Good morning. It’s especially good to be here after a big Buckeyes victory. I was relieved to see that you did not make history and instead trounced your opponent.
Thomas Edison once said -- "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
I’m grateful for the opportunity to be with you -- the dedicated people who put on the overalls everyday -- and you, who are responsible for the phenomenal 87 percent success rate in capturing Columbus’ most wanted criminals. And I’m especially honored to be a part of your awards ceremony recognizing those for their exceptional work this year.
I was impressed that, for 27 years, your Tips Line has brought in the kind of information that led to the arrest of the notorious I-270 shooter, a terror that I completely identified with, having experienced our own random shootings and killings in the Washington D.C. area not that long ago. Tips that led to an arrest in the shooting of the Wendy’s manager this past winter. And tips that led recently to apprehending the criminal who killed a one month-old baby and his father in a drug-related shooting.
Now, I understand that you’ve raised a $57,000 reward for information about the person or people responsible for the September arson that killed ten people in the Lincoln Park West apartment complex.
Central Ohio Crime Stoppers shows what happens when the entire community—law enforcement, citizens, businesses, the media, and civic leaders—pulls together for one purpose: to make your neighborhoods safer. To make sure criminals are bought to justice, and to make sure citizens have a way—a safe and anonymous way—to bring their information to the authorities.
You may have heard the tragic story of the Dawson family in Baltimore. Angela Dawson was neither safe nor anonymous – she had called police several times to report drug dealing in her neighborhood. Two years ago this month, Angela Dawson and her five children were killed when a drug trafficker doused their house with gasoline one night and set it on fire. All in retaliation for her calls to police and for speaking out. The Dawsons simply wanted the most basic right of citizens: to live freely, in peace and safety, in their own home. For this they paid with their lives.
President Bush has said, “The true strength of the country lies in the hearts and souls of our citizens.” The Dawsons knew that. And, you know that, by providing the mechanism for the Angela Dawsons to be heard safely. And now it is our job, as citizens of this country, to protect and defend our freedom, whether it’s against urban thugs or international terrorists who seek their own goals without conscience or remorse.
I was reminded recently—in a very stark way—of how blessed we are and how great our debt is to this country. Earlier this year, I went to Kabul in Afghanistan to meet with United Nations counter-narcotics officials. In that country, opium production accounts for 60 percent of the gross national product. Afghanistan is a land torn apart by decades of occupation, civil war and unrest. A mere three years ago, it was an open haven for terrorists.
As a result, much of Afghanistan now looks like a scene out of the Mad Max movies or the old Wild West—primitive shacks on the side of mud roads, and young men standing about at all hours because they have nothing to do. Life is hard; people age fast and die young.
But earlier this month, we saw evidence that the Afghan people have begun their journey out of oppression and towards freedom. Two weeks ago, they successfully held their first presidential elections, setting the stage for what was called a “vigorous democracy.” These elections have given the Afghan people -- and, truly, all of us -- optimism about establishing a fully representative government.
I learned something during my visit there. I stayed overnight in a 10 by 15 foot shipping container on the bunkered grounds of the U.S. Embassy. And that was the VIP quarters!
Early one morning, when I stepped outside my shipping container, I was struck by the sight of three young Marines raising the American flag over our embassy, with a tinny-sounding national anthem playing on a very old tape player. I couldn’t help but be awestruck as I watched our flag unfurl—it came home to me that I was standing where no American had set foot for almost 30 years, in a country that had been filled with terrorists who tormented and murdered generations of its own people.
As I watched our flag unfurl, I couldn’t help but think that it is only by accident of birth that I am American. I could have been an Afghan woman, who -- until 3 years ago -- would have been covered from head to toe in a burka, denied a basic education, and struggled for mere subsistence, with a life expectancy half of what we take for granted in the United States. And, I certainly wouldn’t be standing before you today!
Instead, I was born in this land of prosperity, hope, and opportunity. But we have to work to protect these gifts. You have shown us the way right here in Columbus—and at the Justice Department, we’re trying hard to keep up with your example, doing the same kind of good work across the country and the world. We’ve achieved important successes on behalf of our citizens. Allow me to tell you about some of them.
Over the past three years, the Justice Department, working with people across the length and breadth of our land, has succeeded in its most critical mission: preventing another major terrorist attack on American soil.
There are those who want us to apologize for doing what needed to be done to protect America.
They’ll be waiting a long time.
We are winning the War on Terror:
We are using the tough tools provided in the USA Patriot Act to defend American lives and liberty. From my perspective at DEA, the Patriot Act allows law enforcement to employ proven tactics against terrorists that have long been judicially authorized and used in the fight against organized crime and drug dealers. It helps law enforcement agencies share information and cooperate more effectively with one another.
An example of how we use the Act can be found right here in Columbus. Some of you are familiar with the Iyman Faris case. Faris is a naturalized American citizen who worked in this city as a truck driver. Using information-sharing allowed under the Patriot Act, law enforcement pieced together Faris’ activities:
Faris pled guilty in May 2003, and last fall, he met his fate under the Patriot Act’s tough sentences. He is serving 20 years in prison for providing material support to al Qaeda and conspiring to provide it with information about possible targets for attack. That’s what the Patriot Act does.
The brave men and women of law enforcement have defied fear by keeping America safe from terrorism. And in this time of war…in this time when they have been asked to sacrifice as never before…they have stepped up to the bar.
Remarkably, they have done this while succeeding better than we have in years at the work of keeping our citizens safe from “ordinary” crime. Pessimists have long told us that violent crime is a fact of life…especially for poorer groups of Americans. But last month, the Justice Department reported that federal, state, and local law enforcement have driven violent crime rates to record 30-year lows. And yesterday’s Uniform Crime Report reflects that violent crime is even another 3% lower and continues to decline. This record level of safety has been achieved for all Americans…across every economic category in our nation.
