Good morning. For 24 years the D.A.R.E. program has set the standard for drug education programs. Your work, and that of your colleagues around the world, has given millions of our children the knowledge and the tools they need to protect themselves against the dangers of drugs and gangs.
Protecting our children is important to me as a father and as Attorney General. I appreciate the important role you play in bridging the gap between law enforcement and the young people we need to reach. And as a parent of two young boys, I appreciate the hard work all of you do to help keep our kids safe.
I'd like to talk with you today about two things that are priorities for the Department of Justice, and that I know are important to you as well: protecting our children from violent gangs and from the threat of methamphetamine abuse.
Of course, much of what we do at the Department addresses these issues from an enforcement angle. But just like you, we also have a very strong prevention element, and we are working very hard not just to lock people up, but to reduce the numbers of children joining gangs and using drugs.
I grew up poor in a blue collar neighborhood that had little but hopes and dreams. All of our children should be focused on the pursuit of the American dream. But that is hard to do if you live in fear and grow up in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence.
We know that America has a gang problem. We estimate that about 30,000 violent gangs, with 800,000 members, operate in the U.S. today. It is clear to me that removing the scourge of gang violence from America’s neighborhoods requires an integrated, comprehensive approach that uses partnerships with both law enforcement and community-service groups. This is exactly the kind of partnership that D.A.R.E. has so successfully established in schools and communities across the country and the world.
Over the past few months, I've traveled across the country to visit with local leaders who are implementing their own comprehensive anti-gang strategies. I have spoken with local law enforcement and city leaders who are working hard to reduce the number of gang members and the crimes associated with gangs.
They all understand that while enforcing the law in this area is important, keeping kids out of gangs in the first place should be the ultimate goal. That’s why our efforts at the Department of Justice are two-fold: First, we're making prevention programs a priority, so that we can give America’s youth opportunities that will help them resist getting involved in a gang. Second, we're pushing tough enforcement when gang-related violence does occur.
When a child has chosen the Boys and Girls Club instead of gang life…
When a felon re-enters society with new goals and not looking to hang out with the same people who got him in trouble in the first place…
And when kids are playing baseball in the Police Athletic Leagues instead of doing drugs . . .,
our jobs in law enforcement get easier and America’s neighborhoods become better places to live.
To have enduring success against gangs, we must address the personal, family, and community factors that cause young people to join gangs. The more success we have in this area, the fewer people we'll have to prosecute down the road.
One of my top priorities at the Department has been Project Safe Neighborhoods, and our efforts at keeping kids out of gangs have been an important part of that. We've funded public service ads across the country to deliver the message to young people that gangs and gang violence will not make you a grown-up and will not make you tough, they will only ruin your life.
We've also provided funding to help law enforcement agencies investigate and prosecute gang members who terrorize our communities. And we've launched a comprehensive series of anti-gang initiatives across the country as well as with our neighbors in Mexico, El Salvador and other countries. The goal is to focus on and lock up the most significant violent offenders.
A number of recent cases make this point in dramatic fashion. In Maryland last month we announced federal racketeering charges against three leaders of the notorious gang La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. We're using some of the same tools we used to put Mafia leaders behind bars, because we recognize that these gangs pose a similar threat.
For instance, this gang is widespread. It started in Los Angeles but now has approximately 10,000 members in at least ten states. It is extremely violent, and it is very organized. And like other violent gangs, it recruits new members in our schools -- in this case, they especially target immigrants or the descendants of immigrants from El Salvador.
In another case right here in Nashville earlier this year we secured an indictment against more than a dozen MS-13 members on racketeering conspiracy charges. In bringing these cases, we're sending a strong signal that we will not tolerate these violent gangs threatening our community. They are organized about committing their crimes, so we must be organized in breaking them up. Bringing these cases, getting tough sentences, and publicizing them, have an important deterrent effect that also helps us meet our prevention goals.
America is the greatest country in the world. No matter the circumstances of your birth, you can achieve great things when you work hard and make good choices. Our schools are the linchpin – they are where hard work and so many important choices are taking place.
Schools are meant to be safe havens, where children are free to let their minds grow unrestrained by violence and fear. We must do all that we can to keep them from becoming recruiting centers for gangs and criminals.
There is no future in being a member of a gang.
