Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Assistant Attorney General [Karol] Mason, for that kind introduction and for your outstanding leadership of the department’s Office of Justice Programs. I also want to thank the leadership of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force and the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention for all of their hard work in organizing this important summit. It is a pleasure to be here this afternoon and it is a privilege to join so many dedicated advocates, devoted public servants and inspiring leaders as we gather to reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that every young person in the United States can grow up in safety and security – free from harm; free from fear; and free from the shadow of violence.
As each of you knows all too well, that shadow clouds the lives of far too many young people throughout our country. While national crime rates remain at historic lows, a number of cities have experienced increases in homicides and violent crime – including crimes involving young people. In the United States, homicide is the third leading cause of death for youths between the ages of 10 and 24. Every day – every day – 13 young people are murdered in our country. This means that every day, 13 young people are robbed of their chance to live a full and rich life. Every day, 13 families lose a child and are left to grapple with devastating loss and unimaginable pain. And every day, the country loses 13 people who might have grown up to defend the vulnerable or heal the sick; to inspire a community or lead a city; to raise a family or chart a future. Today, in America, this reality is simply unacceptable.
And as awful as these numbers are, they do not tell the whole story – because the dead are far from the only victims of violence. Its effects are felt far beyond a crime scene, inflicting invisible wounds on all who live in its presence. There are the families – whose existence is forever punctuated by the world before their loss and the darkness after. And there are the young people – our children still with us. Children who grow up accustomed to the sound of gunshots; who go to schools where disputes are resolved with fists instead of words; who are raised in homes filled with conflict, not comfort; who attend the funerals of relatives, friends and neighbors with tragic regularity – these children, too, are victims of violence.
We know that exposure to violence at a young age is associated with long-term physical, mental and emotional harm. It puts youths at greater risk of failing in school and struggling to find and hold a job. And it makes it more likely that they will become involved with the juvenile and criminal justice system. Well, of course – how can you hold life dear when you have seen it go for almost nothing?
These are significant consequences, with profound implications not only for young people directly affected by violence; not only for communities where violence is a constant presence and for the families who bear its cost; but for all of us. Violence deprives us of the skills and talents of a large portion of our population, preventing our country from fulfilling its full potential. It sows feelings of alienation and mistrust and contributes to a pernicious cycle of poverty, crime and incarceration. And, above all, it degrades our highest ideals – our founding promise that every person has a right to safety, equality and opportunity.
At the Department of Justice, we are determined to use every tool at our disposal to prevent, reduce and end this violence – especially against young people – and to make that founding promise real. That is why we are working with partners across the federal government as part of the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, which President Obama established in 2010 to raise awareness about this critical issue – an issue of both public safety and public health – and to support communities’ efforts to address it. As one of the agencies leading the forum, we are engaged with our federal partners across the administration and with diverse stakeholders around the country to learn about and promote what works to prevent youth and gang violence; to support innovative solutions; and to create durable progress. We have provided funding and support to help reduce violence in Boston; to help increase school attendance in Long Beach; and to help promote safe communities in New Orleans – where I’m proud to say that we have realized a more than 30 percent drop in homicides over the last year. We are joining with faith and community–based organizations, youth and family groups and business and philanthropic leaders in neighborhoods from coast to coast. And our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices are working closely with local enforcement and elected leaders in their districts to reduce violent crime, to build capacity and to promote holistic responses to violence and its consequences. The Justice Department is proud to play a key role in this groundbreaking administration-wide effort – one of the many ways we are responding to milestone number six of My Brother’s Keeper: keeping kids on the right track and giving them second chances. We will continue to contribute to the forum going forward.
In addition to our federal efforts, we are advancing a number of comprehensive, collaborative initiatives with state and local partners – because we understand that the best way to make a difference in communities is to work hand-in-hand with the people who live and work in our communities every day. Through the Community-Based Violence Prevention Demonstration Program, managed by our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, we are supporting communities as they bring together local law enforcement officers, service providers, faith organizations and residents to develop evidence-based strategies for addressing public safety challenges, resulting in less gun violence and more civic engagement. Through the Office of Justice Programs’ Diagnostic Center, we are helping local policymakers use data to make more effective law enforcement decisions, at no cost to their municipalities. Our Violence Reduction Network gives local law enforcement agencies in 13 cities access to the full range of the Justice Department’s tools for combatting violent crime, including customized training and technical assistance. And our Defending Childhood Initiative encourages local communities to adopt evidence-based treatment for children who have been affected by violence and helps them revise policies and practices within the public systems that serve children and families.
These are all vital steps and I am tremendously proud of the work that we have done to take a stand against violence. But I am also well aware that none of these efforts would be possible without the participation and the partnership of dedicated citizens and leaders like you. These are the tools we use for and, most importantly, with all of you. After all, you know your communities best. You have the legitimacy and authority to convene disparate groups, to open difficult conversations and to propose new approaches. You know which schools are grappling with the highest dropout rates, which neighborhoods are plagued by gangs and which children are struggling with turbulent homes. We understand that we need multi-faceted solutions to our challenges and that supportive environments at home, school and in the community are essential for preventing violence. We rely on you to help us direct our resources and apply our expertise where they can have the greatest impact – and we will continue to depend on you, to listen to you and to work with you in the days ahead to further our progress toward the more just and peaceful society that we know is possible. This is nothing more and nothing less than a tremendous team effort. And I am so proud to be on your team.
Now, I know the pace of that progress can seem painfully slow. I know, as you do, that we will not build that society overnight. But as I look out over this gathering of advocates and academics, volunteers and students, pastors and police officers and public servants, I am confident about the direction in which we are headed. I am excited about all that we can achieve. And I am inspired by your tireless work, your exceptional courage, your unbreakable faith and your extraordinary determination to meet the greatest tests of our time. You have already taken the most important step. Faced with daunting challenges, you joined the struggle. Encountering persistent problems, you rose above the easy temptations of cynicism and despair. And confronted by the darkest impulses of mankind, you have responded with light, with compassion and with love. People like you have made this country what it is today. People like you have brought us through the darkest hours of our past. And people like you point the way to a brighter future for us all.
I want to thank each of you for all that you do every day to help bring us closer to that brighter future – to what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the “beloved community.” I want to commend your devotion to peace and your commitment to justice. I pledge to you my ongoing support and my steadfast commitment to our shared work. And I look forward to all that we will accomplish together in the service of that mission and in the furtherance of that cause, in the days and months to come. Thank you.