August 15, 1994

Thank you so much, and thank you Secretary Riley, we have
been friends and allies for many years and I am so grateful for
his leadership on behalf of education for our entire country.
I want to thank my friend Deborah Prothrow-Stith who years ago
first taught me that violence is a public health epidemic. She
made it very clear that if we had a disease in our country that
was killing 65 people a day, this country would be mobilized. We
would not rest until we had figured out how to stamp out that
epidemic. Particularly when it was including in its death 7 young
people a day. And now we know there is an epidemic of violence
and yet there are still some among us who either refuse to accept
the ravages of that epidemic or have other agendas besides the
saving of lives and the reforming of people's futures. And it is
imperative that conferences like this including people like all
youth around this country speak out loudly and clearly to what
your elected representatives know that on this issue as with many
others, when it comes to violence enough is enough and America
wants action now.

I want to especially thank all the cities that sent teens
here to this conference. Because each of you have made a step as
Secretary says starting with the first conference last year, of
recognizing the problem that violence particularly youth violence
poses to our society. We know we have to form partnerships among
all different kinds of people in every community and we have to
have partnerships at the local, state, and federal level in order
to combat the ravages of violence. But I particularly want to
thank the young people who are here and I want to thank Lucretia
for that welcome when I came and sat down. I love that
enthusiasm, I love the sound of young voices speaking out on what
they care about. Truly your being here and your being willing to
commit yourselves to finding solutions is very significant. And
I am grateful for your accepting this responsibility.

This conference as those of you who are participants know,
is about possibility and also about success. And is about never,
never, giving up. I often give commencement speeches and I've
heard many and I'm sure all of you in this room have. But the
favorite I've ever heard about was the one Winston Churchill gave
at his prep school when he strode to the podium and with very few
introductory words said, "Never, never, never give up." That is
the way I feel about many of the issues facing our country today.
And it is also the way I feel about every single young person in
our country today. Every young man or woman, every boy or girl,
has a God given potential that we at our herald give up on. And
it is incumbent upon us, as representatives of the adult
community of this society, to recommit ourselves to youth. The
young people who are here are pledging to you, "If you don't give
up on yourself, we will not give up on you."

We also have to admit it is a lot harder in many ways
growing up today than it was when most of us of a certain age in
this room were coming up. It is much harder. I can remember
times when kids in my neighborhood would take on kids from
another neighborhood. I probably shouldn't say this you'll hear
more stories about my life. But I can remember and since I was
kind of a tomboy I was often involved in some of those
discussions that would occur. But that's what they mostly were
they were discussions when we thought up the worst things we
could call each other. Occasionally there be fists thrown and
people rolling on the ground. Not me I was standing there trying
to say, "Now, boys, now boys." For most of us of a certain age
we can remember it happening. But you know, the occasional black
eye, the occasional hurtful word, the occasional pushing and
shoving that went on, I just thank God that given the strong
emotions that accompany growing up no matter who you are or where
you grow up we did not have guns, we did not have assault
weapons, so when tempers got hot the most we could do to one
another is yell and scream and push and shove and occasionally
throw a punch.

Think of what it is like today where the young people in
this room and the millions others like them are immersed in a
culture of violence. A culture that in so many ways glorifies
violence. We see it everyday on television, we see it in our
movies, but worst of all we see it every single day on the
streets and neighborhoods where children are trying to grow up.
Where many, too many in effect are raising themselves. In too
many neighborhoods gunfire is a daily ritual of life, and uzi is
a badge of honor, instead of a mark of cowardice, which it truly
is . A bullet wound is an emblem of adulthood. As I've traveled
from hospital to hospital in the last year and a half, and I've
gone into emergency rooms, what I heard over and over again is
that the epidemic Deborah warned us about is now raging in so
many of our communities. It is different when you see thirteen
and fourteen year-olds brought in with bullet wounds. It is
different still when they are brought in not with one bullet, but
multiple bullets from assault weapon. It is different still when
the techniques of medicine cannot even keep up with the carnage
that is daily brought through the doors of your emergency rooms.
You go to any emergency room in a medium size city, let alone a
large city in our country, and you talk to the doctors and the
nurses there as I have. If you do not believe violence is an
epidemic, you will become quickly convinced as they tell you the
stories of struggling to save thirteen and fourteen year old
lives. Sometimes saving those lives only to send those young men
out on the street knowing they are likely to be back in that
emergency room in a relatively short period of time.

