Skip to main content

Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention Summit


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you, Barney [Melekian].  I appreciate your kind words, and I’m especially grateful for your leadership of the COPS Office – and your commitment to preventing and combating youth violence.

Thank you all for being here – and for being part of this critical summit. 

This gathering marks an important step forward in what I know – and what I pledge – will be an ongoing conversation about how we can address violence among – and directed toward – our nation’s young people.

Throughout my career, I have seen the devastating effects of youth violence.  Today, as Attorney General – and, above all, as the father of three teenage children – I am determined to make the progress that our children deserve.

I know you share this commitment.  Just as important, you understand what we’re up against.  Though you’re approaching this work from a variety of perspectives, you’ve all seen the ways that violent crime has ravaged too many of our communities, shattered too many young lives, and stolen too many promising futures.

It’s encouraging to see such a diverse group of leaders and community stakeholders gathered here to advance the goals that we share.  We have elected officials and policy experts, law enforcement officers and educators, advocates and researchers, public-health experts and social services providers, as well as concerned parents, coaches, and community and faith leaders.  You are an extraordinary group.  And I want to thank Laurie Robinson and her team in our Office of Justice Programs for their outstanding work in bringing everyone together.

The great strength of this forum lies in the broad scope of your expertise.  It lies in the unprecedented interagency alliances – and multi-disciplinary partnerships – that you have forged.  And its potential for success is reflected in the six innovative, comprehensive plans that you have gathered to review.

In Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Salinas, and San Jose, networks of diverse partners have joined forces to find innovative solutions to the problems that give rise to youth violence.  Although the communities that you serve confront unique challenges, each of you has signaled – and, no doubt, will prove – the value of bringing all relevant stakeholders to the discussion table.  In the past, it has been common practice to tackle the issues surrounding youth violence in isolation and piecemeal.  But I’m pleased that this forum has called for a more collaborative, more effective approach. 

This means focusing on prevention, intervention, enforcement, and reentry.  It means relying on research and analysis to target resources.  And it means regularly evaluating progress as we move forward.

Today, as you discuss six comprehensive youth violence prevention plans, you are also sending a powerful message – that, in this country, we will not give up on our children.  Let me say that again. We will not give up on our children.  We will protect them in every way we can.  We will empower them as well as we know how.  And we will challenge them to make good decisions – and to contribute to the work of strengthening our nation and honoring our founding principles of security, opportunity, and justice for all.

I am proud that our nation’s Justice Department has taken a central role in facilitating this work.  On behalf of my colleagues across the Department – and on behalf of Secretary Duncan, a key leader in this effort, and on behalf the Administration as a whole – I want to pledge our ongoing support for your efforts.

The issue of youth violence – and the need for new channels for communication and cooperation – is something that Secretary Duncan and I have discussed often over the last two years as we’ve worked to expand educational opportunities for our children, to improve school safety, and to ensure that civil rights are protected in every classroom in America.

As many of you know, in the fall of 2009, the two of us traveled together to Chicago to meet with teachers, parents, civic leaders, and young people in the wake of an alarming violent crime streak that resulted in the deaths of forty Chicago Public School students that year.  But you may not know that we also made a commitment – to greater collaboration between the Departments of Justice and Education and our colleagues across the federal government, and to the work of forging and strengthening partnerships beyond our agencies.

The simple truth is that, when it comes to protecting safety and opportunity for all of our citizens, government can’t do it alone.  We need a variety of perspectives; we need to test multiple strategies; and, above all, we need to broaden our approach.  In short, we need your expertise.  We need your ideas.  We need your help.

That’s why this summit marks such a critical – and promising – step forward. 

I know that this work is a priority for each of you – and for the partners you’ve engaged back home.  As Valerie Jarrett said yesterday, it is also a top priority for President Obama – and for senior officials across our federal government.  As I’ve told my fellow Cabinet members, who are also engaged in and excited about your work, I am confident that the individual prevention plans that you’ve created will set the stage for a new era of engagement, cooperation, and collaboration across local jurisdictions, state lines, and federal agencies.

