UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
THE HONORABLE JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL
Thursday, May 28, 1998
P R O C E E D I N G S
VOICE: Good morning.
VOICE: Good morning, Ms. Reno.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Good morning.
One of the reasons that youth violence has dropped 2 years in a row is
that people everywhere are pulling together to help young people keep on the right
path. But the tragedy last Thursday, in Springfield, Oregon, reminds us again that we
have more to do -- more to fight violence by children, more to stop violence against
children, and more to prevent violence among children. We have got to go to the heart
of the problem, and focus on what works, to help children resolve their frustration,
their anger and their conflict without violence.
That effort has to be part of a comprehensive, integrated strategy for
fighting youth violence. For some time, I have worked very hard to highlight
community programs that really work. I want to take a few moments now, and in the
future, to talk to you about some of the promising efforts that we see occurring around
Today I want to highlight a program called Save our Streets that is
working right here in the District of Columbia. It takes juveniles who are charged
with a weapon offense and provides them with 16 weeks of education about the
juvenile justice system and nonviolent conflict resolution. Save our Streets helps
young people get back on the right track. It deals with troubled young people face to
face, and gives them the tools they need to stay away from crime and violence.
According to a recent study, young people who stick with the program
for at least 3 weeks are 90 percent less likely to be arrested on a gun charge, and are
rearrested one-third less often on other charges. Save our Streets is making a
difference. And if its success continues, it is going to help save lives and cut crime.
But we have more to do. We need Congress to act on President
Clinton's juvenile justice legislation, which offers a comprehensive approach that
includes targeted funding for crime prevention and intervention programs. We need to
see other programs, like Save our Streets, develop across the country. But we also
need to save our young people from indifference, conflict and violence. And if we
pull together, I know we can.
Joining me today are two people whose organizations are helping to run
Save our Streets. They are Marge Baker -- and we welcome you -- President of the
National Institute for Dispute Resolution; and Ed O'Brien, who is the co-Executive
Director of Street Law, Inc. In addition, I am very pleased to be joined by Detective
Thomas Webb of the Metropolitan Police Department, who works directly with young
people in the Save our Streets program.
Ms. Baker, we are delighted to welcome you, and we would appreciate
MS. BAKER: Thank you so much.
We are extremely excited about the promising results of this program,
which was funded by the Metropolitan Life Foundation as part of its Positive Choices
And we are extremely grateful to the Attorney General for her
commitment to and support of conflict resolution education in general. We could not
have a more stalwart supporter than the Attorney General.
The results of the Save our Streets program project affirm the value of
conflict resolution education in helping to create safe schools and communities. And
think, if this intervention with young people, who are very much at risk, can have the
kind of impact it did -- a 90 percent reduction in rearrest rates for weapons offenses --
then imagine, just imagine the impact of conflict resolution as a prevention strategy if
it were embedded throughout the entire K through 12 educational experience.
We are extremely excited about the prospect of bringing that result to
bear, and want to work with the Attorney General and others to try to make that a
reality. And we thank you very much for the opportunity to highlight the results of
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Detective Webb, you are the one
who is seen it firsthand.
MR. WEBB: Yes, ma'am. I appreciate you inviting me down here
This program helps kids from the inner city who are bombarded daily
by all forms of violence, from shootings, stabbings, rapes, domestic violence, to cope
and better deal with conflict. The program sets the kids in a classroom where they
interact in a form where -- they take part in a class; they are just not talked to. It
places them in a position of authority, as a police officer in one class, and teaches them
what we go through as law enforcement.
And we play the children on the street or the subjects on the street who
they have to deal with. And it is kind of a role reversal, and it shows them what the
authority figures have to go through. And it helps me to show what the kids are going
through, what they are thinking. And it helps me communicate with them.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Thank you.
Again, it is so important that we realize, if we are going to make
programs like this have a lasting impact, that we have got to develop comprehensive
efforts in the communities across America. But as we highlight the building blocks of
comprehensive community programs, I think the sharing will enable us to spread
efforts like this throughout the Nation.
QUESTION: Are there programs in other cities similar to the one in
the District here, that you have described?
MS. BAKER: We think this is fairly unique. What we did is we
took -- we combined a curriculum in conflict resolution education and embedded it in
a 16-week course in law-related education. So, helping the young people who are
caught up in it right now, in the middle of the juvenile justice system understand that
system, understand the players in that system, understand their way around it,
understand the legal framework that they are working within.
