Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales yesterday said communities poisoned by drugs, gangs, gun crime and violence are no place for “a child’s dreams to flourish,” and that the Justice Department is determined to help prevent America’s youth from joining gangs.
Speaking at the annual Project Safe Neighborhood conference in Boston, Mr. Gonzales said efforts continue to bring together law-enforcement and community leaders to discuss effective programs, identify gaps in services, and develop working partnership to prevent gangs from claiming new members.
“My personal experience has been that the United States is a place where a child can dream big dreams … and fulfill them,” he said. “I believe deeply that this can be true for all Americans, all of this great nation’s children, but not when their neighborhoods and their lives are limited by fear and violence.
“That’s why we work so hard … to make the streets of our communities safer, every day,” he said.
Mr. Gonzales noted that law enforcement is “not a spectator sport,” but added that the same can be said of community-service work. He said it was important for both sides to work together to address what he described as “the scourge of gangs and gang violence” in America’s neighborhoods.
He said it would require an integrated, comprehensive approach that includes both law-enforcement and the prevention efforts uniquely offered by community-service groups.
“Increasing prevention in your neighborhood can come from something as simple as meeting the community leader or volunteer sitting next to you in this room today,” he said. “Each conversation at a summit like this has the potential for shared ideas and new, creative approaches to reducing violent crime and protecting the future of our children.”
Mr. Gonzales said the increased responsibilities for law enforcement since September 11 are one of the reasons law-enforcement officials need partners in community service more than ever. He said their goals are the ultimate complement to law enforcement because they seek to make neighborhoods safer by preventing criminal activity so that arrests and prosecutions are not needed.
“To the community servants here today, I also offer thanks. You’d like to keep kids from joining gangs and living the ‘thug life’ altogether and that is my idea of an outstanding solution,” he said.
“Kids in tough situations join gangs to find companionship and status — false promises of a lifestyle that in reality brings crime, violence, jail time and even death,” he said. “The violence of gangs then spills over into the community, making it less safe for everyone.”
Project Safe Neighborhoods is a nationwide commitment to reduce gun crime in America by networking existing local programs that target gun crime and providing these programs with additional tools necessary to be successful.
The Bush administration has committed more than $1.5 billion to the effort since the program’s inception in 2001. The funding is used to hire new federal and state prosecutors, support investigators, provide training, distribute gun-lock safety kits, deter juvenile gun crime, and develop and promote community outreach efforts as well as to support other gun-violence-reduction strategies.