This work could hardly be more urgent.  Today, we know that the majority of our young people – more than 60 percent of them – have been exposed to crime, abuse, and violence.  We’ve learned that these patterns aren’t limited to any one region, community, or demographic group.  We know that violence can take many forms, from pushing, hitting, and bullying – to witnessing gun, knife, gang, and domestic violence.  We’ve also seen that exposure can happen at home, during school, on our streets, and even online – where children face new and unprecedented threats every day.  And we know that exposure to violence – as a witness or a victim – can have devastating, long-term effects on our children – increasing their chances for depression, substance-abuse, and violent behavior.

In addition to these findings, it is now clear that enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration – while key components in our fight to ensure public safety – are merely pieces of the larger puzzle for addressing and eliminating youth violence.

We also need sustained investments, effective prevention and intervention strategies, widely available after-school programs, more summer jobs, and the adult support necessary to raise graduation rates and expand opportunities for achievement and contribution.

Today’s challenges demand that we educate both parents and kids; that we provide teachers, civic leaders, and public health officials with up-to-date information about youth violence trends and indicators; and that we train lawyers and law enforcement officers to respond more effectively when violence occurs.

Unfortunately, it’s not yet possible to reach every child who needs our help.  And, in spite of our best efforts, we know that some young people will start down the wrong path.  But for them, we must provide opportunities to break destructive cycles and to grow into productive members of society.

Today, as I look out on the partners gathered here, I am confident that we’re heading in the right direction.  Already, positive – and historic – investments are being made.  For the first time, the Justice Department is directing resources for the express purpose of reducing childhood exposure to violence.  We’re also working to raise awareness of its ramifications; to advance scientific inquiry on its causes and characteristics; and, of course, to counter its negative impact.  We’ve awarded millions in grants – and are striving to sustain high levels of support – to help strengthen your work, and to take our collective efforts to the next level.

But the real story isn’t here in Washington.  The real story is in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Salinas, and San Jose – six diverse cities where the problem of youth violence is clear – and where we found the local leadership, and the innovative spirit, to take on this challenge.

I am excited about the progress that you have made – and are now poised to build upon.  But I know that this is just the beginning.  I also know that we’re only going to be able to move forward if we are willing to reaffirm our commitment – and to redouble our efforts – to work together. 

In this partnership, here’s what you can expect from today’s Justice Department. We will continue to provide a meeting ground for your work – forums for discussion and new opportunities to learn about and replicate successful efforts. 

And here’s what we expect from you: insights from the front lines; information about what works and what doesn’t; guidance, advice, and recommendations.

So as the initiatives you’ve developed take hold – and, no doubt, lead to positive transformations – let me assure you of my commitment – and that of the entire Justice Department – to measuring progress, sharing innovations, and facilitating collaboration across the public and private sectors.

In this time of growing demands and limited budgets – I know that achieving our shared goals will not be easy.  And I realize that progress may not come as quickly as we would like.

But our children are counting on us.  Our communities are counting on us.  And we cannot – and will not – let them down.

This is not just our professional obligation – this is our moral calling.

Our nation will be defined, and its progress will be determined, by the support that we provide – and the doors that we open – for our young people.  The priorities that we set now are what will allow America’s next generation of leaders to rise above the current threats and obstacles and seize tomorrow’s opportunities.  This is our great test – and, in many ways, it is the single most consequential challenge we face in determining America’s future. 

So let us seize this moment.  Let us build upon the extraordinary work that you have begun.  Let us seek out ways to implement and improve upon the plans you’re presenting today.  And let us find new ways to measure progress and ensure accountability. 

Above all, let us lift up six American cities as examples of what it means to break down traditional barriers and find creative solutions to our most critical problems.  Then let us broaden our efforts by sharing the lessons we learn with other communities across the country.  Let us remake our nation.

Once again, thank you all for your critical insights, your diligent work, and your dedication to addressing and preventing youth violence. 

I’m grateful for your partnership.  I’m counting on you all.  And I look forward to all that we will accomplish together.

Updated August 18, 2015