So, it is very, very relevant to them. And then we embedded in that
lessons around conflict resolution. And so that unique combination of creating the
relevant learning opportunity for the young people we think is what made quite a
QUESTION: This success rate covered over how many months --
MS. BAKER: Six months out.
QUESTION: -- and how many children were involved?
MS. BAKER: Six months out. And there were about 200 young
people in the program.
QUESTION: Two hundred. What is the age range of the kids? And
when they first go into the program, are they skeptical that there is other ways besides
physical weapons to solve their problems?
MS. BAKER: The age range is 13 to 17. And the kids are very
skeptical. I brought with me a copy of an article written by one of the young men who
participated in the program. And he says outright, he said, I did not believe this stuff
when I first got in. And then, their teachers, who are just marvelous, and the resource
individuals, like Detective Webb, who come in and work with the kids and really help
them think about the situations they are in and help them think about what might the
alternatives be, what else could I have done. And they start answering that question
for themselves and, together with their peers, they start interrupting -- they start
gaining the capacity to interrupt that initial gut reaction, which is anger, which is to be
And so the conflict resolution piece of it helps them unpack that initial
response, de-escalate, and think about, well, what are the alternatives? What are the
And as Detective Webb was saying, being able to hear from a police
officer, walk in that police officer's shoes, understand what that police officer is
experiencing; and then have that role flipped, and have the police officer able to
understand what the young person is experiencing, you have the makings of an ability
to start de-escalating a conflict instead of escalating it.
MR. WEBB: It really helps them in the first few moments of a
conflict, where normally they react, gee, now they are thinking about what they are
going to do instead of just reacting to their stimulants.
QUESTION: Detective Webb, is it automatic that any person between
13 and 18, in D.C., who is arrested on the first gun charge goes to this program -- in
essence, is sentenced to this program -- as an alternative to whatever else the sentence
MR. O'BRIEN: It is part of their indoctrination to the justice system.
And they are put in the system and they are shown and guided through the system,
because it is a first-time offense.
QUESTION: Do you find that it has any effect on -- I am sorry, I
cannot hear you very well.
MS. BAKER: I just wanted to clarify that these are pre-adjudication
cases, so the young person who is arrested, it is a pre-adjudication. So, they are
directed to this program pending the resolution of their case.
QUESTION: Is it part of a plea bargain -- (off microphone)?
MS. BAKER: No. No. It is absolutely not.
QUESTION: Is it automatic for everyone who is arrested on a first gun
charge? There are not some who you think are better candidates who then go into
MS. BAKER: That is correct. Everybody is directed to it.
MS. BAKER: And stays as long as their case is pending.
QUESTION: And, Detective Webb, if I could just ask my second
question. Do you find that, as a result of going through this program, the young
people that do, have a different attitude about the police?
MR. WEBB: Oh, most definitely. I was talking earlier that the
children, after they go through the program and they are done, through the system and
sentencing, I see them on the streets and they actually come up and talk to me,
whereas before it was a more adversarial role we were playing. I was an authority
figure and they were on the street. And now they come up and say, how are you
doing, Detective Webb? And they are not afraid to come up and talk to me.
QUESTION: So, all of these children were arrested on gun charges?
MR. WEBB: Yes.
QUESTION: And so roughly 200 arrests over what time frame?
MS. BAKER: I'm going to say 18 months -- I'm not positive.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I will ask Bert to make sure we give
you the accurate figure on that.
QUESTION: What is the percentage of girls?
MS. BAKER: I do not know.
MR. O'BRIEN: It is low. I think the percentage of girls is, you know,
probably 10 percent, something like that. But it has been growing in recent years.
I would add something to a previous question. And that is about
attitudes towards the police and others. Law-related education is very much a part of
this. And the Justice Department has funded a national, and does continue to fund, a
national law-related education program. That has been evaluated to show that it
changes attitudes towards the law, towards authority figures, et cetera.
Combining that with the conflict resolution skills for the first time here
and taking on what -- well, when we started this, we were quite skeptical ourselves -- a
little skeptical ourselves, I should say -- that it would work with gun charges. But
focusing on the gun issues, making them think, bringing resource people in, like
Detective Webb, bringing the conflict resolution skills in, has really made a very
MS. BAKER: One young person, for example, said, I have some idea
of what to do now if somebody asks me to carry the gun for them. I have some
responses. I know how to handle that situation differently than I might have before I
was in this course.
