THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts)
For Immediate Release August 27, 1998 12:00 P.M. EDT
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT SAFE SCHOOLS AND COMMUNITIES EVENT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, first let me thank you for your remarkable and warm welcome. I'm glad to be here in Worcester, the heartbeat of Massachusetts for 150 years now. (Applause.) And in this grand hall where so many great Americans have spoken, from Frederick Douglas to Susan B. Anthony to Henry David Thoreau. I'm honored to share this stage with Kathleen Bisson, and I thank her for her commitment to teaching our children and for keeping them safe; and with Officer Michael Jones, who moved us all with how he responded to his personal tragedy.
Mr. Mayor, I thought you gave a great talk. (Applause.) When he was up here kind of moving around, doing his shtick, I said -- (applause) -- I was amazed. Kathleen said, you know, he ought to be in Hollywood, you should see the rap act he does for the school kids. (Laughter.) So I thank you.
Chief Gardella, I cannot thank you enough for what you said and I appreciate more than you will ever know the impact that we have had the opportunity to have through the community policing and the other law enforcement programs.
I thank Scott Harshbarger, who has been a friend of mine for a long time, and who has, I can tell you from my personal experience not only as President, but even before when I was governor, always been on the forefront of law enforcement reforms that would give our children a safer future. (Applause.)
I thank Congressman McGovern who has worked in both the areas we celebrate today, and in so many other ways. It's interesting to see a man who both knows what he's doing down to the tiniest detail about how Congress works and how the committees work and how the procedures work -- and I think Congressman Moakley's tutelage had something to do with that before he showed up. (Applause.) But it's interesting to see someone who has that feel for the mechanics and also is plainly so connected at an emotional, human level to the people in his district and so passionately cares about it, and was able to convey that to all of us today through the wonderful metaphor of his wife and young child. And if you want to cry, go right ahead. (Laughter.)
Let me also thank Congressman Markey, who is here, and Congressman Neal for coming out to the airport to meet me. I thank Senator Kerry, who has long been one of the leaders in law enforcement issues in the Congress, for his involvement in both these issues. And I thank Senator Kennedy for making sure that even though this is the end of a long program, none of us could possibly go to sleep. (Laughter and applause.) I always marvel at his continuing energy and commitment and dedication. And some days when I get tired and weary, I think, he's been doing this longer than I have and he never gets tired or weary, and that's a good thing. (Applause.)
Let me say, I have a few brief things to add to what has been said about the two issues we came here to discuss today. But because this is my only opportunity to speak with you and, through you, to the American people, I want to say a couple of things about Hurricane Bonnie and the havoc it's wreaked in North Carolina in the last day, and the flooding caused in Texas by Tropical Storm Charlie.
I know that all of our hearts go out to the families affected by these storms. Yesterday I declared a disaster in Texas because of the flooding, and today there's a disaster declaration that has just been issued for North Carolina. That makes federal funds available immediately to people who have been harmed in both places.
Thankfully, the winds are dying down in North Carolina. Hopefully, the floods soon will recede in Texas. In both cases, FEMA, our Federal Emergency Management Agency, is working with state and local agencies to assess the damage and to stay there for as long as it takes to help the people rebuild.
While we're here today, Vice President and Mrs. Gore and Secretary of Education Dick Riley are in California talking about the same things -- our common commitment to make our streets and our schools safe for families and children.
This is, as Senator Kennedy noted, a time of great prosperity for our people. We have the lowest unemployment in 28 years, the smallest percentage of people on welfare in 29 years, about to realize the first balanced budget and surplus in 29 years -- (applause) -- and we learned not very long ago that home ownership is at its highest rate in American history. And this has occurred at a time when we have reduced the government to the smallest size it has had since John Kennedy was the President of the United States. (Applause.)
I come here, as I have gone across this country, to say to my fellow Americans, this is not a time to celebrate, but to be grateful. It is not a time to rest on our laurels, but to use the confidence, the resources, and the understanding we have acquired for the last six years to face the long-term challenges of this country. For the world is changing very quickly, full of new challenges.
Senator Kennedy mentioned one of them, the problem of terrorism, which has become a bigger problem for us as we become more open, and as information and money and technology can move around the world so quickly; as people themselves can move across borders so quickly. These multinational problems like terrorism, or even the global spread of disease, or shared environmental problems, are things that visionaries must think about and take steps now to prepare for.
The world will never be free of problems. And we know that the world is changing fast, which means that if we wish to maintain our present level of success, we must keep up. We cannot afford to relax. We must become more rigorous. And we must -- I say again -- use the newfound confidence of America to think more boldly, not less boldly; and to act more boldly, not less boldly, for our children's future.
