Thank you, Steve [Dettelbach]. I appreciate your kind words, and I’m especially grateful for your outstanding leadership of this city’s United States Attorney’s Office. You and your colleagues are doing extraordinary work to strengthen the communities you serve; to combat gun-, gang-, and drug-fueled violence; to improve public safety; and, especially, to ensure that young people across, and beyond, Cleveland have the chance to achieve their dreams and to unlock their potential.
Of course, you are not alone in this work. And it’s encouraging to see so many of your partners here today. I want to thank each of you for joining us. Let me also thank the Boys and Girls Club for hosting this important meeting.
Today, together, we have an opportunity to discuss the goals and responsibilities that we share – to reach the young people who need our help most; and to ensure that violent crime rates – here in Cleveland and across the country – continue to head in the right direction. This gathering also provides a chance for us to explore new ways to build on the progress that’s been achieved through STANCE, Standing Together Against Neighborhood Crime Everyday.
Five years ago, this innovative initiative brought together prosecutors, law enforcement officers, community leaders, service providers, researchers, teachers, coaches, parents, and students – to address this city’s alarming rate of violent crime. It was a moment of crisis – but, also, of hope.
In the face of widespread gang activity and gang-related violence, your U.S. Attorney’s office took on a convening role – and called on a diverse group of area leaders, stakeholders, and experts to join forces in identifying the solutions necessary to address local public safety challenges.
Although the problems you faced were overwhelming, this community – and many of the people in this room – responded not with despair, but with resolve – and with a determination to develop the public safety strategies that Cleveland needed, and that its young people deserved.
What you’ve accomplished through STANCE is inspiring, to say the least. I’m grateful to count each one of you as partners in the fight for justice – and as examples for others across the country.
By sharing expertise, insights, and resources, you’ve created peace in some of Cleveland’s most dangerous and divided areas. You’ve helped enemies find common ground. You’ve raised spirits, and prospects, in Slovak Village, Hough Heights, and other vulnerable neighborhoods. And you’ve lifted up countless young people who were heading down dark, dangerous paths. Quite simply, you have worked miracles.
And your impact is felt across – and far beyond – this region. Whether you work to shape policy; to examine and identify the most pressing local public safety challenges; to develop and implement successful prevention, intervention, and reentry programs; to reach out to young people and families who are in need and at risk; or to advance enforcement efforts and policing strategies – your contributions are essential. Through your involvement with STANCE, you are providing the Justice Department with valuable insights. You’re telling us what works, what doesn’t, and what we must do to enhance public safety. And, as you’ve created new programs and field-tested new strategies, you’ve shown that – despite budget and infrastructure challenges – solutions are possible.
Over the last five years, STANCE – and the programs and partnerships it has helped to establish – have demonstrated meaningful, measurable progress in reducing gang activity and violent crime. Targeted areas have seen violent crime drop by nearly 50 percent. And – as you’ve engaged more schools and students – suspension, arrest, and recidivism rates have also seen dramatic declines.
These are significant achievements. And we should celebrate them. But we must also face facts.
Today, far too many neighborhoods continue to be ravaged by gang violence. Too many kids are giving up on themselves and giving in to a life of crime. Too many families are struggling to heal. Too many lives continue to be needlessly, and violently, cut short.
Young people like Brandon Young, a 17-year-old, A-student who, in 2009, was looking forward to college. Unfortunately, he never had the chance to graduate from John Hay High School. He was killed by the Lakeshore Boyz gang in a drive-by shooting near St. Clair Avenue.
Nineteen-year-old Donta Dinkins suffered a similar fate. In April of 2006, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time – and was shot down by a 17-year-old gang member who was attempting to kill a rival. Less than a year later, Terrance Allen, a student at Wade Park Elementary School, was killed in yet-another gang-related shooting. He was 13 years old – and was gunned down at 2:15 in the afternoon, shortly after the school day had ended.
These teenagers were killed by young men who – perhaps because no one showed them, or encouraged them to follow a different path – became involved with gangs and the culture of gang violence.
So how do we honor these youngsters now lost to us – and Cleveland’s many other victims of violent crime? How do we hold those who violate our laws – and threaten our communities – accountable? How do we prevent future tragedies?
These questions can’t be answered easily or quickly. But, as all of you have proven, the most effective way to find the answers we need is to expand our circle of partners, to open new channels for communication and collaboration, and to agree that this problem does not belong to – and cannot be fixed by – any one person, agency, school, or neighborhood. It is everyone’s responsibility. And I want all of you to know that it’s a responsibility I share.
For me, combating gang violence – and assisting young people who’ve been exposed to violent crime – has been both a personal and professional concern for decades. As a prosecutor, as a judge, as a U.S. Attorney in our Nation’s Capital, and as the Deputy Attorney General, addressing the causes and remedying the consequences of violence was at the forefront of my work. Today, as Attorney General and as a parent, it remains a top priority.
It is also a top priority for this administration – and the President’s most recent budget request reflects this. But – in this time of growing demands and limited resources – we’ve got to make the most of every dollar. We’ve got to identify and replicate what works – and abandon what doesn’t. We’ve got to be sure we aren’t duplicating efforts. And we must apply the key lesson that STANCE has taught us – that, when it comes to reducing violence crime, we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. Enforcement is just one necessary part of the solution; effective prevention, intervention, and reentry strategies are also essential.
While I can’t pretend that putting gangs out of business and providing young people with opportunities to improve their lives will be easy work – what you’ve accomplished through STANCE is cause for optimism. The many programs it has advanced – including Peacekeepers, MyCom, PAR, Operations Focus and Night Light, and Project Yes – have proven that we can help young people resist the allure of gangs; and that it is within our power to reach the kids who need us most.
Not only is your work having a positive effect here in Cleveland, your local efforts are serving as a model for the innovative approaches that must be adopted nationwide.
In particular, STANCE has reaffirmed the fact that we must continue to conduct the research and analysis necessary to fully understand what we’re up against and where we can make the biggest difference. This approach – and this focus on evidence-based solutions – is at the core of the Justice Department’s Defending Childhood Initiative – which I know many of you are already familiar with and eager to help advance. In addition to incorporating more science into our public safety strategies, we also need to engage more “non-traditional” crime fighters – more public health officials, parents, and teachers; more non-profit and faith-based groups; and more young people. In short, we need to replicate the framework you’ve established – and the results you’ve achieved – through STANCE.
As we look toward the critical days ahead, I ask each of you to keep up the great work. And I want you all to know that the Justice Department is committed to your continued success.
Together, you have demonstrated your commitment to solving a problem that, simply put, will determine the future course of this city – and of our entire country. I am honored to work with you. I look forward to learning more about your goals, concerns, and ideas – and I’m excited to see where we go from here. I also am confident that, together, we will re-make this country for the better.