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Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at News Conference on Youth and School Violence


Chicago, IL
United States

Nearly two weeks ago, this nation was shocked by a video showing scenes of such graphic violence that they have left an indelible mark in the mind of every American who has seen them. For the many Americans who live with the threat of violence every day, the video was a sad reminder of the harshness and cruelty that remains all too prevalent in many parts of this country. For others, it was a stark wake up call to a reality that can be easy for many to ignore as they go about their day to day lives.

For me, it was a call to action to address a challenge that affects the entire nation. Youth violence isn’t a Chicago problem, any more than it is a black problem or a white problem. It’s something that affects communities big and small, and people of all races and colors.

The Department of Justice is releasing a new study today that measures the effects of youth violence in America, and the results are staggering. More than 60 percent of the children surveyed were exposed to violence in the past year, either directly or indirectly. Nearly half of children and adolescents were assaulted at least once, and more than one in ten were injured as a result. Nearly one-quarter were the victim of a robbery, vandalism or theft, and one in sixteen were victimized sexually.

Those numbers are astonishing, and they are unacceptable. We simply cannot stand for an epidemic of violence that robs our youth of their childhood and perpetuates a cycle in which today’s victims become tomorrow’s criminals.

We’re here today to continue a public safety conversation that the Obama Administration started on day one. It has included a law enforcement summit I hosted at the Department of Justice, a White House gang prevention conference, and countless episodes of collaboration with local law enforcement. But it’s not a conversation where we want to do all the talking. We want to listen to educators, parents, and experts in the field, and find out the best ideas for addressing this urgent problem. We’re not interested in just scratching the surface or focusing on generalities, and as we delve into this problem we’re not going to protect any sacred cows. We’re here to learn firsthand what’s happening on our streets so we can devise effective solutions.

Our responses to this issue in the past have been fragmented. The federal government does one thing, states do another, and localities do a third. We need a comprehensive, coordinated approach to address youth violence, one that encompasses the latest research and the freshest approaches. Our administration is committed to implementing such strategies, which is why we’ve asked for $24 million in next year’s budget for community-based crime prevention programs such as Ceasefire and Project Safe Neighborhood. And it’s why our Office of Justice Programs is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide support and assistance to communities affected by violence.

There are no quick and easy fixes. Our approach will need to involve not just law enforcement, but also faith-based organizations, the business community, and social services groups. We will need a combination of prevention, intervention, and targeted enforcement.

We started by meeting today with community leaders here in Chicago, and with students from Fenger High School. I’ll be honest – these weren’t all easy conversations. There is a lot of frustration and a lot of pain right now, and there should be. The status quo is not acceptable. But I want the people of Chicago and the people of this nation to know that we are not going to rest until we’ve done everything we can to protect the American people and to stem this tide of violence.

The Department of Justice has already committed resources to helping keep our children and our schools safe. Just last week we announced $16 million through the COPS' Secure Our Schools program in grants to law enforcement agencies and municipalities throughout the country, including almost half a million to the city of Chicago. These grants provide funds to improve security in schools and on school grounds by helping pay for security measures like metal detectors, locks, surveillance systems and other equipment to help deter crime. These are first steps, and we will do more.

I’ve talked to the President about this, and he is firmly committed to this issue, as are Secretary Duncan and I. So today is the continuation of what is a sustained, national effort on behalf of this entire administration to address youth violence and to make our streets safe for everyone.

And now I’d like to turn it over to the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

Updated August 20, 2015