QUESTION: I'd like to step back for a second. As you speak to the
need for a program like yours, the notion of 200 kids over 18 months having weapons,
firearms, should we be shocked by that?
MR. O'BRIEN: I think we should be shocked by the number of cases
with weapons in this country, yes.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I think that is one of the issues that
we have got to confront. I think it is clear from the research that with the advent of the
crack epidemic in the early eighties we saw a proliferation of guns that got down into
the hands of kids. And I think we have got to do everything we can to make sure that
kids understand what guns do, that they are not influenced by television, where they
think that there is no consequence with respect to guns. They have got to understand
that they should not possess guns unless there is a legal, authorized, supervised use of
And I think it is clear from what we are seeing that this is one of the
issues that must be addressed in every community.
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, I understand there is going to be a resolution
in Congress which will be aimed to address this problem, and also -- (off
microphone) -- the effect of weapons. What is your reaction to those ideas?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I have not seen the proposed
resolution, so I cannot comment on that. But I think what is clear -- and I think
Detective Webb has touched on it -- we have got to reach out to our young people,
those that fear, those that may have been the victim of some assault, and make sure
that they feel they can come forward.
Wherever I go, I try to talk to young people who have been in trouble
or who are in trouble. And again and again -- and you have heard me say this these
Thursday mornings -- what they say they need is someone who can talk to young
people, someone who knows how to listen to them, who can respect them, but also
discipline them when it is appropriate, somebody that they can relate to. And I think it
is incumbent upon us all to figure out how we can better communicate with young
people, holding them accountable, but giving them the support and the encouragement
and the foundation they need to grow as strong, constructive human beings.
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, I'd like to ask another question. Concerning
the availability of drugs, the type of drugs being used, about toxicity of these young
people when they are using guns, are they basically stoned when they are in possession
of firearms? And just generally what is it like?
MR. WEBB: Generally, the kids on the street, a lot of the younger
ones, are in fear of all the violence they are seeing. So, they feel they have to arm
themselves. They do not feel like the system is working for them. And that is what
the program is trying to do is say, hey, we are here for you. We are wanting to
communicate. We are not what you think you see on TV about the police and the
system -- and trying to help them.
But, generally, the younger children are not using drugs. They have
weapons, or they see them, because they feel not safe.
QUESTION: In regard to that question. Ms. Baker, earlier you said
one young person said, now I know what to do if somebody says, here, hold this gun
for me. If you are 13 years old and you live in this neighborhood and there are some
characters there that really scare you, and one of them who has, like, bullied you in the
past and may bully you in the future or threaten your life says, here, hold this for me,
how does a 13-year-old resolve that situation?
MS. BAKER: It is very, very tough. I mean, these kids are confronted
with daily violence in their community. And their sense of safety is at risk. And that
is something where we are saying that fundamentally this a community issue and takes
all parts of the community, trying to create an environment that is a safe and healthy
environment in schools and in communities for the young people.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Let me give you one thought there.
In communities where community policing is really established, where there is an
officer in a neighborhood that young people can relate to, that has been a very
effective mechanism in trying to deal with the situations that you describe, whether it
be the young person who does not know what to do when the big bully gives him the
gun or the elderly lady who is afraid to come out to community meetings.
Communities are being made to feel safer because of good community
policing. And I think that is another one of the building blocks. But, in addition, just
think of what we could do with resources if we were able to develop programs where
the community police officer kept them out of trouble doing what Detective Webb is
doing with them now.
QUESTION: Could I ask a point for clarification here? The school
incidents that we have seen over the last few months really have got nothing to do
with it, I mean you are talking about inner city kids, kids that are involved in violence,
and then we have got kids who may -- have troubles -- it seems to me a big difference
between what you are talking about and some kid out in Idaho who decided to go and
blow away his classmates.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Look at what might have happened
in Springfield if there had been a detective program. For each community the building
blocks will have to be assimilated. Each case is going to be different. In some
instances we will not find the key that could unlock and prevent the tragedy. In many
instances, if we use our common sense, the same situation exists in the heartland of
America as in an urban city. Sometimes it is going to be different.
But it is finding the pieces and, most of all, in trying to teach people --
the basic effort here is how do you teach people to control their anger and not use
guns? And that is common to the whole problem that we see.
