Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Taj [Atkinson], for that kind introduction – and for the commitment you’ve shown to ensuring that Central High School in Newark is the kind of place where you and your classmates can learn, grow, and thrive.
I applaud you for striving to build fellowship and trust among law enforcement and the youth in your community. And I want to thank you for serving as an inspiring role model for other students at your school – and far beyond.
It is a pleasure to help welcome you to our nation’s capital this morning.
And it’s a privilege to join this distinguished group of community leaders, private sector partners, and honored guests, for today’s working session – as we advance the President’s groundbreaking My Brother’s Keeper initiative; as we share insights and exchange ideas about common challenges; and as we seek ways to leverage the considerable expertise of the stakeholders in this room to strengthen the work we must do – together – across the nation.
Your enthusiasm for progress, your insistence on advancement, and your eagerness to strengthen your individual communities are precisely the qualities that My Brother’s Keeper – and the Community Challenge in particular – hope to cultivate in both leaders and young people throughout the country. And I am proud to see these qualities reflected in abundance here at the White House today.
That’s why it’s such an honor for me to join the President, my good friends Valerie Jarrett and Broderick Johnson – and so many of our colleagues from throughout the Administration – in thanking you, personally, for the hard work that you and your communities are already doing. By answering the call to action, accepting the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, and taking concrete steps to bring public and private leaders together to chart the next steps forward, each of the cities you represent has already stepped to the forefront of a growing, national movement.
As we move forward, these ongoing efforts – and your involvement in them – will be absolutely essential in securing the outcomes we seek. Our continued progress must be driven not just by leaders here in Washington – though we are firmly dedicated to supporting you any way we can – but by entire communities coming together to take ownership of unique challenges, and to implement locally-tailored solutions.
My Brother’s Keeper can only make a positive difference, and drive necessary change, with the support and dedication of passionate, engaged citizens like each of you. And it’s clear, as we approach the first anniversary of this initiative – and as we gather today to drive our efforts into the future – that your leadership has never been more vital.
As you know as well as anyone, the promise – and the great potential – of the work we’re doing through My Brother’s Keeper lies in its tremendous power to strengthen communities that are too often divided. One of the key components of this initiative is building and maintaining relationships of trust between law enforcement officers and the citizens that these brave men and women are sworn to serve and protect.
Especially in recent months, with the heart-rending tragedies our country has witnessed, we’ve seen long-simmering divides, and deep distrust, rise to the surface of our national consciousness. And these terrible incidents have opened a profoundly important national conversation.
We know that these issues and tensions are not confined to any particular city or geographic region.
They are American issues, implicating concerns about the fairness and effectiveness of our criminal justice system as a whole. And they demand a constructive and inclusive national response. That’s why, over the last couple of months, I have been traveling throughout the country to convene a series of roundtable discussions – in Atlanta, in Cleveland, and in Memphis; in Chicago, in Philadelphia, and most recently in Oakland and San Francisco – to engage with Americans from all backgrounds and perspectives.
I have spoken with police officers, elected officials, and young people; with faith leaders, civil rights advocates, concerned citizens, and many others. I’ve often been moved by the stories they’ve shared. And I’ve been struck not only by the commonalities that have emerged – in terms of shared values, and the common desire for safer neighborhoods and reduced violence directed at law enforcement – but also by a consistent drumbeat of concern about the future.
By worries about the opportunity gaps faced by far too many people throughout the nation – and by boys and young men of color in particular. And by the obstacles and disadvantages that these individuals, and often entire communities, can encounter from a very early age.
Clearly, our comprehensive response to these challenges must begin in the classroom – with efforts to ensure that our educational system is a doorway to opportunity, rather than a point of entry to our criminal justice system. Too often, so-called zero-tolerance policies, however well intentioned, make students feel unwelcome in their own schools.
