Holder, Duncan, Daley Chicago youth violence press conference. Transcript

SHARE Holder, Duncan, Daley Chicago youth violence press conference. Transcript
SHARE Holder, Duncan, Daley Chicago youth violence press conference. Transcript

Transcript courtesy Federal News Service…




12:20 P.M. EDT, WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2009

MAYOR DALEY: With me is Alderman Carrie Austin, Alderman Anthony Beale, Alderman Latasha Thomas, Alderman Roberto Maldonado, Alderman Pat O’Connor, Alderman John Pope, Alderman (Ariel Reboyras ?), Alderman Ray Suarez and other aldermen presently at the City Council. Also with me in attendance is Ron Huberman, chief executiave officer of the Chicago Public Schools.

We are honored this morning that the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, and the United States secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, have come to Chicago to talk about — with us about how the federal government and the City of Chicago can better work together to end the violence against our young people.

The needless and brutal violence that continues to take our children from us is an outrage. Even one child lost to violence is one too many in our city. I am very thankful that it is also the outrage of administration leaders in Washington, D.C.

Every Chicagoan has the responsibility to help prevent and end the violence. So does every level of government — local, state and federal. To help deepen our partnership with Washington, I met this morning with Attorney General Holder and Secretary Arne Duncan and community leaders and faith-based leaders. It was a very, very productive meeting.

Among the things we talked about, how best to focus our resources on the young people and the families who need help the most without sacrificing other priorities; the importance of offering more Saturday and after-school programs at local schools, where our young people can learn and take part in other positive activities; how to get more adults involved with our young people as mentors; and how to more effectively tell the success stories, and I see the success stories involving many young people and families who can serve as role models for their peers in every community of our city.

Yesterday, as you know, I made some specific requests of the federal government, which included asking the Department of Justice to work better with us to align Department of Justice resources in Chicago with our efforts to break up the gangs and address the youth violence; to address the important issue of sharing critical information between schools, professional people in schools and local law enforcement on youth violence, (dealing with ?) federal law and even state law that prevents that; and to provide more funding not only for police and dedicating it around our schools, but more funding for good after-school programs and Saturday programs.

Let us remember, much of the violence against Chicago’s young people involves gang violence, unfortunately. We need the help of the federal government to help break up the gangs in our city, which does not end at a city limit, and the terror it may bring to communities, not only a city, but throughout the country.

We also need the support to provide more after-school and other programs that help us intervene in a child’s life before they get on the wrong track. Their presence here today sends a very powerful message: to the gang-bangers and dope dealers, that we will not tolerate their violent way of life; and to the people of Chicago, that they support our efforts to provide positive alternatives to all of our children.

We look forward to working more closely with the federal government to protect all of our children. This is not just one meeting we’re talking about, just one neighborhood, or just one school. These are issues brewing beneath the surface in other schools and other communities in other cities. We need to address them immediately as a crisis. If we get it right together, all of us can truly make a difference.

Now I’d like to ask Attorney General of the United States of America Holder to please speak. Thank you.

Thank you, Eric.

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

Nearly two weeks ago, this nation was shocked — shocked — by a video showing scenes of such graphic violence that they’ve left an indelible mark in the mind of every American who has seen them. Now, for many Americans who live with the threat of violence every day, the video was a sad reminder of the harshness and the 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 to — for too many to ignore as they go about their daily lives. For me, and for this administration, it was a call to action, to address a challenge that affects this entire nation.

Youth violence is not a Chicago problem, any more than it is a black problem, a white problem, or a Hispanic problem. It is something that affects communities big and small, and people of all races and all colors. It is an American problem.

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. Either half of children and adolescents were assaulted at least once, and more than one in 10 was injured as a result. Nearly one-quarter were the victim of a robbery, vandalism or theft, and one in 16 were victimized sexually.

You know, 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 too many of today’s victims become tomorrow’s criminals.

Now, we’re here today to continue a public-safety conversation that the Obama administration began on day one. It has included a law-enforcement summit that 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 of the talking. We want to listen to educators, to parents, to students and to 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 that we can devise effective solutions.

Now, 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 today’s youth violence, one that encompasses the latest research and the freshest approaches. We have to ask hard questions, and we have to be prepared to face tough truths.

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 Neighborhoods. And it’s why our Office of Justice Programs is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide support and assistance to communities affected by violence.

There are no easy, there are no quick, fixes. This will not happen overnight. Our approach will need to involve not just law enforcement but also faith-based organizations, the business community and social-service groups. Every citizen has to be a part of the solution. We will need a combination of prevention, intervention and targeted enforcement.