MS. BAKER: And the other thing I would like to add to that is this
was an intervention strategy. This was an intervention with kids who are already in
trouble. Think what you could do if you could embed the skills and the understanding
about conflict management in kids from the get-go, so it was part of their educational
experience, it was part of what they learned. So that when they came out of middle
school or high school they had this skill set. It was not a question of intervening at a
point where they are at risk, it was a question of giving them the right skills to
prevent -- as a prevention strategy.
MR. O'BRIEN: To follow up briefly on that, we believe that this
curriculum and this program can be taken into schools. We work now -- the Street
Law program is all over the country in schools, but we -- this particular curriculum
could be added especially to schools where there are kids that potentially are like the
kid that we saw last week. So, I think we need, in community settings, programs like
this, in court, for first-offender settings, but also in schools. It is very important to get
every kid to focus on the issue of guns, the issue of violence.
QUESTION: Is there a cultural component to some of this? I mean,
here in D.C., we have got ethnic gangs, you have got kids from Central America, you
have got kids from Asia. When you work with these children and you go through this
role playing and all of these things, is there particular attention paid to some of the
ethnic differences and cultural differences?
MR. WEBB: No. Really, it is amazing, because when we are on that
level, it does not really come into play. It is like color is not a factor, and we are just
dealing with being people and communicating.
MS. BAKER: I do want to say that many of the role-players the young
people helped design. So, as this curriculum was being built, the role-players changed
to reflect their cultural settings. So, there was that aspect to the curriculum
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: So, I do not feel like -- you do not
feel like I am cheating you of time to ask other questions, I want to point out I am
going to have to leave here at about quarter past 10, to go speak to about 2,500
youngsters on the whole issue of how we resolve conflict.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: But I do not want to cheat my
QUESTION: Just one more, please.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Well, here would be my suggestion.
Why don't you ask me questions now if you have any, and then perhaps Ms. Baker and
Detective Webb and Mr. O'Brien would be willing to stay.
QUESTION: I have one for you on this subject.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Okay.
QUESTION: You raised the role of Congress earlier in your remarks.
Congress, as you know, is working on another aspect of this same problem. There is
legislation that they are working on up there dealing primarily with the gun side of the
equation, dealing with trigger locks, a mandatory requirement for trigger locks, and for
criminal penalties for adults whose firearms wind up being used by children in
I forget if you have addressed yourself to those issues before. If you
have not, could you do so? What do you think about those? And if any of your guests
have any thoughts on the usefulness of those things, I would be interested.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: What we are trying to do is make
sure that penalties are increased for juvenile possession of guns and for adults who
transfer guns to juveniles. We are seeking funding aimed at preventing juveniles from
getting guns and for programs such as this, and funding for innovative court programs
that would focus on the issue of juveniles and guns.
QUESTION: So, you would support those measures in Congressman --
(off microphone) -- efforts and those by Congressman Schumer, and others?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Let me get the specific language and
have Bert confirm for you. Because there are so many pieces floating around, I want
to make sure that we are okay.
QUESTION: Speaking of conflict resolution, the Mexican
Government is very upset over Operation Casablanca. They are upset that they were
not consulted. They think some Customs officials involved need to be extradited.
What is your reaction to that? Do you think U.S. agents acted improperly? Why
wasn't Mexico consulted? Is there no trust for the Mexican Government?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: As Secretary Ruben and Under
Secretary Kelley made clear, the undercover agents were working on this investigation
at great, great personal risk, up to and including the very day of the arrest. And the
security of the agents required that the investigation be very closely held even within
law enforcement in this country.
Again, though, as I mentioned last week, I think there has been
cooperation. The Mexican Government has made arrests as a follow-up to this. And I
look forward to continued efforts aimed at money-laundering here in the United States.
QUESTION: On the extradition of U.S. officials, or the threat of
extraditing U.S. officials do you think it is a credible threat? Did we act properly in
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I do not do "what ifs." But I know
that some very dedicated law enforcement agents spent a great deal of time trying to
bring to justice people who perpetuate drug trafficking.
QUESTION: Ms. Green, the Secretary of State -- the Exterior Minister
of Mexico, Ms. Greene, said that this was a very strong blow to bi-national
cooperation, and especially in drugs, said that the U.S. agents obviously broke
Mexican laws, and that this would all have to be negotiated and could very seriously
affect the cooperation between Mexico and the United States. Have you any reaction
to Ms. Greene?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I think we must all do everything
that we can to focus on drug trafficking and the damage it is doing to both nations, and
to take the appropriate steps, based on our laws, that will bring these people to justice.
