Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Deputy Attorney General

Remarks to the United States Conference of Mayors

New Orleans, Louisiana

June 12, 1999

Thank you Mayor Corradini for that kind introduction and thank you also for inviting me to participate in your Conference. The relationship between the Clinton Administration and the Mayors of this Nation has never been stronger. Let me particularly thank

[ ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ] for all you have done to build this partnership.

On behalf of President Clinton, Vice President Gore and Attorney General Janet Reno, please accept the Administration's thanks for all of your efforts across a wide spectrum of issues. As I look over President Clinton's Fiscal Year 2000 budget, I see program after program with the clear imprint of America's mayors.

For example, under the leadership of Mayors Jeff Griffin and Brent Coles, you have taken major steps forward in the fight against drugs. A recent Justice Department study showed that between 50 and 75 percent of those arrested in 35 metropolitan areas have illegal drugs in their system. All too many of these defendants go to prison and get back out on the streets of our cities with no testing, no treatment and no sanctions.

President Clinton responded to this pervasive problem by crafting a $215 million program consisting of a proven regimen of deterrence, treatment, testing and sanctions. The President recognized the fact that we need to address the problem of drug abuse in creative and effective ways. And, with our 21st Century Crime Bill and budget, we will.

You have also provided leadership in the COPS program. We have now made grants to fund the 100,000 officers to which President Clinton committed. You played a significant role in developing this program in 1993 and 1994, and have been very helpful as we mold a continuation of this program with funding for more officers, enhanced technology, and the retention of existing cops who are on the beat every day in communities across this Nation.

But, Congress now wants to zero out -- that is, provide no funding for -- either the COPS program or our fledgling program to establish community prosecution, both of which have served America well. Not only is crime down for seven straight years, but just three days ago, during a ground-breaking conference that we convened on improving police-community relationships, the President and I heard from law enforcement, civil rights and community leaders, who all told us that community-oriented policing has had a major impact on improving the quality of policing across America. We must continue to do everything in our power to bring the crime rate even lower -- to help every person in this Nation feel safe in his or her home, school and community.

In that regard, the most important step we can take is to continue funding the COPS and community prosecution programs. That is simple common sense. And yet, there are those who want to stop these programs dead in their tracks. The stark contrast between these two positions is clear: Our President stands for more cops and fewer guns. The extremists want fewer cops and more guns. Clearly, my friends, we must rally around the President.

Another proposal that will greatly benefit from your experience and expertise involves guns. Many of us remember September 13, 1994, the day President Clinton signed the 1994 Crime Bill on the South Lawn of the White House. On that day we commemorated the life of 9-year old James Darby, a citizen of this City. James had earlier written to the President explaining that he was fearful for his life because of the violence in his neighborhood, only to be later struck down by a stray bullet while walking home. Since that tragic day, we have made great progress in making this a safer America. Crime, most particularly violent crime committed with a firearm has been down, year after year.

But, there are those who seek to block the next important steps we need to take to make this an even safer America. The tragedies of Colorado, Georgia and many other places too numerous to mention, have all galvanized the American public and have made it clear that we need to take reasonable steps to reduce gun violence NOW.

With the support of Republicans and Democrats alike, President Clinton announced a series of proposals designed to preserve the legitimate needs of firearms owners while protecting the American public from the scourge of gun violence. And, with Vice President Gore stepping to the well of the Senate and casting the tie-breaking vote, the Senate passed landmark legislation adopting many of the most important proposals made by the President: closing the gun show loophole; banning large capacity ammunition clips, and requiring child safety locks for every gun sold.

This coming week, the House has an historic opportunity to build on the Senate's progress. Unfortunately, however, it appears that some House Members may be balking. And, that is why your hard work on these proposals can make all the difference to the final outcome. You need to make it clear to Members of Congress in no uncertain terms that they should be welcoming the President's gun proposals, not watering them down; that they should be charging forward to make our communities even safer, not changing course; that they should be embracing the will of the American people, not ignoring it; that they should be challenging the goals of the narrow special interests, not cherishing them; and that the President's reasonable, effective, popular, bi-partisan proposals to curb gun violence need to be implemented NOW.

On behalf of the Administration, I thank you for your support on these proposals.

Thank you.