We see it everyday as we pick up our newspapers. I picked
up a newspaper here in Washington today and read about another
thirteen year old gunned down on the street corner. In
Washington last summer, gun shots were fired at a public swimming
pool packed with children trying to escape the 90 degree heat. A
few months ago, a four-year old girl was fatally shot in the head
when groups of youngsters opened fire on an elementary school
playground. And during the past week a one year-old was grazed
by a bullet from a gunfight. That thirteen year-old who died, it
appears his killer is also thirteen years-old. What does it say
about a society that has graduated from taunts and yells and
thrown punches and raised fists--, that all of us remember from
school yard fights, neighborhood fights in the past. To
thirteen year-olds being gunned down on street corners, a four
year olds being killed on playgrounds, and one year olds being
grazed by bullets.

Over and over we see that children are not only the victims
of violence but all to frequently the perpetrators. In the
1980's more than 11,000 people died as a result of homicide
committed by high school age young people. Gunfire and drive by
shootings and violence have become so common place that many
people don't even notice it or talk about it anymore. In matter
of fact ways children tell you they're not sure they will live to
finish high school. It is not only the academic challenges they
confront, it's the challenges to their physical safety. There is
as you know, no simple answer to this epidemic of youth violence.
That's why we brought federal agencies together to try to fulfill
the President's pledge to begin at least to address this problem.
That's why we need a comprehensive strategy that emphasizes
responsibility and opportunity and community. It's why we need
all the other pieces of security that the President is working
on. It is important to do things like health reform, so that
every young person has a good healthy start in life. It is
important to do welfare reform so that we once again reward
independence and self-sufficiency. It's important to have job
training programs and life-long learning and the legislation that
Secretary Riley shepharded through to the Congress that will make
an enormous difference in how young people learn and what they
learn and what they're prepared to do once they finish school.

It is also right, it is absolutely critical, that this
country not walk away again from dealing with crime, as it has so
many times in the past and did again last week. You know, the
crime bill has been around for 6 years. The average criminal
serves four years in jail. There's been a lot of tough talk
about crime going back a lot of years. All kinds of rhetoric.
Mostly hot air not connected to doing anything positive, to
reaching out a helping hand, to make stricter and surer, neither
smart nor tough, but boy a lot of talk. We're seeing it again
because some people unfortunately would rather practice their own
brand of partisan politics or personal advantage than to deal
with the problems that are right before their eyes. Those who
voted against the crime bill were willing to sacrifice all the
achievements represented at this conference. Those who voted
against the bill weren't listening to the voices of young people
who are with us today or were with us last year. They can
testify the importance of recreational facilities, education
programs, family support services, and other preventive measures
that nurture hope and possibility in our young people. Those
who voted against that bill last week don't seem to care that our
children cannot feel safe at school. A recent survey showed that
fifteen percent of school children believe there are gangs in
their school. Almost one in ten of students in high school
reported that in the previous month they had been in at least one
serious physical fight. Those who voted against the bill don't
seem to care that this pattern goes on and on just as it has for
the past six years, when time after time, Congress caved in to
the pressures of special interest, instead of making this
legislation law.

The crime bill is not perfect; no piece of legislation is.
I bet every one of us would have written it slightly differently,
we would have added or taken out according to what we thought was
best. It is a critical, important, and necessary start. And it
is for the first time a piece of legislation that lays down the
twin principles of fighting crime, punishment and prevention. It
is clear that we face a choice, the President and I were in
church yesterday we heard a great sermon, and one of the lines
from it that I will always remember is when the preacher said,
"You know you can make a choice in your life, but you can't pick
the consequences." I think about that a lot because every day we
make choices, but we cannot be told the consequences that swell
from those choices. So what are the consequences of turning down
the crime bill? Well, the consequences are that once again we
would have turned our backs on the problems you are hearing
discussed. Once again we will have substituted rhetoric for
reality. Once again we will have seen in-action triumph over
action. Now we can focus on all the things we want to change, or
we can say, this is a mission we are on and this is where it
starts to try to begin to deal with the epidemic of violence.

Let's look at some of these pieces of this crime bill that
are so important. Things like YES, Y-E-S, Youth Employment
Skills program. I think it's important to focus on young people
in high unemployment areas to give them the skills they need to
be able to find jobs. I think that's a goal for society and I
know it will help to prevent crime. I wish the folks on Capitol
Hill would agree. Things like the Community Schools Program,
that will give grants to community groups to keep schools open
after hours and on weekends and during the summer so that kids
can have a place to go and stay out of trouble. Safe places
where they can engage in learning and recreation, where there can
be adult mentors and coaches. We know from the examples of such
schools around our country that if schools are transformed into
safe havens for youngsters, children will be safer. I'm not sure
what the folks in Congress who were voting against the crime bill
think we can do with our children after school when it takes both
parents in a home working or when it takes a single parent
working and they then live in fear about what happens to their
children on the streets between the time school is over and the
time they get home for dinner. I want children to have safe
havens and the crime bill would be a good start to that. Programs
like the Gang Resistance Education And Training Program called,
G.R.E.A.T., already a proven success. I've been in a lot of
neighborhoods, places where many of you come from and you know
you fight a losing battle year in and year out to try to convince
young people not to join gangs. Why? Because the gangs provide
a, "haven", not safe but a haven. It provides a family if you
will. It provides a network of people who say they will look out
for each other. It fills a vacuum in the lives of thousands and
thousands of youngsters. Now wouldn't it be better if we had a
positive alternative a program like GREAT where youngsters can be
safe in coming together and working together and learn how to
resist the faults and in many ways dangerous, seductive pleasures
that the gang propose in the short run which leads to death and
misery for so many children. I think we should vote for gang
resistance programs instead of letting more and more children end
up in the gangs.

