Thank you, Mike Sullivan, and good morning everyone.
It’s always a pleasure to come back to Boston, an area I knew as home when I was in law school.
My memories of those years are good ones. It was a time of dreams for me and my classmates, as we began to reach for the goals we’d all set our sights on as young people – really, since we were more children than young adults. I arrived in New England from a poor outskirt of Houston, Texas. The first in my family to have gone to college, to be in law school at all was a dream come true.
My personal experience has been that the United States is a place where a child can dream big dreams … and fulfill them. I believe deeply that this can be true for all Americans, all of this great nation’s children … but not when their neighborhoods and their lives are limited by fear and violence.
That’s why we work so hard – everyone in this room today – to make the streets of our communities safer, every day.
It’s why the U.S. Attorney’s office here in Massachusetts worked with local and state agencies this fall, for example, to indict eighteen defendants for distribution of crack and powder cocaine in the Bromley-Heath housing development in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston. Two of the defendants in that case are alleged to have used minors in their drug dealing activities.
Everyone who worked on that case – federal, state and local officials – contributed to the protection of the people, especially the children, of the Bromley-Heath housing development.
Because an environment that is poisoned by drugs, gangs, gun crime and violence is no place for a child’s dreams to flourish.
This is what the Project Safe Neighborhoods partnership, our community, our team is all about – protecting the dreams of America’s youth.
Whether you are on the offensive line of fighting violent crime – the part of the team that catches and prosecutes dangerous criminals – or you are on the defensive line, if you will – a team-member who works hard to keep young people from choosing a life of crime in the first place – in either role, you are making the state of Massachusetts a safer place to live and raise families. You are to be commended for your efforts.
It has been said that law enforcement is not a spectator sport – and I couldn’t agree more.
But the same can absolutely be said of community-service work. It is not a spectator sport by any means, either – in fact, it couldn’t be more hands-on.
Both parts of this team work hard and face the toughest of challenges – there’s no question about that. The key at this stage is learning how to best work together, every day.
In May of this year, I asked all of the U.S. Attorneys to hold Gang Prevention Summits that would bring together law enforcement and community leaders to discuss current, effective programs, identify gaps in services, and develop a plan for working in partnership to prevent youth from joining gangs.
I felt it was time to have formal, organized summits because it had become clear that removing the scourge of gangs and gang violence from America’s neighborhoods will require an integrated, comprehensive approach that includes both law enforcement and the prevention efforts uniquely offered by community-service groups.
So this conference is one of many being held around the country this year, and I am optimistic about the progress that will be made as a result.
Increasing prevention in your neighborhood can come from something as simple as meeting the community leader or volunteer sitting next to you in this room today. Each conversation at a summit like this has the potential for shared ideas and new, creative approaches to reducing violent crime and protecting the future of our children.
I’d like to pause for just a moment to offer a few specific words of thanks for the law enforcement community, because these are difficult times for you. Every day, you wake up to fight the long-term battles of traditional crime – violent and otherwise – while at the same time turning a sharp eye towards potential terrorist activity and acting as the first-response in any situation your community faces.
This isn’t an easy job, but you are doing it well. America has not been attacked in over five years, and the President and I deeply appreciate how important law enforcement is in preventing terrorist attacks. I believe that, because of this common mission, federal, state and local law enforcement are more integrated than ever.
But the increased responsibilities for law enforcement since September 11th are one of the reasons we need our partners in community service more than ever. Their goals are the ultimate complement to law enforcement because they seek to make neighborhoods safer by preventing criminal activity … so that arrests and prosecutions are not needed.
To the community servants here today, I also offer thanks. You’d like to keep kids from joining gangs and living the “thug life” altogether and that is my idea of an outstanding solution.
The President and I are grateful for what all of you do – and I am speaking both as Attorney General and as the father of young sons.
When I put my children to bed at night, it is the most precious time of day. At those moments, my boys are safe. Their dreams and laughter fill the room and their futures seem endless with opportunity and the potential for joy.