There is critical business ahead of us, business that we will take up as soon as Congress comes back to work. One of the members who spoke before me mentioned it, but we want to make sure -- I think Congressman McGovern did -- we want to make sure that we have saved the Social Security system for the 21st century before a penny of that surplus is touched. (Applause.) We think it is important.
We want to help the teachers like Kate Bisson, not only with school violence, but with the tools necessary to move our children forward. I have an education agenda before the Congress that would provide funds in the balanced budget for school construction, to help repair and rebuild and build new buildings so that children aren't in substandard conditions. We have children going to school in some cities in America today in buildings that are 65, 70, 80 years old, where the windows are broken, where they go in -- where whole floors are closed down. What kind of signal does that send to children about their importance?
In other parts of our country we have children going to school in house trailers because the school districts are growing so fast and there's no way the people can afford to keep up with it. I was in a small school district in Florida recently where there were 17 trailers outside the main school building. This is important.
We have a program to help out school districts hire 100,000 teachers in the early grades so we can get down to an average class size of 18. It is the single most significant thing that the research shows over more than a decade now that will guarantee that children will get off to a good start in school.
We're trying to hook up all our classrooms to the Internet. We're trying to support the establishment of voluntary national standards. We are trying, in short, to make sure we can say to our children, no matter where you grow up or what your racial or ethnic or income background is, you have access to the finest system of elementary and secondary education in the world. That's a big part of our agenda.
We have a huge health care agenda, and it begins with the patients bill of rights. With 160 million people in managed care operations, people ought to have a right, whatever their health care plan, to see a specialist if their doctor recommends it; to have emergency room care where it's needed if they have an accident; to have their medical records kept private; to be able to appeal adverse decisions. These things are important.
And so I say to you, we need your help. There's going to be a big debate on campaign finance reform when we get back in the Shays-Meehan bill that is cosponsored by Congressman Meehan from Massachusetts that's going to be in a version before the United States Senate. And our people are going to work hard to pass it. There will be major environmental debates when we get back. And these things are important.
So I say to you, the energy that brought you here today, the concern you have for these issues, you need to bring it back to every single major challenge this country faces. If I had told you six years ago that in six years we would have 16 million new jobs and all these other things, you would have said, there's another politician running for office. It happened not by accident, but because of the hard work and the vision and the citizen spirit of the American people, and the disciplined efforts that we have all made. And we must not forget that now that times are good.
We also can't forget that unless we make our communities, our schools and our children safe, prosperity doesn't mean very much. That is why this is at the core of what we have tried to do.
I told this story many times, but I want you to let me share it one more time. Right before the New Hampshire primary in 1992, a period when I was dropping like a rock in the polls -- I have some experience with that -- I was going through a kitchen in New York City. And I was walking to one of these banquets, one of these fundraising banquets. I didn't have any idea whether it would be three people or 300 or 700 when I got out the door. I was just walking through the kitchen to get there.
And a waiter came up to me, in this nice hotel in New York. And I wasn't very well-known then -- I was the governor of Arkansas, I just started running in New Hampshire. And this man came up to me and stopped me, and he said, Mr. Governor, I want to talk to you. He said, my 10-year-old boy here in New York -- he said, he studies these elections and he reads up on the candidates, and he says I should vote for you. He said, now, if I vote for you, I want you to do something for me.
I said, well, what is it? I couldn't imagine what this man who was a waiter in a hotel in New York wanted me to do for him. He said, well, the place where we came from in the old country, we were much poorer, but at least we were free. He said, here I make more money, but we're not free. When my boy goes across our apartment house, across the street to play in the city park, I have to go with him because I'm afraid for his safety. Our school is only a couple of blocks from our apartment, but I have to walk him because I'm afraid for his safety. So if I do what my boy wants and I vote for you, will you make my boy free? I will never forget that as long as I live. (Applause.)
The comprehensive approach we followed on crime is basically what, as Senator Kerry said and he certainly supported very strongly, is just what the local law enforcement people and the local community leaders taught us to do -- be smart about prevention, be smart about giving kids something to say yes to, be smart about law enforcement patterns, be smart about punishment. Crime rates are now at a 25-year low, juvenile crime is finally coming down. People do think, I think, that they are more free.
We have worked hard especially in the schools with the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program. We've supported communities in schools that offer anti-truancy, curfew, school uniforms and dress code policies. We have strictly enforced zero tolerance for guns. Last year alone, over 6,000 students with guns were disarmed and sent home. This year, recently, a new report showed that the overwhelming majority of our schools are, in fact, safe. But it's not enough, as we know from the recent rash of killings in our schools all over the country.
