CLINTON ON YOUTH AND CRIME
MAY 30, 1996
A speech given by President Clinton today in New Orleans to the International Women's Convention of the Church of God in Christ. The focus was youth and crime.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Every day our children are bombarded by influences that would turn them from a positive good path. You were here this week to talk in real terms about what you can do to build better homes and better communities and better schools and better tomorrows for our children. And I have worked hard to help them where government can help. I am glad that African-American unemployment is in single digits for the first time since the Vietnam War, that during the past four years more than 100,000 African-American businesses have been created. I am proud that home ownership is at a 15-year high with record increases in home ownership among African-Americans, but all the homes in the world don't mean a thing if the children can't play outside in the yard or on the street in front of them.
That's why I've supported zero tolerance for weapons in our schools and community-based programs not only to punish criminals but to prevent crime in the first place, to help our kids stay out of trouble, to give them something to say yes to, as well as something to say no to. I think people ought to be able to say yes to jobs in the summertime, yes to staying in schools after hours if they don't want to be on the street, yes to adult-supervised recreation, yes to things that will enrich their lives, and give them a good group to hang out with. I think that is important, and yes, I am pleased with the progress. I am glad that the crime rate is down. I'm glad the welfare rolls and the food stamp rolls are down. I'm glad the teen pregnancy rate is finally coming down. But the truth is it's not good enough. There are a lot of challenges still out there. How many mothers, I wonder, in this country hold their breaths in fear when their kids leave home? How many wonder whether their kids will be shot by a gang or pressured to buy drugs or robbed of their money or beat up because of their clothes? This is no way to live. It has not always been this way. We have shown we can make progress. It does not have to be this way. We do not have to tolerate it, but we all have to be willing to do something about it.
Now there are some more things we can do in Washington. We ought to ban those cop-killer bullets that pierce the bullet-proof vests our law enforcement officers wear. They're not needed to shoot anything in the woods. We ought to do more to preserve the safe and drug-free school programs so that every school will be able to do things like stay open later or open earlier or bring in the DARE officers or others that are helping our children and supporting the work our parents are trying to do. We ought to have welfare reform that moves people from welfare to work but there ought to be enough child care support in there so that the kids aren't hurt and supervision of children is not sacrificed. Today, as the summer approaches, I want to talk to you about another idea that New Orleans has made the most of. And that's community-based curfews, to keep young people off the street. These are just like the old-fashioned rules most of us had when we were kids. When the lights come on, be home, Bill. How many of you were told that? When the lights come on, be home. They're designed to help people be better parents. They help keep our children out of harm's way. They give parents a tool to impart discipline, respect, and rules at an awkward and difficult time in children's lives. I'm sure that a lot of the teenagers think this curfew is too strict. It was a long time ago but I can still dimly remember what it was like to be that age. But they must also know that it's a dangerous world out there and these rules are being set by people who love them and care about them and desperately want them to have good lives. And there is one threat that seems to run through all these curfew programs across the country, and that is once they are put in, the most intense supporters of the curfews are young people who know that they are too often at risk of being victims of violent crime. They want our protection, and we ought to give it to them.
Ladies and gentlemen of this great church, my fellow Americans, can there be any greater national endeavor than saving our children, saving all of our children? Don't we have to remember you know that a lot of people that in public life love to quote the scripture and all of us probably do it selectively, but there are hundreds of admonitions in the Bible, hundreds, to take care of the children, especially the poor children, "Even as you have done it under the least of these, you have also done it under Me." If that was true for Jesus, surely it must be true of America. So I say to you, I honor your commitment, I honor your actions. We must honor these actions I have cited today, but most of all, we must believe that if we will take responsibility for these children and if we will work together, it can be done. God bless you all. And God bless America. (applause)