The morning light, however, pulls back the curtains on a different reality for all children. The world outside is dangerous, threatening. From drugs and gangs to predators and pedophiles … it is a full-time job for our entire society to keep our children safe from all those threats.
Kids in tough situations join gangs to find companionship and status – false promises of a lifestyle that in reality brings crime, violence, jail time and even death.
The violence of gangs then spills over into the community, making it less safe for everyone.
So if we can save that child who might be tempted by a life of violence, we can save the community.
This is why our shared goal of prevention is a common-sense one as well as a noble one. In a panel this morning, you heard from Dan Sweeting, a former Brockton firefighter who lost his son to gang life.
Dan shared his story with you, as he shares it with students, teachers, parents – anyone who will listen. This simple act of sharing his family’s story is an act of heroism and I believe Dan’s dedication to a better future will help save children who might otherwise choose the wrong path.
We need an army of Dan Sweetings in every state, every city – people who are willing to stand up and say “no more.” Parents who won’t rest until every child has been told the truth about gangs and given full access to positive alternatives.
I’m glad that you were also able to hear from Truesee Allah this morning, a former gang member and felon who served his time and re-entered the world a changed man, through faith. Today he volunteers in a re-entry program so that other convicted criminals will see that a return to crime is not the best path.
Every officer and every prosecutor in America needs men like Truesee and Dan on their side. If you take anything away from this conference today, take inspiration and ideas from their stories – and resolve to find men and women like them in your communities, to help you win this fight.
Take as many of the ideas and best practices as possible from the panelists you will hear from today–
*Because we all need to mine new ideas from our colleagues, all the time.
*Because criminals evolve, so law enforcement must, too.
*And because when violent crime goes up, as the people of Massachusetts have seen in recent years, no single person or single group brings it down alone.
To have gathered together – a truly diverse group of crime-fighters – for this meeting shows that everyone here knows that simple truth: That our shared responsibilities to serve and protect are vast. None of us can do it alone, and we can’t always rely on traditional formulas.
Maybe it’s thanks to some kind of old-fashioned New England common sense that here in Massachusetts you’ve known for a long time that there is nothing to be gained by turf battles, or competitions for credit, or shutting out a non-profit group that can really help reduce violent crime.
You’ve been setting an example for the rest of the country when it comes to pooling resources, sharing information and encouraging community involvement.
You’ve been open-minded and creative, putting the protection of the people of this commonwealth first. Involvement of the faith community in combating violent crime here has been especially successful, and I hope other states and localities learn from, and are inspired by, that success.
And your prosecutors don’t operate in a vacuum – they use both state and federal sentencing of violent criminals, depending on what is appropriate for the situation, which ultimately benefits the communities you protect.
I’m proud of Mike Sullivan’s work as U.S. Attorney here because Mike is not about turf battles. He’s about forming meaningful partnerships with state and local prosecutors. For example, when it comes to dealing with violent offenders, Mike and his local partners recognize that a case against a violent offender should go into the federal or state system depending on the case itself. We all want to put violent offenders behind bars and keep them there. But whether the case goes state or federal is determined by the facts and circumstances. The approach is flexible, which is important, and the collegial approach you take to your jobs is smart.
So I know that, although I am looking at a diverse room of state, federal and local law enforcement, complemented by representatives from the non-profit and faith community, I am really looking at one team.
The federal officials in this room, myself included, know that the Commonwealth’s state and local forces have thousands more feet on the street, and a critical proximity to the people we all protect.
On the other side, Massachusetts state and local law enforcement appreciate that sometimes the feds can help them out with information, resources and, for some things, tougher sentences.
We also all know that there is an “x-factor” to the problem of violent crime that law enforcement alone cannot touch. There is an ongoing fight for the hearts and minds of our young people, and community groups are uniquely qualified to show a young person a more positive path, or help re-direct that lost soul who is coming out of incarceration.
And when the community service groups reach their goals – our jobs in law enforcement get just a little easier …
Because a child has chosen the Boys and Girls Club instead of gang life.
Because a prisoner re-enters society with faith in a higher power instead of in the power of illegal guns.
Or because kids are playing more baseball and buying fewer drugs, depriving gangs and dealers of their customer-base.
