CLINTON ON CRIME
MAY 17, 1996
The NewsHour continues with its weekly series of speeches from the Presidential campaign trail. Tonight it's President Clinton's turn. He explained his approach to crime fighting to the students of Webster Groves High School near St. Louis, Missouri.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: All across America the crime rate is dropping. We're in the fourth year in a row of a big drop in crime. In Webster Groves, you're on your way to making this the lowest overall crime year in almost 20 years. Congratulations to you.
(cheers and applause)
But I have to tell you something, and that's the reason I'm here and we're in this hot gym on this warm day.
(laughter in room)
If anybody had told me this four years ago, I would not have believed it. If anybody told me the following fact when I was sworn in as President, that you will have four years of declining crime rates in America, the murder rate will drop, the robbery rate will drop, the rate of rape and arson will drop all across America, but unbelievably, the rate of random violence by children under 18 will go up, if someone had told me that three years ago, I would not have believed it, but that is exactly what has happened. And so I'm telling you, what we have to do is to solve that. We have worked very very hard to give American communities the tools they need to bring down the crime rate. With the strong leadership of Dick Gephardt in 1994, we passed a sweeping crime bill that, among other things, will put another 100,000 police officers on the streets of America over a five-year period. We're already at 43,000 and climbing. We have worked hard to deal with the problem of guns and violence. We passed the Brady Bill after years of debate. We passed--(applause)--we passed legislation banning 19 kinds of assault weapons. We passed legislation calling for zero tolerance for guns in the schools of this country. And you know, there was a lot of controversy about that legislation. I heard the awfulest din about it in 1994 you ever saw, but it's 1996 now, and in Missouri and my native state of Arkansas, we have had every kind of hunting season you can possibly have, and not a single hunter has lost his or her rifle. I'll tell you what has happened. Sixty thousand people with criminal histories, with mental health problems, with other things that make it unfit to have handguns, have been denied the right to get handguns because of the Brady Bill. We did the right thing.
(applause) We did the right thing. (applause)
We have done what we could. We passed a bill called the Safe and Drug Free Schools Act. It gives money to schools all across the country to do what they think they need to do. Here our program has helped station a plain-clothes police officer at the school. People should be safe in schools, if there's any place on earth, young people should be safe all day, every day, it is when they are in school. Every young person should be safe.
All over America schools are asking for permission to try different things. I was in Long Beach, California, a couple of weeks ago. That's the third biggest school district in our biggest state, and they voluntarily decided to put in school uniforms in their elementary and junior high schools. They let the students pick the uniforms and design them. They had a gang problem, and all of a sudden they realized that when their kids were in their own uniforms, nobody mistook them for gang members anymore. People stopped following them home from school. People stopped attacking them on the play yard. They were able to restore discipline, reduce crime, and increase learning. There are all kinds of things that are happening all across America, but without exception, we find that they are led by people in the community and especially by active, aggressive young people who say I do not want my classmates to live a life of danger, I want us to be safe and secure. That's what we need for you to do today.
(cheers and applause)
Because dangerous gangs are spreading across America, we are working with federal prosecutors everywhere to try to go after gangs that are seriously violent in the same way our country went after the mob decades ago. We cannot permit the spread of gangs to spread guns, to spread drugs, to spread violence all across the country to communities that don't have to face that today. We are working at that. But let me say one more time--the places where crime is down are the places where people are working with police, the places where young people are taking the lead. I know what the economy will present to those of you who have a good education and who are willing to work. I know what the incredible diversity of America means in a global society where any country would give anything to have the diverse resources of our various racial and ethnic groups, of people educated, committed to freedom, and committed to hard work and free enterprise. But I know too that unless we can purge ourselves of crime and violence and drugs and gangs, your future will never be what it ought to be. So I ask you to stand up as you have here for the concept of zero tolerance in school, stand out for the concept that gangs and drugs are wrong, stand up for the idea that you have to participate in a partnership with police if you want a safe neighborhood, a safe street, and a safe school. You have shown what you can do here, but you mark my words. You will have the best future any generation of Americans has ever known if you'll work for it, but only if we can make America a safe place again, so every one of you, we need your personal commitment, no to crime, no to guns, no to gangs, no to drugs, yes to your own future. If you do that, your future will be the brightest of any generation in American history. Thank you and God bless you all.