BUBBHA AND THE BROTHER
JULY 10, 1996
President Clinton spoke this afternoon at the NAACP Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. The topic was African-Americans in today's America.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: For much of the last four years, the African-American unemployment rate has been in single digits for the first time in twenty years. A hundred thousand--there are a hundred thousand new African-American-owned businesses. After falling by $2,000 in the previous four years, median income for African-American families has increased by $2400 or 11 percent in just the first two years of this administration. Average wages are going up now for the first time in a decade. Homeownership is the highest in 15 years. There are 3.7 million new American homeowners. The growth of homeownership among African-Americans is higher than the national average, and one reason is we have a Secretary of Housing & Urban Development, Henry Cisneros, that has worked to cut the closing cost on those homes by $1,000 for first-time home buyers.
So we're moving in the right direction. But we have to keep working until all of our people can reap the rewards of this time of change. Four years ago, we had a lot of rhetoric on crime but not a lot of action, and the crime rate was at unbelievably high levels. But there was a quiet change going on in many of our communities who recognized that we had to have more police on the street trying to prevent crime, not just catch criminals, relating to people in the communities, working with the parents, working with the children. They recognized that in addition to tougher punishment for serious offenders, we needed more prevention programs for community activists who wanted to help save these kids. And when I became President and I asked the Congress to pass that kind of crime bill, and they did, and now we're putting 100,000 police back on the street, we're taking guns off the street with the assault weapons ban and the Brady Bill. We're increasing penalties for people who should be punished more but also giving our young people something to say yes to. And we are now seeing the fourth year in a row where the crime rate is going down. And that's something to be proud of.
Now having said that, you'd be cheering from the rafters but for two things. Instead of polite applause, we'd get a roaring cheer, but there's two things that keep you from giving a roaring cheer. What are they? No. 1, the crime rate is still too high, right? I mean, it's--so what if it's lower? It's still way too high. And that means it's important--we dare not turn back on a strategy that's working. We've got to keep strengthening our community efforts, putting more of these people out on the street who can be community police officers. I won't be satisfied with this crime problem until we can meet this test. We will never purge the country completely of crime, because you can't--at least the President doesn't have the power to alter human nature. The preachers here can all on a higher power, but I can't. So we'll always have some crime. What will be the test for you when you know that the crime rate is at a manageable, acceptable level in a civilized country? When you go home at night after a long day at work and you flip on the evening news, and the lead story is not a crime story, or if it is, you're surprised instead of deadened by it, you're really surprised, then you'll know that we've got the crime rate going in the right direction for good.
The other thing that bothers people is that even though the crime rate is going down in the country as a whole the rate of crime and violence by people under 18 is going up. We've still got too many innocent kids being killed in cross-fires by drive-by shootings. We still have too many kids that are out there raising themselves on the street so they wind up in gangs because everybody wants to be part of something. Most people can't just live wandering around as hermits all alone. So if you put people out there on the street and they have to raise themselves, they wind up in gangs because people don't want to be alone. And there's not another compelling alternative. We have to fill that gap, and we have to do the things that are responsible. Those of us who are responsible for the future, we cannot lose another generation to gangs and guns and drugs. We cannot waiver on that.
We cannot show weakness, and we dare not cater to special interest groups on this. We are determined to stand by the ban on 19 deadly assault weapons. It was the right thing to do. (applause) You know, it's hard to think of anything an American could do that didn't kill a lot of people that would offend our sense of decency more than burning a house of worship. This whole country got started in part by people coming here so they could build their own churches and worship God in any way they pleased and they wouldn't be oppressed here. That's how we got started.
In the darkest hours of our country, when we lived with the awful curse of slavery and then later with the problems associated with the attempt to escape, if it had not been for the African-American church, if it had not been for the African-American church--(applause)--what would have happened? We might have plunged this country into an orgy of violence and killing and lost tens of thousands more people and hardened our hearts against one another in ways that it would have taken a century or more to overcome. So we are going to do everything we can to stop these fires, to catch who's doing, to rebuild. But I say again this work we're doing here is dealing with a flaw in the human spirit that all of us have to fight always. We cannot--we cannot let significant numbers of the American people turn into cowards, acting in the dark of night, on racial, ethnic, or religious bigotry. We cannot do that. (applause)