Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to help welcome you all to this important discussion. I want to thank President Obama for making this event possible; for his extraordinary leadership on criminal justice reform; and for his dedication to addressing the challenges we face. I want to thank the Marshall Project for moderating this forum and for their tireless focus to address this vital issue in this country. And I want to thank all of you here today for being an integral part of this crucial conversation about the mission that we share: promoting public safety, protecting our communities and defending the rights of everyone who calls America home.
These are serious issues – and I am proud to say that, over the course of the Obama Administration, we have made real and critical progress. Through the Smart on Crime initiative, launched by my predecessor, Attorney General Eric Holder, the Department of Justice is fundamentally reorienting the way we approach criminal justice issues by diminishing the use of harsh mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenses; investing in rehabilitation and reentry programs that can reduce the likelihood of recidivism; and supporting vulnerable communities to prevent them from being caught up in the criminal justice system. Through partnerships with agencies like the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development, we’re taking an evidence-based, holistic approach to problems that obstruct opportunity and lead to crime in the first place – from poverty to substandard schools; from homelessness to inadequate mental health services. Through our work with state and local law enforcement agencies on constitutional policing, projects like the Violence Reduction Network and grant initiatives from the Office of Justice Programs and Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, we are promoting community policing approaches that foster trust, strengthen communities and save lives. And as we continue this effort, conversations like this one could not be more important – because they remind us that even in the midst of great challenges, we share the same basic goals.
When I took office earlier this year, I began a six-city tour to highlight some of the most promising work that citizens and law enforcement are doing together to build trust, respect and mutual understanding, specifically visiting cities that had faced significant challenges in this area. I spoke with civic and public safety leaders in Cincinnati, Ohio, who talked about the way their collaboration has transformed the city into a more welcoming and inclusive place. I heard from community members in Birmingham, Alabama, who praised their police leadership and were excited about its new approach. And I had conversations with young adults in Richmond, California, who understand that we have a long road ahead, but who also fundamentally believe that we can find a path forward and make progress together.
In all these towns – as well as East Haven, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Seattle, Washington – I took part in conversations like the one we’re having today. And what I found most striking was that everywhere I went, I heard the same refrain from residents and public servants, from community officials and young people: “I love my city. I love my town. I love my community – and I want to make it better.” That should give us all hope – because that is the fundamental priority of all of us here today: to make the nation we love more safe, more protected and more free.
Of course, it is clear that we have a great deal of work to do. We face stubborn challenges and complex issues that have their roots in America’s earliest days. But I strongly believe that, thanks to leaders like you and your colleagues and counterparts across the country – we can create the safer, more secure, more empowered communities that all Americans deserve. I want you to know that, as we go forward, this administration, this Department of Justice and I personally will remain committed to working with you to build that brighter future together.
Thank you again for being a part of this conversation and for the work you do every day. And now, I am delighted to introduce today’s next speaker, Dr. Ronal Serpas – a professor at Loyola University, a former New Orleans Police Department Superintendent with more than three decades of experience in criminal justice and a founding member of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration. Dr. Serpas is a thoughtful leader and a steadfast partner in our shared effort to promote equality and improve lives and I am very pleased to have him here with us today.