Michael Kozu’s work has shown us how successful community service can be. He works out of Project Right in the Roxbury section of Boston and has been the “Seed Coordinator” for the Grove Hall Weed and Seed for approximately ten years. His tireless efforts on a variety of community programs aimed at preventing violence are helping make Boston a better, safer place to live.
From local police officers, to ATF and FBI agents, to guys like Michael Kozo, we all bring a lot to the table, so united, we stand.
Here in Massachusetts, you’ve faced the challenges of increased violent and gun crime. Through your efforts and programs like Project Safe Neighborhood you have significantly increased your violent crime prosecutions in the past four years.
But for those of us in law enforcement, new problems and trends in violent activity seem to always be around the next corner.
And I am concerned that, despite the diligence of the men and women in this room, preliminary crime reports in Boston for the first six months of this year show an increase in violent crime.
To help cities like Boston – and any city or state facing a violent crime challenge, Justice Department officials have been traveling the country, meeting with state and local law enforcement in areas that have violent crime increases, and those that have experienced decreases so we can better understand the “why” in each case.
Our Initiative for Safer Communities aims to help us all understand the problems, find the solutions and stay sharp when it comes to fighting violent crime.
The Initiative is focusing on three “I”s:
*Investigate: We’re examining the problems and digging deep to find their roots and what feeds them.
*Identify: We are finding out what works, what keeps localities safer.
*Finally, Implement: Once we’ve analyzed the information, we’ll share it, and localities will be able to learn from each other and choose from a basket of solutions to apply in their cities.
The DOJ team is on the road, right now, asking the tough questions. Assistant Attorney General Rachel Brand was here in Boston last week and she’s shared with me how helpful it was to talk with the people who are “on the street,” who really see the challenges of violent crime and can help identify the causes. It sounds like she had productive discussions with folks here about neighborhood violence and solutions working with community groups in particular.
I look forward to gaining a better understanding of what is causing this violent crime and sharing the lessons that Boston has learned with other cities that face a similar challenge.
The “Three I’s” initiative is of course complemented here in Massachusetts by:
*the ongoing work of Project Safe Neighborhoods – a program that was in large part based on the excellent example of “Boston Ceasefire” in the late 1990s;
*the partnership of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – ATF – which has assigned agents to the police departments of each of Massachusetts PSN cities including a significant contingent of 10 agents and a supervisor to work out of the Boston Police Department; also
*Safe Streets Task Forces,
*the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program,
*an FBI Bank Robbery Task Force, and
*The National Gang Intelligence Center – which serves as a resource for state and local law enforcement, providing information on individual gang members, the relationship between gang members, gang structure and criminal activities.
Funding for these task forces and programs is extremely important, and I want you all to know that the President and I are going to fight for you to have the resources you need to keep them going.
Fiscally responsible budgets are extremely important – but responsible budgets fund successful efforts, and crime-fighting partnerships are very clearly successful. I promise that the Department of Justice will be making that case to Congressional appropriators in the coming year.
It seems that sometimes tragedy helps us see things more clearly – like the fact that we’re all in this together, this fight to protect the dreams and the futures of our kids.
In a post-9/11-world, both the value of freedom and the difficulty of protecting a child’s innocence came into sharp focus. It was one of the reasons that, in the law-enforcement community, walls evaporated and information sharing is now, more and more, a truly two-way street.
This cooperation puts us on solid footing, well positioned to overcome any law-enforcement challenge that comes our way. Here in Massachusetts, today, that means the challenge of violent crime.
We know that the problem is a complicated one … and that’s why this room is filled with law enforcement from every level and with community-service groups of all kinds. A complicated problem calls for a creative and passionate response.
I am confident that you will not sit on the sidelines, and that this conference will serve as a different kind of “shot heard ‘round the world.” Those who perpetuate violent crime in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should now know: the network of law enforcement and community groups is stronger than the network of neighborhood violence – and the team who seeks to make our streets safer, together, will win.
Thank you for having me here today. May God bless you and your work, and may he continue to bless the United States of America.