Significant Speeches

Remarks of the Honorable David J. Hickton
United States Attorney For The Western District of Pennsylvania
At The
SAFEPittsburgh Community Safety Training And Resource Fair

West Penn Hospital
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
May 21, 2011

Thank you.

It is a pleasure to be here today. And it is a privilege to join with so many neighborhood leaders, who focus every day on making their communities safer. When I was sworn in as U.S. Attorney last September, I outlined my hopes for our office and, specifically, my view of its responsibilities. I believe that the goals of freedom and justice are interdependent - one cannot exist without the other - and that realizing these goals in practice is the great mission and charge of the United States Department of Justice. We take these responsibilities very, very seriously.

I said then, and reiterate now, that we are not free if we live in a neighborhood with drugs, gunfire and murder all around us. The terror of random irrational violence is an intolerable threat to our civil life. Unless we can protect our neighborhoods, families, and children from drug dealers, predators, gangs, exploitation and violence, our entire community is threatened.

Freedom from fear is a basic right. I made a promise that the violent criminals who tyrannize our neighborhoods and towns will feel the full force of the law as it can be marshaled by this office. I remain faithful to that promise. We must limit and then end the mad cycle of killing and revenge.

We are resolved to make our communities safer and we are accomplishing this through Community Impact Prosecutions. We are dedicating our resources to disrupt and ultimately neutralize the criminals who have taken our neighborhoods from us with their crime and violence. Criminal gangs threaten and harm our children, our families and our communities. Dismantling criminal gangs is a priority of my office.

In September, we indicted 22 members of a cocaine ring operating out of the airport. In October, we indicted 42 members of an East End/Eastern Suburbs crack cocaine ring.

On March 3rd, we announced the indictment of 38 individuals in three separate drug conspiracies. In two of those cases, we charged 29 members or associates of the Manchester OG’s, a large and violent heroin trafficking organization operating primarily, but not exclusively, in the City's North Side. Reports indicate that this gang has been committing homicides, robberies and drug trafficking crimes for years. Gang members fund their criminal organization through the distribution of heroin and robberies throughout the Pittsburgh area. The Manchester OG’s and the Northview Heights/Brighton Place Crips have been rivals for years, and this rivalry has spurred many violent crimes. You may recall we have a significant prosecution pending in the same neighborhood with respect to the 26 members of the Crips.

In a separate indictment also announced on March 3rd, we charged nine people with conspiracy to distribute heroin in the East End neighborhoods. This is a joint investigation by DEA and IRS that began in 2009, and is ongoing.

Previously, we dismantled a major criminal drug and gun conspiracy in Aliquippa, indicted nearly 60 defendants in Braddock and there have been many more.

We are resolved to combat violence neighborhood by neighborhood to return the law to where it has been forgotten.

Drug crimes and gun crimes destroy the lives of individuals, families and communities. But the destruction is not inevitable. In fact, it is preventable.

We have a clear vision of the predators who distribute and profit from the sale of illegal drugs to those individuals they prey upon: those sick and lost in the abyss of addiction and despair. We have served notice of our resolve to find and prosecute all of those in the network of the violent and criminal narco-gun and gang conspiracies which terrorize our neighborhoods, our communities and our families.

In doing our part to protect the public welfare, in addition to addressing community violence, we will follow the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, who has outlined three other areas of emphasis: protecting Americans from national security threats, protecting Americans from financial fraud, and protecting civil rights.

Our Civil Rights and Exploitation Section highlights the priority of the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to enhance criminal prosecutions related to hate crimes, police misconduct and to other civil rights violations and to protect the most vulnerable members of our society. In addition, this new Section prosecutes crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children and human trafficking.

Since I have been in office, we have indicted several Defendants from Indiana County for a cross-burning incident, and we have obtained guilty pleas from each of them. We have indicted a Civil Rights assault case at the Allegheny County Jail. In the area of Child Exploitation, we have been aggressive in our pursuit of predators, most recently, the final of 8 Defendants was sentenced in Operation Goodbye. This case involved an international conspiracy utilizing a social networking website to trade and traffic in horrific images of sexual violence against children, including infants and toddlers.