I think the Mexican Government has followed through in this effort. I know they are
trying to implement their money-laundering law. And I think we can continue to see
that people who violate our laws are brought to justice.
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, a quick question on privilege. First, will you
be appealing the District Judge's order -- ruling on the Secret Service privilege?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: We are reviewing that now.
QUESTION: When do you intend to make your decision?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Shortly.
QUESTION: And with respect to her ruling on executive privilege, it
turns out that you entered into the case -- unbeknownst to us until very recently -- and
asked her to find that there was a qualified privilege, to use a balancing test, which she
basically seems to have done. Are you satisfied with her ruling on executive
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Our comments will be made in
QUESTION: So, you may be appealing her ruling?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Our comments will be made in court
if they are made.
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, could you explain, though, why in that case
the Justice Department took a view that is different from the White House? They
argued for an absolute privilege and the Justice Department argued for a qualified
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: It is important that the Department
of Justice reflect the institutional issues that the Department has with respect to major
issues like executive privilege. And this was our position.
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, yesterday, at a forum on youth violence at the
University of Maryland, a Harvard epidemiologist said she sees us now into a second
wave of youth violence -- the first in the late-eighties, into the nineties, inner cities,
blacks mostly; now it is suburban, rural and society in general she says seem to
be curiously interested now -- I mean, why -- do you see this evolution? Because it is
now happening in areas where whites prevail and they cannot quite fathom it?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I have not seen her study, but I will
tell you that in the experience I have had in the last 5 years, rural and less urban
communities reminded me again and again that the problem of youth violence has not
been one just seen in urban areas. It is a problem that we have got to deal with.
And what is so important is that we should deal with it in a thoughtful
and bipartisan way. We should get the best minds looking at the facts, trying to reach
the appropriate decisions. And, to date, all the factors and all the evaluations indicate
to me that what we need to do is to develop a comprehensive prevention effort that
gives young people a real opportunity, with the skills such as they are learning in
conflict resolution, through mentoring programs, through truancy prevention programs
that keep them in school, give them a chance to really grow in a strong and positive
I think it is important that we have intervention programs, so that the
first-offender, who is charged with possession of a gun, is not just let back to the
streets without appropriate intervention, such as we have heard about here today; and
that for those who continue to commit crime or commit serious crime, they have got to
know that they face a very certain and very firm consequence that fits the crime.
So much of it is going to involve communities and how they develop
these comprehensive programs. Because a good prevention program will not work
unless there is a program to hold people accountable. And chiefs of police across the
country have indicated that detaining them will not be the answer either. We have got
to use common sense and we have got to figure out what works. We have got to look
at evaluations, and we have got to build from that.
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, I take it that the OPR review of Judge Starr's
investigation is still pending Judge Johnson's rulings on the 6(e) motions and the other
motions that are before her?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: That is as I understand it.
QUESTION: Earlier this week, a number of celebrities and defense
attorneys got together in New York City, and called on the Justice Department and
yourself to look into the civil rights abuses in Wenatchee. How is that coming along?
I know that you guys have --
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I have not seen their letter yet. But
what we have indicated is -- in the past with respect to the Wenatchee case -- is that we
do not have general supervisory jurisdiction over State court proceedings. There can
be certain extreme cases where we might have jurisdiction, and we will continue to
review all the new information we receive, to see whether there is any basis for
jurisdiction for the Department to review the matter.
Pete, you had a question.
QUESTION: Speaking of letters, have you gotten a letter from four of
your previous predecessors -- that was smart --
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I am glad you said that.
QUESTION: -- on whether the Department should appeal the Secret
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I understand that we have not
received a letter from my four predecessors -- or four of my predecessors, but that we
have received a letter from a professor, stating that he represents them. I have not seen
the letter yet.
QUESTION: There is an article today about secret evidence that
Mr. Starr has shown to Judge Johnson, that pertains to White House persons needed to
testify. Have you asked for or have you received any offer of seeing that evidence?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I have tried to do everything I could
to ensure the independence of the investigation and have not discussed it.
QUESTION: That would not concern you, then?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I have not discussed it with
Mr. Starr. And as you know, I have tried very hard to make sure that we do not do
anything that interferes with his investigation.