Look how programs like Police Partnerships for Children,
programs where police officers will take their time to work with
young people, coupling that with community policing where we
again get police officers on the street. Somebody that a young
person can hopefully find some support from, but if we turn on
our back on these partnerships that police are offering, we
loose an opportunity to transform our police officers not only
into instruments of punishment but also instruments of
prevention. And if we also turn our back on this crime bill we
walk away from one of the most important advances on behalf of
women, the Violence Against Women Act. It is time we stood up
and said women should not be victimized, whether it is in the
home, or on the street and we need to give our law enforcement
officials the tools to protect women. It has gone on long
enough, ignoring and denying the depth of the problem of violence
against women this crime bill begins to turn that around. And
that's another reason.

Now if you've heard all of this prevention, and I've only
touched the tip of the old prevention iceberg that is in that
crime bill, with the other elements: a hundred thousand more
police on the streets, a ban on handgun ownership for minors. A
ban on assault weapons that only lead to death and injury. A
three strikes and you're out bill so that violent offenders can
be taken off the street. And I see these young men clapping
wildly because they know what happens in their neighborhoods. You
take all of that and it adds up to a well-balanced reasonable
approach that mixes both prevention and punishment. An approach
that has been worked out and struggled over with lots of input
from people from the grassroots level.

Those of you participating in this conference know first
hand what it will take in your own hometowns to combat violence.
You also know that even though a crime bill is a critical step in
putting this society on the right track for combating violence it
alone can't do the job either. It's not a panacea. If the
President signs that crime bill it's not going to solve all of
our problems. It's not going to keep families together, it's not
going to get adults to give children the type of supervision,
love, discipline, and attention little children need. It's not
going to instill a sense of faith and responsibility in the souls
of young people who have been damaged and alienated, it's not
going to do those things. It is going to begin to put into place
people and institutions and programs that can help lead to those
outcomes. It can give people a chance once again to feel they
are a part of something bigger than themselves. And to lay a
line very clearly that despite all the tough talk about crime in
the last decade has become obscure, and that line is, you have to
know the difference between right and wrong and we're going to
hold you responsible for the choices and the consequences of
those choices. It begins to once again fight the violence in
society. This whole crime debate, the whole issue of youth
violence, is an indication of something much deeper and more
profound. It is an indication of literally millions of Americans
walking away from their responsibilities. And that is what we're
ultimately trying to reverse. We are trying again, against
tremendous odds to say the individual is responsible for his or
her actions. But society is also responsible for individuals.
It is not an either or, it's not a liberal and conservative, that
old stuff is so out of date. That is like beyond talking about.
Some people think they can answer every problem by saying, "Oh
that's liberal. Oh, that's conservative." Or maybe they step
further on down the road of meaningless analysis and say, "Oh,
that's republican. Oh, that's democrat." An assault weapon
doesn't care what political party you are. An assault weapon in
a drive by shooting doesn't even care if you're a member of the
National Rifle Association.

Let's just stop for a minute and ask ourselves, "Haven't we
wasted enough lives, haven't we lost enough young men and women
to prison instead of college? Haven't we turned our back too
many times on the God given potential of every one of our young
people?" I don't care what race they are, I don't care where
they live, every single young person in this country, has a spark
about them that we have for too long allowed to be extinguished
by a level of violence, hatred, and divisiveness that still
stalks this country. We can do much better than that, all you
have to do is look at the faces of the young people around you
today. We know we can do better. But we cannot unless we stand
up and are willing to be counted. I hope you will not only
attend this conference, I hope you will not only work on what
needs to be done back in your own hometowns, I hope you will take
the time to let your member of Congress know why you are here,
what you stand for. And I hope you will say it may not be
perfect, but this crime bill represents a huge first step in
staking out new territories in this country. Once and for all
we're going to be both smart and tough. We're going to begin to
save a generation of young people from this epidemic of violence.
Thank you all.