Now, we started by meeting today with community leaders here in Chicago and with students from Fenger High School. I’ll be honest: these were not all easy conversations. There’s a lot of frustration and there’s 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 that we can to protect the American people, to protect American children 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 our COPS Secure Our Schools program in grants to law-enforcement agencies and municipalities throughout the country, including almost half a million (dollars) to the city of Chicago.

These grants provide funds to improve security in schools and on school grounds by helping to pay for security measures, like metal detectors, locks, surveillance systems and other equipment to help deter a crime.

These are only first steps, and we will do more. I’ve talked to the president about this, and he is firmly committed this issue, as are Secretary Duncan and myself.

So today is the continuation of what is going to be a sustained national effort on behalf of this entire administration to address youth violence and to make our streets safe for everyone.

Now I would like to turn it over to the secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

SEC. DUNCAN: In recent weeks America has seen a side of Chicago that we all wish didn’t exist. The graphic video of Fenger High School student Derrion Albert being fatally beaten is terrifying, heartbreaking and tragic. It shocks the conscience. This bright and happy young honors student had his whole life ahead of him but now has been cut short due to senseless violence.

I came here at the direction of the president, not to place blame on anyone, but to join with Chicago, with communities across America in taking responsibility for this death and the deaths of so many other young people over the years — shining stars like Blair Holt, Starkeisha Reed and Danchel Davis (sp), and dozens of others over the years here in Chicago who were victims of a society that has somehow lost its way and that — and has allowed too many of our children to devalue life.

Somehow many of our young people have lost faith in the future. They’ve been denied the love, support and guidance they need, and grown up believing that their life is not worth anything, but no one else’s life is worth anything either. It’s difficult to show love when you’ve never been loved. It’s difficult to build a positive future when you don’t think you’ll live past the age of 18.

These are problems we cannot solve just with money or by pointing fingers at each other or by looking the other way. We must engage directly with our children, starting at the youngest age, and must engage with them at every stage of their lives and teach them that violence doesn’t solve anything and that respect for others is THE foundation for a safe and healthy society.

It’s an important lesson that every parent, every teacher and every adult needs to understand, so they can pass it on to young people, whether it’s their own children or someone else’s. Every adult shares in this responsibility. Every adult needs to connect, because all children need adults in their lives. It starts with parents, but always continues with others — teachers, coaches, mentors and friends.

I came here today not merely out of sadness, but with hope and compassion for our children.

I came here because I believe in Chicago’s capacity to deal with this openly, honestly and directly.

This is my home. This is the city I grew up in; where I played ball, and tutored children in a church on a South Side basement. My friends are here; my family is here. I learned everything I know in these communities and in these schools, and I learned about character.

This is a city that never gives up when it’s challenged. This is a city that always unites in the face of adversity. This is a city that has produced great leaders and thinkers, a great mayor, and America’s first black president, men and women who are shaping the future and giving real meaning to the words like “courage” and “strength” and “pride.”

Chicago won’t be defined by this incident, but rather by our response to it. So I came here today to join with all of you, and with communities across America, for a national conversation on values. It’s a conversation that should happen in every city, in every suburb, in every town in America where violence and intolerance and discrimination exist.

Chicago is not unique. Four students have been shot in Tulsa, Oklahoma already this year. Philadelphia, Seattle, Miami, New Orleans, and many rural communities have also lost schoolchildren to violence in recent weeks. And the cost goes far beyond the immediate victims and their families. When children are fearful, they can’t learn. And if they can’t learn, then we are all at risk, because our future depends on the quality of education we give our children.

This morning, Attorney General Eric Holder and I started the conversation with Mayor Daley and with faith and community leaders. We talked with elected officials and school officials. We also met with Fenger students and parents and the principal. And the students — it was amazing — were united in the request for one thing. They want mentors. They want more adults in their lives who care about them. They’re extraordinary children at Fenger, and they want us to meet them more than halfway.

We plan to go to other cities, and to meet and talk with people and find ways to protect our children. I am committed to this fight. I am committed to this cause. I promise to work as long as necessary to rid our country of this plague.

I also told CPS officials the Department of Education is planning to give an emergency grant to help restore the learning environment at Fenger. They can choose the money — to use the money as they best see fit — and Principal Liz Dozier is doing an extraordinary job there — whether it’s for counselors, or for extended-day programs, or to help build mentoring programs. This money is not just for Fenger, but for schools that feed into Fenger as well.

But we all know this is not about money. Money alone will never solve this problem. It’s much deeper than that. It’s about values, and it’s about who we are as a society. And it’s about taking responsibility for our young people, to teach them what they need to know to live side-by-side and deal with their differences without anger and without violence. They must learn to love themselves, and to love each other.