QUESTION: Given that position, Ms. Reno, can you talk a little bit
more about why the Justice Department decided to enter the privilege discussions?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: There are institutional issues that are
at stake in terms of the Department's position with respect to executive privilege that
apply only to the law, and do not go to the issues at hand. And it is important that the
Department's institutional position that has evolved over time, with the development
through career lawyers of the Department's point of view, I think be made known to
the court in those situations.
QUESTION: Can you tell us whether the FBI investigation in Miami
about the INS raid, whether that has been concluded, whether it is anywhere near
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: My understanding is that it is still
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, a few weeks ago Judge Starr requested a
face-to-face meeting with you to resolve how the allegations against David Hale, in
Arkansas, would be resolved, or would be investigated. Have you had that
face-to-face meeting? And have you and the OIC worked out an alternative
mechanism to investigate those allegations?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I think, again, it would be
appropriate, so that I do not do anything that affects his investigation, that any
comment be made by Mr. Starr.
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, back to the youth violence issue for a
moment. The President, as you know, asked that you convene a group of experts on
this issue. And I gather they have met at least once. What do you see as their role in
this process? Will they make recommendations to the Department? What are they
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: We have met with them twice now.
And they are making recommendations. They have had some very thoughtful
comments. And at this point, we are trying to determine how we can best use their
precious time to address the issues and to develop a plan of action that is a real and
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, have you any idea of how other countries deal
with this? Because I know the United States is so much more violent than other
industrialized countries. Have you ever taken a look at, sort of, say, in Britain or
Japan and other places, where the violence is so much lower?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I had the opportunity to attend a
conference on the issue, and addressing the issue, in England in December of 1996, as
I recall. What is clear is that we have got more of a problem with respect to youth
violence than many of our other European and counterparts in Canada. And we can
give them warnings of what is to come. They remind us, again, of the problems we
face with guns in the hands of young people.
And I think, generally, there are specific programs that we hear about
that we try to improve on. One of the most interesting efforts I have heard about was
from a Canadian expert, talking about the sentencing circles in the Native American
tribes in Canada, and the fact that they do not find blame when they are sitting, trying
to figure out what to do with a young person. They try to figure out what caused the
problem in the first place and do something to solve it, to break the cycle that is
causing the crime.
As they point out, they are trying to heal rather than to blame. And
there is some measure -- I think we have got to hold our young people accountable, but
I think we have got to address what causes the problem in the first place.
Thank you very much.
Would you all be willing to stay and answer any questions?
MS. BAKER: Yes.
MR. WEBB: Yes. Take care, ma'am.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Thank you.
(Whereupon, at 10:08 a.m., the Attorney General's portion of the press
QUESTION: Can you clarify for us what the gun charge is here? Is it
possession? Is it use of a gun in the commission of a felony, armed robbery, any
crime involving a gun? Or is it just possession?
MR. WEBB: Any crime involved with a gun, possession being the
minimum, and any other crime of violence that would be a higher charge.
QUESTION: And if I may ask another question, every State and the
District of Columbia has its own laws, and there is also a Federal Gun-Free Schools
Act that says that if you bring a gun to school, the school must expel you. But, also,
bringing a gun to school is of course a Federal crime.
In the District of Columbia, if a young person brings a gun to school,
are they charged with a crime? And would that enter them into your program, as well?
MR. WEBB: Yes. They would be expelled from school, and then they
would have to go through an alternative education source. And then they would be
entered in our program.
MS. BAKER: Let me just clarify that the young people,
predominantly, who are referred to this program are young people who possess but
have not yet used. There are some who have used a weapon, but primarily it is young
people who have been determined by the court to be able to benefit from this. And
most of those young people have not used the weapon, but some have.
QUESTION: Does anyone who spends time in jail go through this
MS. BAKER: Well, they are separate proceedings. This is a
pre-adjudication process, pending the disposition. The disposition could be jail. The
disposition could be dismissal of the case. It could be a range of options.
MR. O'BRIEN: But if they succeed at the program, then the charges
would be dropped. So, this is really, you know, a chance to get them out of the system
if they succeed.
QUESTION: What does that involve?
MR. O'BRIEN: To attend the classes, participate, clearly, you know,
benefit. There are also some tests taken. We have shown an increase in knowledge
about the law is one of the other factors that was looked at in the evaluation. But
attendance is the key, and participation and --
QUESTION: How many hours a day?
MS. BAKER: It is 16 classes, 2 hours a week.
MR. O'BRIEN: Thirty-two hours.
