people who are most affected by violence in their lives, mainly our young people. So if you will, please join me in watching this video.