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Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks at the “Safe Streets, Strong Communities” Conference
~ Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thank you, Michael [Rubinger] for those kind words; for your leadership as President of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation; and for your commitment, over the course of a career spanning more than four decades, to the kind of community action that’s making a profound difference in so many cities and towns across this country.

I also want to thank our gracious hosts from the Ford Foundation and the Police Foundation for making today’s forum possible – and for welcoming me back home to New York City.  It’s great to be with you this afternoon.  And I’m particularly proud to share the podium with my good friend, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan.

We’ll have the chance to hear from Shaun in just a few moments.  But I know I speak for both of us when I say it’s an honor to be with such a distinguished group of leaders – many of whom have traveled here from across the country.  And it’s a privilege to be joined by so many dedicated law enforcement officials, passionate housing and community development professionals – and committed business leaders and other private sector partners – as we celebrate the achievements that LISC and its allies have made possible over the years; as we reaffirm our determination to build on efforts that are currently underway; and as we recommit ourselves to the considerable work ahead, and the long but promising road that stretches before us.

More than 30 years ago, LISC was launched in a moment of great challenge – at a time when distressed neighborhoods across the country faced uncertain futures.  After decades of rising crime and deteriorating fortunes in parts of America’s most vibrant cities, the Ford Foundation and its allies stepped forward.  And they established the Local Initiatives Support Corporation to take what was – at the time – a novel approach to addressing community challenges.

LISC immediately began bringing together a wide variety of stakeholders in areas of need across America – rallying neighborhood residents, police officers, housing authorities, community service providers, investors, and business owners to confront local challenges in a targeted and highly collaborative manner.  At a time when many organizations and interest groups were laser-focused on their own individual “silos” of responsibility, this group reminded us of the power of broader thinking and the value of working together – to build mutual trust and respect, to foster engagement, and to work in common cause as we empower neighborhoods not merely to bring themselves back, but to lead the way forward.

Today, LISC and its partners continue to stand on the front lines of this ongoing fight.  In dozens of urban areas and rural communities, you’re helping to match needs with resources.  And you’re proving that a holistic approach to public safety challenges is not only effective – but essential – when it comes to advancing these critical efforts.

I know just how valuable this kind of work can be – because I’ve seen it firsthand, throughout my career.  During the 1990s, when I had the honor of serving as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, I worked to foster a collaborative approach to fighting crime – and established the first community prosecution initiative in our nation’s capital.  I’m pleased to note that a similar approach – founded on engagement and broad-based partnerships – continues to guide our work at the national level – not just within the Department of Justice, but throughout the Obama Administration.  And this past August, I announced the Department’s new “Smart on Crime” initiative – predicated on comprehensive, evidence-based strategies that are proven to ensure public safety, and dedicated to the work we must do together to forge a more just society.

As it stands – in far too many places – a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps individuals, devastates families, and weakens communities.  Already, the “Smart on Crime” approach is helping us to target badly-needed law enforcement resources to crime “hotspots” where they can make the greatest difference.  It’s enabling us to reform sentencing policies so that individuals charged with certain low-level federal drug crimes will face sentences appropriate to their conduct, rather than excessive mandatory minimums.  And it’s increasing our emphasis on innovative diversion and re-entry programs – like the ones in place in many of the cities you represent – that can strengthen communities, improve public safety, help to keep people on the right path, and make criminal justice expenditures smarter and more effective.

As we move forward, I’m confident that these programs and policy changes will help us to bring about meaningful improvements – and leverage federal support in the places where it’s needed most.  And I’m certain that they will complement existing efforts – like the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program, or BCJI, for which LISC serves as the training and technical assistance provider, and through which we awarded more than $12 million to 14 neighborhoods during the last year alone.

Fortunately, this Administration’s commitment to developing place-based, community-oriented strategies for addressing local challenges extends beyond the Department of Justice.  In cities like Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia, where LISC is also hard at work, our National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention is rallying community members to address the challenges facing our youngest citizens.  In places like Detroit, the Forum’s network of partners is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with LISC professionals and leaders from the Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative to confront crime and spark economic development.

In 2010, we launched the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative to further align federal efforts to confront concentrated poverty.  Last Wednesday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and I traveled to Baltimore to unveil a new set of guidelines for schools that are designed to reduce our overreliance on zero-tolerance discipline policies that can transform educational institutions from doorways of opportunity into gateways to the criminal justice system.  And as you’ll hear from Secretary Donovan, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is providing local assistance – in the form of Choice Neighborhood grants – to help transform distressed communities.

Last Thursday, President Obama took this comprehensive work to a new level when he announced America’s first five “Promise Zones,” three of which – Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and San Antonio – are also operating with BCJI grants.  These communities are among the first of many that will receive targeted assistance and support under the Promise Zones initiative.  And each has put forward a plan to bring community and business leaders together to revitalize high-poverty areas – by attracting private investment; by improving affordable housing; by strengthening educational opportunities; by offering tax incentives to spur hiring and business growth; by reducing violent crime; and by helping local leaders navigate federal programs.

After all, as LISC has consistently shown us, it’s imperative that we bring together federal partners, local authorities, and community leaders – and move forward with policies that effectively allocate limited resources – to facilitate long-term success in badly afflicted communities.

You have demonstrated the strength of this approach.  As a result of your work, all across the country, more and more cities and towns are relying on data-driven reform strategies to reduce crime, reverse blight, and create better outcomes.  Here in New York, we’ve seen how decades of cooperation, shared responsibility, and community engagement can yield significant results.  We know that, as we strive to bring neighborhoods back, to strengthen the foundations of our progress, and to allow once-neglected communities not just to succeed, but to thrive – we must continue to do everything in our power to ensure that improvement in one area is not undermined by problems or inattention in another.

There’s no question that we can be proud of the assistance you’re providing, and the important federal resources that you are shepherding into affected neighborhoods each and every day.  But we cannot yet be satisfied – and this is no time to become complacent.

You know as well as anyone that our work is far from over.  Throughout the United States, our ongoing community development efforts are not just important; they go to the very heart of who we are as a country.  Organizations like this one, and the groups and individuals taking part in today’s event, speak to the principle that built this nation: that we are strongest when we stand united.  While each of us must be responsible for our own individual advancement and success, we will always share certain essential obligations to one another.  And – especially when it comes to core questions like public safety and fair housing – at a basic level, we must act on the recognition that all of us are in this together.

The success of the grant programs that LISC helps to administer – and the signs of progress you’ve gathered to discuss and build upon – stand as testament to the strength of this enduring notion.  And that’s why, although we have a long and difficult road ahead of us – as I look around this crowd today – I cannot help but feel optimistic about everything we’ll be able to achieve together.  My colleagues and I look forward to helping our “Promise Zones” to take hold, our neighborhoods to improve, and our criminal justice system to become stronger and smarter than ever.  And I hope, and expect, that we will always be able to count on leaders like you – both in and far beyond this room – to keep working, out of devotion and resolve, to make a real and lasting difference on behalf of the communities, and the country, that we love.

I thank you, once again, for the chance to be here today – and I thank you for all that you do.

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