MS. BAKER: So 32 hours.
QUESTION: And can you give us an example of a situation you have
described -- well, how do they resolve the conflict? What is an example of how you
tell the kid to avoid pulling out the gun or taking it in the first place?
MS. BAKER: Well, our classic -- you know, bumped in a hallway or
bumped on the street -- I mean, those are the kinds of situations that escalate. So, you
use that as the scenario. And you have the kids role-play. Now, first of all,
understanding what was their reaction, understanding what are the forces that could
make that situation escalate. And they do it in the context of a role-play, which is safe.
So, you are not out on the street testing this, you are in the context of a
classroom, in a role-play, where you have got individuals there to help you think,
okay, well, what happened, how did I feel, what could I have done, let me analyze
what my options were, what would happen if I walked away, or said, "See you later,
got to go, or if I said, "Sorry, I bumped you."
So, in a protected environment, they learn to analyze the forces that
could cause the conflict to escalate, to think through what actions they could take --
communications, body language, whatever works for them -- that would help diffuse
QUESTION: Is there a dropout rate?
MS. BAKER: From this program?
MR. WEBB: Yes.
MS. BAKER: Yes, let me clarify that. There is a dropout rate. About
half the kids actually end up going through a majority of the classes. And that is
because -- as I said, this is pre-adjudication -- so these young people are in the
program while their case is pending. If their case gets thrown out, they may not come
back to the class. They do not have to come back to the class. If they get incarcerated,
they do not come back to the class.
So, there is a large attrition rate. And this is actually why we suspect, if
we could take this methodology of integrating -- teaching about the law and teaching
about conflict resolution into other settings -- for example, alternative schools, where
there is more -- so that it is embedded in the ongoing, you know, classroom activities,
we think there would be, obviously, less attrition, and we think perhaps even more of a
QUESTION: Why do you think -- the 90 percent figure for -- 90
percent less likely to be rearrested on a gun charge is phenomenal -- why do you think
two-thirds of the graduates of your program, if I may, are nonetheless rearrested on
MR. O'BRIEN: Well, I think the focus of this program, you know, for
32 hours -- not every hour of it, but the majority of it -- is looking at the issue of
violence and guns, and then dealing with that. So, if we had a longer program -- and
we do out in the schools, our Street Law programs around the country do focus on lots
of areas of law and crime, and not just criminal law, as well -- but I think that the main
thing we are doing here is really getting them to stop and think. It is not telling them
what to do in a situation at all. It is getting them, through discussions and the
role-plays and the classes, to really focus on themselves.
There is a nice quote in the article about -- I hope you all get the
handout that we have -- from the kid who says: They deal with real, day-to-day
problems in these classes. You learn about it so you can use it. There is no purpose in
getting arrested or killed for nonsense. If you really respect yourself, then you are not
going to get into trouble, like a hoodlum.
It is thinking. This is what we do not have. And many young people --
we all know, many of us have teenagers -- they often do not think before they act,
QUESTION: So are you saying that the school system is amenable to
what you mentioned, of doing this, or is there a turf problem here?
MR. O'BRIEN: I do not know. Wh0at do you mean by a turf problem?
QUESTION: That you are taking over the teacher's --
MR. O'BRIEN: We have been working to spread the teaching of law in
schools now for about 20 years. And there is always an issue of time. But I think the
one good thing that may come out of the terrible tragedies that we have seen around
the country is I think schools might be willing right now to begin to focus on giving
up some time to really solve what could be a terrible tragedy and prevent it.
And so we will try to push on that. And this is a big push here, getting
the Attorney General to endorse it, and perhaps schools around the country can focus
on this. And they can contact us, and we would like to see how we might spread this
to schools, community settings, alternative schools, suspension programs, any of these
things, rather than just having kids sit. This is a chance to have them really change.
MS. BAKER: The other lessons learn here is the value of getting the
conflict resolution in the ongoing relevant educational experience. So, if teachers are
teaching English, that are teaching history, embedding the conflict resolution in the
lesson that is currently before the young people is also a way to engage them around it,
in a way that is relevant to their current educational experience. And it does not take
away from the teaching experience, but in fact adds to it.
QUESTION: It is illegal to possess a handgun if you under 21, in
terms of a long gun 18, it is basically illegal to own at all in the District of Columbia,
where are these kids getting these guns?
MR. WEBB: Well, guns, generally, in the City, a lot of them are being
housed in the suburbs and are being burglarized, some straw purchases from illegal
sales in the City.