Every one of us must take responsibility for this.

To those who seek to lay blame on anyone else, I challenge you to ask first, what have you done?

This is the time to look in the collective mirror and ask whether we like what we see or whether we can do better and do better together. I challenge every parent, community leader and adult to step up and join in this conversation.

No one, no one, should get a pass today. I challenge our students to sit down with each other, to talk, to listen and debate and come together, to create the kind of action we need. And again the students today from Fenger were absolutely phenomenal.

The first responsibility of a healthy society is to find common ground and work together towards the common good. That’s what made America. That’s what made Chicago. And that’s what it will take for communities, across this country, to bring an end to this violence that has taken the lives of so many smart, gifted and talented young people.

I am forever grateful that all that Chicago has offered me. I was deeply honored to serve this mayor. I am deeply honored now to serve this president. Above all, I’m honored to serve the people of Chicago and America.

And today, I ask for your hand in partnership to work together, to raise our children safely, to enable to them to grow up free of fear and to educate them and allow them to fulfill their dreams. As fathers, as parents, that’s what we want for all of our children.

Thank you.

MAYOR DALEY: Thank you.

I also want to point out, I want to thank the group of parent over many years called Purpose over Pain, where they lost a loved one and they’ll never forget their loved child. But most importantly they have stepped up to the plate, going to Springfield or Washington, D.C., on behalf of effective gun legislation, in order to protect the children, not only of our city but throughout the country.

Thank you.

Q Secretary Duncan, you could have given that speech a couple of years ago here in Chicago.

SEC. DUNCAN: We did, yeah.

Q And perhaps — yes, you did. I’ve heard you say those things many times.

What’s different now? What can the federal government do now to change the situation?

SEC. DUNCAN: Well, it’s not just about the federal government. It’s about what all of us do differently. What’s different, and I think this is probably actually heartbreaking that it takes capturing a death on video to awake the country.

Nothing against anyone here, but we were dealing with children being shot every single day. We never saw a crowd like this ever. And so something about seeing something on video seems to wake up this country.

And we should use this moment, whether we’re going to critique the past, whatever, we should use this moment to go forward together, that this is a fork in the road. This is a line in the sand, and we have to get dramatically better. And it’s all of us stepping up. Nobody gets a pass.

(Cross talk.)

Q A lot of people are talking about federal funding, increased federal funding, to help some of the programs that might keep kids in school longer every day, for 12 months a year.

SEC. DUNCAN: So we need more money. But more money alone as you know, Charles, is never going to solve this problem.

So we need after-school programs. We need Saturday programs. The first thing I asked the students today is, what do you want? All the hands went up. One thing they all asked — we want mentors. We want mentors. They’re struggling to learn values. They want help.

So, yes, we want to help do that, but this is not going to be solved by the federal government. It’s not going to happen. This will be solved by parents, by community leaders, religious leaders. The mayor — (inaudible) — the mayor this morning. There’s just unbelievable leadership in the city.

This is a national conversation. And I think Chicago’s going to lead this not just where we are today but where we need to go. I’m really looking to Chicago to help.

Q How are you going to engage the parents so that they find the mentors they’re looking for not on the street but in the home?

SEC. DUNCAN: Well, we have to work with parents, but at the end of the day, we have to save our children. And if we have parents who can help, we want to support them, we want to do what we can, but at the end of the day, we need to save our children. And our children are asking for help.

Q How much — (off mike) — grants you’re giving to — (off mike)?

ATTY GEN. HOLDER (?): We’re going to work it through. It’s approximately $500,000. And we want this — (inaudible) — to help stabilize what’s going on there now.

Q There are community groups who say they’ve been mentoring for years, as you know. There have been parents volunteering, protecting kids on the way to school for years. Secretary Holder as well, or Attorney General Holder as well — (off mike). Some of them were down at Fenger today, wondering where you were, why you weren’t meeting down in the community.

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: I’ll tell you exactly why, because I didn’t want to bring all of you to Fenger. I wanted — because I know you guys would follow. And so I talked to the principal, I wanted to meet with the students, and what we don’t want is a circus. Those students are in school learning. I met with the students away from all the media, away from all the cameras, had a great heart-to-heart conversation. And it’s important to me to talk to the students, not the — it’s not about the adults. It’s not about the drama. It’s not about people using this for their own agendas. It’s about listening to students and responding to what they’re asking.

Q Secretary Duncan, some have suggested that the turn-around — (off mike) — that you implemented last year — (off mike) — was partly to blame for the violence. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about destabilizing schools.