Everyone in this room understands that; and your work in equipping young people with the tools they need to resist the temptation of gang life is invaluable to our efforts and to our communities. Strong partnerships between all of us are essential if we are to succeed.
Just as important to everyone here, is keeping our children away from drugs. For 24 years D.A.R.E. has fought on the front lines of this battle, and I am grateful for all that you have done. Over that time, the specific threats have changed some as different drugs have come in and out of fashion.
Today one of our greatest drug threats is methamphetamine abuse. And just as it is with gangs, prevention is a focus of our anti-meth efforts.
Now, there was a time when we thought this was just a problem affecting America's rural areas. We now know that no city or town, no matter how large or how small, is safe from this drug. It is powerful, highly addictive, and it respects no boundaries of geography, gender, age or economic status.
We recognized this, and we came together in a partnership to fight back. Law enforcement has worked hard to shut down meth production labs, and groups like D.A.R.E. took up the challenge of going straight to the young people to help keep them from trying the latest high.
State legislators enacted laws regulating sales of meth precursors such as pseudoephedrine, making basic ingredients harder to get. And last year Congress passed, and President Bush signed into law, the Combat Methamphetamine Act, which gave us more tools for targeting meth traffickers. That Act provided a national standard for the regulation of meth precursors and made other important contributions to the war against drugs.
As part of our efforts at the Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration redirected their Mobile Enforcement Teams to focus on methamphetamine. This gave us the ability to bring in federal support for local law enforcement facing acute meth problems. Working with our partners at the state and local level, we've made tremendous progress in reducing the number of small toxic meth labs in the United States. The number of labs peaked in 2003, when authorities seized more than 17,000 nationwide. Last year we saw a little over 7,000 seizures.
Unfortunately, as small domestic sources of the drug have dried up, we have seen an increase in trafficking into our country. Today, according to some reports approximately 80 percent of all meth purchased in the U.S. originates from Mexican labs, whether in Mexico or in the U.S. And so we've refocused our investigative resources on large meth trafficking organizations. DEA’s clandestine laboratory enforcement teams are concentrating their investigative efforts on meth transportation and distribution cells in the U.S. and Mexico.
Our two countries have been working well together to develop a strategy to address this collective problem. I have met with my counterparts in Mexico and other neighboring countries and, just like we did with gangs, we have launched several joint initiatives to put meth use and all its horrors firmly on the road to extinction. We're coordinating on investigations and intelligence, we're giving special training to police from throughout the region, and we're stepping up extradition between Mexico and the United States, so major drug dealers can no longer count on our national border to protect them.
But while we're having some success on the supply side of the equation, we must also focus our energy on the demand side, to ultimately reduce meth use.
It's estimated that more than 10 million people have used meth, with approximately 1.4 million using it in the past year along. And last year we saw a significant increase in meth use among full-time college students aged 18 to 22.
Our efforts to turn back these trends and steer our young people away from meth abuse must include a strong element of education. Equipping our children with information really will reduce demand -- the more people know about the devastating effects of meth, the less likely they are to use it.
And we know that a robust prevention program must include educating parents and teachers and the rest of the community as well. That's why last fall we sponsored a National Methamphetamine Awareness Day, with events around the country aimed at teaching people about this drug, how easy is to get hooked, and some of the warning signs people can look for that their kids might be using meth.
You are a powerful force for education on meth, as you are with other drugs. And the same techniques you have developed to save kids from those other drugs are helping you to save kids from meth.
When I look back at my own childhood, I know there were a lot of times that weren't so easy. But most of my memories are still of days filled with joy – of playing baseball with my brothers and studying hard in school.
Today it seems so difficult just to be a kid. There are so many temptations, and so many difficult choices. In my job as a father, and my job in law enforcement, I want to do all that I can to make those choices easier.
And I know you do too. You inspire me with your efforts to help our children make the right choices when they're faced with what looks like the easy path, whether it's by joining a gang, or drinking, or taking drugs. Every day, you make your communities safer, and build up our children so they can become strong men and women. You're doing great things, and we need every one of you on our side. We cannot afford to lose any more of our young people to broken lives of drugs and gangs…no child is disposable…we don't have a single one to spare.
The President has spoken often about armies of compassion rising up to fight the evils of our society. We are all soldiers in this battle and I am proud to serve alongside of you.
Thank you. May God bless you all, may he bless the children, and may he continue to so richly bless the United States of America.