In addition to vigorous prosecution of crime, we are committed to prevention of criminal activity. We have a number of community outreach programs, including the Project Safe Neighborhoods gun and gang crime reduction effort; the Weed and Seed Strategy; and several other grant-funded initiatives. Many of you may be familiar with the Weed and Seed Program, which is a community-based multi-agency approach to law enforcement, crime prevention, and neighborhood restoration. “Weeding” consists of law enforcement and community policing; and “seeding” consists of efforts designed to prevent, intervene, and treat crime, and social and economic distress. Weed & Seed is not a one-size fits all approach. Each site determines the best ways to allocate their federal funds to maximize the impact. Weed & Seed is a community changing program, and I fully support the ongoing work to improve Lawrenceville and our West Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

In addition, the U. S. Attorney’s Office has been actively engaging with various communities, including the Muslim, Arab-American and Sikh communities, to promote community law enforcement collaboration and to ensure the protection of civil rights and religious freedoms. The goal is to improve the Office's communication with members of these communities.

To protect the basic rights of every person and ensure safety in our communities, criminals must be prosecuted and punished. However, we also must help rehabilitate those who seek to reenter and live law abiding and productive lives; and most importantly we will seek to give choices to those on the fence, who in my view do not want to engage in the narco/gun/gang community assault but simply feel they have no future, no choices and no connections other than to a hopeless - and short - life of crime. In sum, we all need to replace despair with hope or we are never going to solve this problem.

To this end, the U. S. Attorney’s Office is participating in several reentry initiatives, including the Reintegration Into Society Effort (RISE) Court, a joint undertaking by the U.S. District Court, U.S. Probation and Pre-trial Services, the Federal Public Defender's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office. The initiative provides for intensive supervision of select federal offenders who participate in a reentry program. Successful completion can result in a one-year reduction in a felon's term of supervised release.

Through the Youth Futures Commission, we are also working with the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative, a program which improves reentry for inmates through high-quality employment, treatment and other programs. One key to successful reentry is repairing fractured relationships with family, who may be the primary source of housing and a buffer against negative influences.

Recently, I was honored to address graduates of a Green Jobs Training Program co-sponsored by the A. Philip Randolph Institute, The United States Steelworkers, G-Tech and the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. This great program has graduated seven classes of individuals who live in or near public housing, some of which are getting a second chance. It was a moving experience for me to see the purpose and determination of these graduates and to realize again the value of our investment in each other and the good sense of re-entry as a tool in our pursuit of justice, and the greater goals of our shared public welfare.

We live in dangerous and trying times. This week there was a report at a Carrick elementary school wherein a seven year old child was distributing packets of heroin to other students. Not long ago it was unfathomable that this could happen in an elementary school. It is both disturbing and appalling that this happened with students we consider to be at the age of innocence. But realistically, young children are being exposed to drugs, guns and violence earlier and more frequently now than ever before.

Drugs and violence are not only robbing our communities of their freedom, they are robbing our youth of their innocence, and, in far too many cases, stymying or annihilating any chance many of our youth have at pursuing the American dream.

At a recent community outreach event we attended at an elementary school in McKeesport, the number of young children familiar with and knowledgeable about guns and drugs was staggering. Many of these students drew vivid pictures involving drug use in their community. The majority of them have actually seen guns and drugs firsthand and have been exposed to some form of violence.

You, as community leaders, may ask: what can we do? How can we help? We in law enforcement need to enlist the eyes and ears of the public to broaden and bolster our efforts to fight crime. It’s simple, really...

  • Know your neighbor;
  • Be alert to trouble;
  • Educate your children on the dangers of guns and drugs;
  • If you witness a crime or observe suspicious activity, make a note of the circumstances; and call 9-1-1; and
  • Help known drug-addicted friends or family members seek treatment.

Remember, your role as a concerned citizen is to report whatever you think is wrong or suspicious. We need you to help us solve crimes. Your community needs you to be proactive in preventing crime.

Attorney General Robert Kennedy, once said that, “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”

Today, as I look around this room, I can’t help but be keenly aware that each one of you is sending forth many, many ripples of hope through your communities. By your actions, you have demonstrated your commitment to solving a problem that, simply put, will determine the future course of our country. Together, I believe that we can transform our community for the better – one block, one street, one neighborhood, one community at a time.

Thank you.

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