SEC. DUNCAN: I think that’s absolutely ridiculous. If you go back to ’03-’04 in Fenger High School, you had 124 students from the Altgeld Garden community. You go this year, ’08-’09, there are 142 students. There are 18 more students in Fenger today from Altgeld Garden than from five years ago. So again, it’s easy to sort of point fingers. It’s easy to sort of blame stuff. Let’s get to the root of the issue. You have great kids from Altgeld, you have great kids from the Fenger community. They’re trying to do the right thing. Let’s listen to them and let’s help them.

Q (Off mike.)

SEC. DUNCAN: Well, I think you’ve got Attorney General Holder here, you got me here, the president’s talked to both of us very, very directly about this, talked a lot to the first lady, as well. We’re absolutely committed to be part of the solution.

But the answer is going to come from Chicago. We’re (going to be a ?) piece of the answer. We’re here to support the great leadership (in here ?).

Q So Secretary Duncan — or Mayor Daley, what happens tomorrow when everybody goes home?


Q What is the —

MAYOR DALEY: Well, we’re not — no one’s going home in the sense that leaving this issue on the table. Again, we have — all of us, not just the elected officials, but we have community people, we have the whole board of education, all looking at this completely different, in order to intervene, to go into the homes that are necessary in regards to (dysfunctional ?) families. We have to be able to protect those children in all types of environment.

And that’s what you have to look at. And that means having, yes, community people hired in community, knocking on the doors, going into the homes and making sure that those children are all protected in the home and outside the home.


Excuse me.

Q Can I ask Attorney General Holder a question here? You mentioned that you had some hard conversations today. What surprised you the most about what you heard today from — (off mike)?

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: Listening to the students. I think what Arne was talking about. First, they talked about the need for mentors.

And then I thought one of the themes that I consistently heard expressed in different ways was the need for these children just to feel safer. They’re concerned about their safety. They worry about either going to and from school, running to buses. The principal’s done a great job in coming up with ways in which kids who come from different neighborhoods get on buses in a relatively quick period of time. They worry about who they have to interact with, with regard to their peers within school.

But this whole notion of safety and not feeling safe is something that really struck me. And as Arne can say, you know, all the statistics will tell you that a child who doesn’t feel safe is probably pretty incapable of learning, and so that’s a thing that we have to really address that involves not only the Department of Education but the Department of Justice as well.

(Cross talk.)

MAYOR DALEY (?): Yeah? Yeah? Yeah? Yes. Wait —

Q Secretary Duncan, can you give us a few more details now that the meeting’s over? I know you were concerned about some of the — (off mike). Where did you meet; how long; how many people were there — (off mike)?

SEC. DUNCAN: We met for over an hour with, you know, a dozen students. And these were, you know, just great students from Fenger. And they were honest. It was an emotional conversation. They were thoughtful. But I just can’t tell you how impressed I am by their commitment, and what —

Q (Off mike) — did you mean in — (off mike)?

MAYOR DALEY: No, where we met wasn’t important. But the point is to have a conversation, and we had a great conversation.

Q (Inaudible.)

SEC. DUNCAN: Let me just say, these are kids that are overcoming odds that folks in this room have a hard time even comprehending, as child after child talked about my mother died; my father died; I’ve been raised by grandparents; now I live in some other place.

Another young man who’s trying unbelievably hard to do the right thing talked about how his family is part of the problem, how his family is pulling him down. He’s doing everything he can to rise above that.

You have children living in homeless shelters. You have students who are, before they even get in the school building, have — overcoming things that we just find unimaginable. And they’re doing the right thing every single day.

MAYOR DALEY: But also — yeah, but also — also, I want to — I want to make sure that you realize that many times the offenders are not public school students, they’re adults in the community. And you have to remember that. Let’s not mix every student that they’re the offenders and they’re the real problem, and many times it’s adults in the community — the gangbangers and dope dealers — that are preying off of younger people on a daily basis.

Yes, sir.

Q Mr. Holder, could I ask you, there’s a school of well- meaning people out there who have argued for years that part of the problems with — (off mike) — the gangs, guns and drugs is to start decriminalizing some drugs. Where are you on decriminalizing?

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: I mean, I remember Senator Patrick Moynihan talked about defining D, B and C down. That’s not the solution. You know, I can eradicate crime tomorrow by defining everything as not a crime. (Laughter.) You know, that’s not the answer. The answer is to deal with the laws as we find them, to deal with the values that we have always had, and come up with ways in which we have our young people and the adults who are responsible for them live up to the things that have made this nation great and I think can continue to make this nation great.