And they can have significant and lasting negative effects on the long-term well-being of our young people, increasing their likelihood of future contact with the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
That’s why supportive school discipline efforts have been a priority for the Administration since President Obama took office. They have been a consistent focus for the Department of Justice – as well as our colleagues at the Department of Education, under the leadership of Secretary Arne Duncan – over the past six years. And this work was significantly strengthened, and expanded, when the President launched My Brother’s Keeper last year in order to help bridge persistent gaps and widen the circle of opportunity – so that all of America’s young people can have the chance to reach their full potential.
Since then, the Obama Administration has joined with cities and towns, businesses, and foundations that are taking steps to connect young people to mentoring, support networks, and the skills they need to find a good job – or go to college – and work their way into the middle class. We have been doing important work on a variety of fronts to bring President Obama’s vision, and the initiative’s goals, closer to reality. And we’ve placed an increasing reliance on the leadership that people like you are uniquely situated to provide.
In September, as you know, the President took this collaboration to a new level when he issued the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge – a call for cities, counties, and tribal nations to implement coherent “cradle to college and career” strategies for improving the life outcomes of all young people – regardless of who they are, where they come from, or the circumstances into which they were born.
As leaders who have accepted this Community Challenge, I know you’ve all been busy helping to spearhead locally-tailored strategies for improving the likelihood that at-risk young people will be able to graduate from school, find good jobs, and stay safe from violent crime.
Also, last September, acting on an announcement I made back in April – months before the events of Ferguson and New York City captured the nation’s attention – I launched a new National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. This initiative comprises a wide range of multi-faceted approaches for resolving longstanding tensions in communities where mistrust has been exposed.
And it is helping us to forge and reinforce relationships between our courageous law enforcement officers and area residents – by investing in evidence-based strategies for combating distrust and hostility; by helping to provide training for police and community members on bias reduction and procedural fairness; and by driving new research and development of state-of-the-art policing practices.
After meeting with community leaders and taking a close look at the challenges being faced in neighborhoods across the country, as part of this National Initiative – in March – we expect to announce several pilot sites where new and innovative strategies will be implemented – and rigorously tested. We’ll also launch an online clearinghouse where communities can get information and resources on building trust in the criminal justice system. And as this work unfolds, we intend for it to complement, and to be informed by, the efforts that all of you are leading – as well as our ongoing commitment to building a stronger and fairer criminal justice system across the board.
It’s important to note that none of these reforms are directed at individual police officers themselves, who perform their dangerous jobs with valor each and every day.
Like the Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, to reform the federal criminal justice system – and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which will provide strong, national direction to the law enforcement profession on a scale not seen since the Johnson Administration – this work is aimed at strengthening procedures and institutions. And our hope is that it will improve both outcomes and public confidence – while allowing law enforcement to operate with maximum safety, effectiveness, fairness, and trust, in every case and circumstance.
Like you, I’m here today because I believe our collective efforts show significant promise.
And they have the potential to make a real difference in the lives, and the futures, of countless Americans. Going forward, the success of these efforts will depend on the deep experience, the committed leadership, and the public-minded spirit of local and private partners alike. Your continued involvement will be vital if we are to empower our young people to lift themselves to greater success, to bolster the ties between disparate communities, and to strengthen our neighborhoods from coast to coast.
Of course, this work will not always be easy. Deep divides and historic inequities will not be erased overnight. But as I look around this auditorium today, I see good reason for optimism and confidence that – by standing and working together – we will continue to build trust and promote opportunity while decreasing crime and violence.
We will continue to achieve progress in fostering the ambitions – and securing the futures – of young Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life. And through the dedication, the tenacity, and the sheer passion of everyone here, we will continue to bring about the changes that all of our citizens, including bright, driven young people like Taj, need and deserve.
I want to thank you all, once again, for your leadership – and your partnership – in these important efforts. I am both honored and humbled to count you as colleagues. And although my tenure as Attorney General will soon draw to a close – and my individual path will take me in a new direction – I will never stop working to achieve the goals we share.
I look forward to all that we will do and accomplish together in the months and years ahead. And I urge you all to keep up the great work.