QUESTION: Detective Webb, were you called upon to shelter, to aid,
to come in, to intercede for those youths who might be threatened by pushers, bullies?
MR. WEBB: Well, I had a case recently of a young man -- this
happened yesterday as a matter of fact -- who was threatened by bullies and he knew
where a gun was. And he came and got me and said, Detective Webb, I know where
there is a gun. It is not mine, but I really feel I need this, because I am in fear of what
might happen to me because these bullies want to hurt me over something that was
I said, well, tell me where the weapon is and we will get the weapon,
and then we will talk. And that is what we did. We recovered the weapon and we
talked. And everything worked out.
QUESTION: But do you shield them when you find yourself in that
MR. WEBB: No, only if the person who is bullying him is actually
breaking the law, then I will step in.
QUESTION: What if someone is walking down the street and is
jumped by somone who does have a gun; what does he do in that situation? It is scary
enough when somebody does not have a gun, but --
MR. WEBB: Right. Well, the main thing is avoiding this. He is going
to try to avoid the conflict instead of to interact with force, with his own weapon. If he
can just avoid the whole situation, and contact someone who he trusts in law
enforcement, like myself or someone else that he can trust, then we will try to help
him out. But, right at that moment, if he is caught with someone with a weapon and
he does not have one, then, God bless him, I do not know what is going to happen in
MS. BAKER: One of the things that is covered in the curriculum is
five different approaches to conflict. You can avoid, you can accommodate, you can
be competitive, you can compromise, you can collaborate. And there is no right
answer. And every situation will demand a different response.
And it may well be -- and we teach that in certain situations the best
thing to do is to avoid.
MR. WEBB: To run if necessary.
MS. BAKER: So, this is not, you know -- no matter what the situation
is, sit down and talk about it. There are quite a few situations where you are going to
want to avoid it.
I can also address the issue about why there is disparity in the weapons
rearrests. One of the lessons is myths about guns. For example, you know, true of
false, most guns are bought through pawnshop. False. You get it from a friend.
Another myth, there are the same Federal safety regulations for gun
manufacturers as there are for the manufacture of teddy bears. False, no, there are not
safety regulations that gun manufacturers have to adhere to.
The kids do not understand this -- they understand that the
environment around guns and the whole issue around gun control and the legislation
of guns -- so that they have a different appreciation for it.
QUESTION: Do you know of any cases where a kid goes to classes --
and goes back -- or drops out and just you later here that they used guns or something
MS. BAKER: I did not hear of any such cases.
MR. O'BRIEN: Well, let me add that we are not saying that it does not
happen, but we just don't know of any.
MS. BAKER: I have heard of the alternative. I have heard of a young
man who had been bullied because he wanted to go class. He wanted to go to
graduation. He was being bullied, you know, why are you going to do this? And
really harassed about going. And he went.
MR. O'BRIEN: This is something that is really interesting about these
classes. These are kids who, for the most part, have not succeeded very well in school.
They come every Saturday morning to the courthouse and attend these classes, first,
very skeptical, got a lot of negative body language, et cetera. But they are very
quickly bought in to a whole different style of teaching, a whole different style of
caring and relevance to their lives. They really see this as beneficial to them by the
second or third class and have a very different educational experience than perhaps
they have ever had before.
One thing we wanted to mention is we would invite any of you, if you
want to come up afterwards, if you would like to come see a class, it is held right in
the Superior Court Courthouse, in the jury lounge, every Saturday morning for a
couple of hours. And we can arrange that. And I would be happy to do that.
MS. BAKER: You might be able to participate in a role-play.
MR. O'BRIEN: That is right. You might not be able to be -- (off
QUESTION: (Off microphone) -- skeptical kids; is that what sort of
wins them over, that you do not just sit there and lecture to them?
MR. WEBB: They feel part of the -- (off microphone) --
MR. O'BRIEN: Exactly. They are not talked at.
MR. WEBB: They are not talked at. They feel part of it. They enjoy
it. They actually begin to enjoy themselves.
MS. BAKER: Yes. In the exit interviews with the kids, they comment
on that. I mean, they comment on it is a different teaching style than they have
VOICE: Thank you all very much.
MS. BAKER: Thank you.
MR. O'BRIEN: Thank you.
MR. WEBB: Thank you.
(Whereupon, at 10:20 a.m., the press conference concluded.)