Q When you speak to the officers out in the community — (off mike). Gangbangers often — (off mike). (Off mike) — decriminalizing drugs, you’re competing — (off mike). You’re investing — (off mike) — million dollars. That’s probably what drug trafficking makes in one day. So —

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: There is a moral component to that question.

You know, I get mad when I hear this. You know, people devalue the kid who goes and works at McDonald’s for minimum wage, or works someplace else at minimum wage. There’s a moral component to this. When you see the impact that the sale of drugs has had on communities of color, the distressed communities in this nation, there is no equivalency — there is no equivalency there. We have to find ways in which we provide opportunities for our children — educational, vocational opportunities. But the notion that this is simply a monetary thing, that this is simply a question of where do you make your money, is something that I totally reject.

Now, we have to reach out to our young people and make them understand about this moral issue that I’m talking about, and we’ve not maybe done as good a job as we should. As adults, we bear some of the responsibility in that regard. But we have to — you know, as we have — you know, we get away from, I think, a lot of the things that made this nation great. We get away from values, asking ourselves tough questions, as I’ve said, holding ourselves to certain standards, looking for the easy way out. And you know, we’ve got to get back to, I think, some of the old-time things that, you know, raised the successful people who you see here and are capable of raising successful young people today.

MAYOR DALEY: Latisha (sp).

Q (Off mike) — the Latino community — (off mike)?


Q Okay. (Off mike) — money?

MAYOR DALEY: Well, again, the money is not the complete answer to everything. It’s not. It’s not the complete answer. As everybody talked, money will be given by the federal government, work by the private sector as well raising money. It has to be — it has to be adults who take responsibility for every child, not only in their own family but in every block of the city of Chicago. It requires all of us; it doesn’t require just money alone. It requires all of us to instill the family values instilled in all of you here today.

Q Attorney General Holder?

Q Attorney General?

Q Attorney General Holder?

MAYOR DALEY: Yes. Marian (sp). Marian (sp).

Q What’s the — (off mike)? Is this just a blind — (off mike)?


Q Critics are going to say — (off mike) — and —

MAYOR DALEY: Well, I have said that this is not a — this is not a show and tell. This is not just words written and speeches. This is a commitment by the president all the way down to Arne Duncan, Attorney General Eric Holder, because they’re just as passionate and they’re just as concerned. These are wonderful public servants that can understand the problems of America, and that’s why, in my relationship with them, they get it. And that’s why they came out today — not to showboat anything, but to basically get results and work with all of us, not just here in the city of Chicago but throughout the country. I am — I am very convinced that that’s their number-one concern. And this is not just a press conference (that we could ?) be back not with press conferences, but at dialogue continuing with us in regards to not only this issue, but other issues. And that’s what they’ve given to me.

Q Mayor Daley — (off mike) — in the past has always been a — (off mike) — of change in America. And I know the secretary, when you were here, you worked with — I know in Detroit you worked with — (off mike). My question is, from a national level, most preachers — and I’m from the faith-based community — feel alienated from the attorney general’s office and the Department of Education partners working together. Are you going to do anything to mend that relationship — (off mike) —

MAYOR DALEY: Well, they’ve always been in the fold here in the city of Chicago. Our faith base — and anybody can — every press conference and every alderman, our faith base is involved on a continuous basis in every part of this city. It doesn’t matter what religion they’re involved; they are involved continually in the school system, in affordable housing, in discrimination, in economic development. They have been involved.

Now, maybe in other cities, I don’t know. But here.

Q But — okay, I’m saying to the attorney general, from a national level, the faith-based — you know — (off mike) — and all that — (off mike) — to the secretary. It used to be a national thing, if something happened, faith-based come in. We know there are certain groups in Chicago that does — (off mike). But —

MAYOR DALEY: They don’t fall — for me, they’re falling for the people first.

Q I’m asking the attorney general, is there something going on to bring that gap between the faith-based community and the national attorney general’s office —

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: Yeah, as I said in my remarks, these — we’re looking for solutions that will involve all of the responsible players in the communities around this nation, and that obviously will include those in the faith-based community. You know, we reach out to those organizations and those people who are serious about helping, who are going to be effective in crafting the solutions that we seek.

And I don’t really care where they come from. It’s not only a question of faith-based, it’s also ex-offenders, people who have been in the system and are now doing positive things with their lives. We will try to find help wherever we can find it. I am prepared, Arne is prepared to work with people wherever we find them who are people of good will and who have the interests of children first and foremost in their minds.

STAFF: Thank you, guys. We have to go. We have to go. They are on a schedule. We’re going to go this way. Thank you.


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