And then too there were the pessimists who said that enforcing existing federal gun laws would never really work to reduce violence. But the record shows otherwise. In the past three years, under Project Safe Neighborhoods, we have increased federal prosecutions of gun crimes by 68 percent. In 2003, alone, we charged a record 13,000 defendants with federal firearms offenses.
This increase in prosecutions has translated into fewer crimes committed by gun-toting thugs, as well as thousands fewer victims. Let’s compare the three years prior to Project Safe Neighborhoods to what we have been able to achieve in the three years since it started in 2001.
In that time, even as the population has increased, the number of gun crimes has decreased by more than a quarter million. During that same time, more than 350,000 citizens were spared the fear and pain of gun crime. That represents an 18 percent reduction in the incidence of gun crime, and a 20 percent drop in the number of victims who faced a gun.
Then there are the pessimists who propose drug legalization, coining the phrase that this is a "failed drug war," and saying the fight against illegal drug use can never succeed. But the facts could never be farther from the truth. The facts show we are succeeding:
And, in just the past two years:
DEA is working with you, our state and local partners, to rid this community of drugs. For about a year, we targeted a violent trafficking organization that controlled a large amount of the heroin trade here in Columbus. The traffickers were linked to two murders and five drug overdose deaths. In May, we arrested a significant drug lieutenant, who confirmed that his gang was distributing about 60 grams of heroin daily in Columbus. In late August, we arrested the gang’s leader and his top commanders. In addition to charging them with drug charges, IRS also indicted several of the leaders on money laundering charges.
These traffickers had been operating with impunity for years. Today, they sit in prison, their organization decimated. We achieved that by working together with our dedicated partners in the Columbus Police Department and the Fairfield Hocking Major Crimes Unit in the local HIDTA, and the US Attorney’s Office.
But we at the DEA know that fighting drugs is about more than enforcement. Treatment, prevention and research will be funded with over $5 billion. Communities in 42 states will receive a total of over $18 million to establish or continue drug courts. Here in Ohio, I understand that 55 drug courts are already in operation, with 13 more being planned. Those 55 drug courts are—with overwhelmingly successful results—helping addicts heal and get back on their feet.
The bottom line is that, for the past three years, we’ve been proving the so-called experts wrong—the ones who say crime, violence, and drugs must be accepted parts of our culture. Americans are safer from terrorism today. They are safer from violent crime, safer from gun violence, and safer from illegal drugs.
While we have achieved remarkable success on behalf of the American people, there is much work still to be done. It is underway as we speak. Yesterday, I was in Missouri to announce the new National Synthetic Drug Strategy that outlines new attacks against meth, ecstasy, and the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs. Attorney General Ashcroft also announced last month that the Department of Justice is awarding more than $31 million in grants to communities to respond to violence against women. The Justice Department is ensuring that rapists, batterers, and stalkers are punished for their crimes. The number of federal criminal cases filed under the Violence Against Women Act more than doubled between 1999 and 2003.
Last year, the Attorney General announced President Bush’s “Advancing Justice through DNA technology” initiative. This effort commits one billion dollars over five years to expand and strengthen the use of DNA technology in the criminal justice system. The DNA initiative is providing the resources to reduce the backlog of unanalyzed DNA samples, particularly those in cases of rape and sexual assault.
But, one of the most important challenges is yet to be met - educating the people about the enormous and appalling consequences of drug use to the non-user. The second hand consequences of drugs are the same principle as second hand tobacco smoke. Remember? It wasn’t all that long ago that people smoked openly everywhere, until people discovered that second hand tobacco smoke was endangering non-smokers, and then American tolerance for smoking came to a screeching halt. It is only when America sees that drug use affects everyone that we will break through the culture of indifference that gives a silent permission slip to our kids to use drugs.
Drug use causes tragic accidents on our roads, such as the one in Springfield, Ohio last February. One Saturday morning, a drugged driver—high on a virtual drug cocktail of marijuana, cocaine, and opiates—struck another car and killed a 31-year old mother, Victoria Rogers, who was driving with her two young daughters and a niece. Her two children suffered head and neck injuries. Her niece had severe face and head injuries that she continues to undergo reconstructive surgery to heal.
We all have a great partner in Ohio with First Lady Hope Taft—you’re fortunate to have someone so knowledgeable and dedicated to the fight against drugs here in Ohio.
With the help of Hope Taft and the Ohio National Guard, we now have that drugged driver’s demolished car on display at One Times Square in New York as part of a DEA exhibit about the consequences of drug use. We hope it becomes “shock therapy” for the too many Americans who believe drug use is just a harmless little habit.
We all pay for drug use:
And, imagine all the planes crashing on September 11 – the World Trade Center, the field in Pennsylvania and the Pentagon – but imagine that occurring every day for seven days. That is the number who die from drugs. Every year, 22,000 people die from drugs, seven times more than were killed in the September 11th attacks. This is the “second-hand smoke” of drug abuse.
Ronald Reagan was a hero to me, as he was to so many Americans. He always spoke of America as the shining city. In his final address to the nation as President, he said:
“We’ve done our part. As I walk into the city streets, a final word to the men and women who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends—we did it; we weren’t just marking time, we made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad. Not bad at all.”
Thank you all for doing your part. You’re making a difference, and making your city stronger. What you’ve accomplished here in Columbus and throughout Ohio is an example for us all. You’re building your own shining city, and together, we’re building the kind of America we want to leave to our children. Thank you and may God bless you.