When children in inner-city schools have to walk through metal detectors, when high schools in small towns like Jonesboro, Arkansas in my home state or Springfield, Oregon are torn apart by disturbed children with deadly weapons, when gang violence still ravages communities large and small, we have to do more.
This fall, we are going to hold the first-ever White House Conference on School Safety, and today we're taking two steps that I think will make our schools safer and our communities stronger. First, offering a guide to help prevent school violence before it starts and, second, expanding the remarkable Police Corps program to Massachusetts and elsewhere.
Let me show you what this early warning guide is all about. Earlier this year, in the aftermath of the tragedy of Springfield, Oregon, I actually went there to Springfield and I spent an extended period of time in the school library, going from table to table to table, meeting with the families of the victims; children who had been killed and a much larger number of children who had been wounded.
I talked to the school official. I asked them what they knew about the young man who was apparently involved in this incident. I asked them how they dealt with kids who were in trouble; how did they know when children were in trouble. And we began to ask other people, and we concluded that not everybody knew everything they needed to know in clear, practical terms about how to spot the danger signals early and then what to do about them.
So I asked Secretary Riley and Attorney General Reno to develop the safe school guides for educators, for parents, for fellow students, to help them recognize and then respond to early warning signs. This is the guide. It says, " Early Warning Timely Response: A Guide To Safe Schools." Now, over the next few weeks, every single school in America will get a copy of this in time for the start of the new school year. It will help schools to recognize a troubled or potentially violent young person. It outlines steps to intervene early before it's too late.
As Secretary Riley and General Reno say in their introduction, the guide should never be used to stigmatize or label young people in distress; instead, it should be used as a vital part of overall school violence prevention efforts that have to include, as others have said before and as your Mayor said about Worcester, every teacher, every parent and every young person.
This guide can make a difference in the lives of our children. The Police Corps can also make a difference. It embodies the same commitment to every person and the commitment to public service that was embodied in the life service of John and Robert Kennedy.
I first heard about the Police Corps from Adam Wolinsky, who has previously been eulogized by Senators Kerry and Kennedy, when I was the Governor of Arkansas. I was so impressed by this program and by Adam's commitment to it, that I became a charter member of the National Committee for the Police Corps on the spot. Adam and his wife, Jane, are here and I know they've already been introduced, but I want you to know that we would not be here talking to this today were it not for this one American citizen, and he is harboring a dream for years and years and years until it became real in the lives of people, and I thank him for it. (Applause.)
When I was Governor, I signed a bill to create a Police Corps scholarship program in our home state. And when I became President, thanks to the efforts of Senator Kennedy, Senator Kerry and others, especially of Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend of Maryland and Adam, we put the Police Corps in the 1994 Crime Bill.
We've already heard that much in the way that ROTC functions, this remarkable program gives talented young people college scholarships in return for their commitment to serve as police officers in their communities. I should mention, as was pointed out to me here today before I came here, that a preference is given to one group only -- the children of police officers killed in the line of duty. And I understand that the state police here has already identified several young people who are the children of police officers who have died in the line of service in Massachusetts who, themselves, want to go into law enforcement and would be eligible to get these scholarships.
In 17 states around the country, that's what the Police Corps is already doing; creating a new generation of police officers trained to stand on the front lines and listen on the front porches, to work in distressed communities and be role models for young people.
Now, the young members of the Police Corps who are here with us today -- and I think there are some, aren't there? Are there any Police Corps members here today? What? Stand up. (Applause.) Thank you. We have invested in their honor, their courage, their commitment to community and country. We need more like them. That is why the announcement we make today expanding the Police Corps to six more states, including Massachusetts, awarding scholarships to more than 300 dedicated young people, is a good thing for the United States.
This Police Corps is an incredible example of what we can do when we put progress ahead of partisanship, people ahead of politics, the future of our children ahead of all else. As the Mayor said, in referring to the First Lady, it does take a village. But both of us note, as we travel around the country -- and Hillary mentioned to me just about a week ago when she came back from another stop -- it is astonishing -- it is astonishing how many places we go will there be somebody in the receiving line who will thank us for the community police officers in their community, large and small.
Robert Kennedy once said, "The fight against crime is, in the last analysis, a fight to preserve that quality of community which is at the root of our greatness, a fight to preserve confidence in ourselves and in our fellow citizens, a battle for the quality of our lives." With these actions, we move a step closer to winning that battle for all our people, and to building that bridge toward a strong America in the 21st century. Thank you and God bless you all. (Applause.)