Bill Clinton photo

Remarks in Monrovia, California

July 22, 1996

Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you so much. I have had a wonderful time, and I wish I could just quit now—[laughter]—because all the people who have spoken have said what I came to highlight for America. I thank Nora Graham for leading the Pledge of Allegiance; your principal, Lois Wurmbrand; and your superintendent, Louise Taylor; Chief Santoro, thank you. Yolanda Gallardo, you're a good speaker; you ought to run for office some time. [Applause] Thank you. I thank Lieutenant Governor Gray Davis and the L.A. district attorney, Gil Garcetti, for being here with me, and the other law enforcement officials, Chief Williams and other chiefs from around the area and law enforcement officers and the State Assembly members and the others who have come here. And Mr. Mayor, I want to say a special word of thanks to you and the City Council of Monrovia for making us feel so welcome, and thank you for bringing your mother today; that was a good thing to do. Thank you very much.

I want you to know why I wanted to come to this community today. I spend an enormous amount of time as President trying to make our country ready to move into the 21st century. That's why I ran for the job. I had this simple but rather dramatic vision that we were drifting divided into the next century when we ought to be charging united into the next century and that we really ought to be, in 4 years as we begin this new century and this millennium, a country, first, where the American dream is alive for everybody who is willing to work for it; second, where we have a sense of national community rooted in mutual respect for each other across all the incredible diversity that makes up America; and finally, that we continue to be the strongest force in the world for peace and freedom and security and prosperity.

And if that happens I believe that our children will live in the greatest age of possibility in human history. The children that are in this school system now, 10 years from now they'll be doing jobs that haven't even been invented yet. And if we do our jobs they'll be doing that in a peaceful world that has people who are more united, stronger families and neighborhoods and communities, States in our Nation. And we'll be working with other countries around the world to fight our common enemies of this new age, including terrorism and drug running and the proliferation of dangerous weapons and the wars based on racial and ethnic and religious hatred.

I believe that the stakes could hardly be higher. But meeting them begins at home. And that's why I wanted to come here. There are things that we have to do in Washington. We have to provide for the national defense and to meet the security challenges of the new era. We have to try to create a framework within which the American people can grow their own economy. Otherwise, a lot of what we do is trying to set rules that enable people to make the most of their own lives, whether it's the Family and Medical Leave Act that tries to help people succeed at home and at work by saying you don't lose your job if you have to take a little time off when there's a baby born or a sick parent, or the new meat standards for testing that we propose to stop children from getting the E. coli virus in meat. We try to set rules within which people can work together, in which our free market can work, in which people's creativity can work, in which local communities can solve their own problems.

I worked very hard on the economy and on the security issues. But I've also, perhaps because I was Governor of a small State for 12 years, worked very hard to put the Federal Government on the side of people and communities who are struggling to make the most of their own lives and meet their challenges and protect their values and protect their children. We have proposed to help and support communities that wanted to do a number of things that we thought would improve children's lives. And Monrovia is a sterling example of three of our major initiatives: the community policing, along with citizen participation; a tough truancy policy; and of course, the school uniform policy. And I wanted to thank you for that.

Now, why is that important? Well, I'll just give you a classic example. I can come here to you and say—and be telling the truth— [laughter]—3 1/2 years ago we instituted a new economic policy designed to drive the deficit down, get interest rates down, expand trade in American products and services, and continue to invest in our people and their education, in technology, in research, in helping communities make the transition who had been hurt by defense cutbacks so that we could all grow together. And the results have been good.

We've cut the deficit from $290 billion a year to $117 billion a year, over 60 percent. That's a good thing. The National Government is as small as it was in 1965 now; we've reduced about 240,000. We've reduced 16,000 pages of Federal regulations, abolished hundreds of programs, but continued to invest in the fundamental things that matter in education, research and technology, and infrastructure. And the results have been good.

The American people have created 10 million more jobs in the last 3 1/2 years. We have over 8 million people who have refinanced their homes at lower interest rates. We have 3.7 million new homeowners. We have the lowest rates of inflation and unemployment combined in 30 years. We learned today that in the last 2 years homeownership in America had grown its fastest rate in 30 years in the last couple of years. That's all a very good thing. And we're better off than we were 4 years ago. [Applause]

But—I don't mind you clapping for it, but let me make the point here. [Laughter] If you were—if you could hear me say that and you could know with your mind it is true, but if you lived in a community where your number one worry was whether your children were safe, whether they were in school, whether your community was functioning, then it would still leave a hole in your heart. You would say, "I hear that, but why am I not happy?" Because we know that big statistics don't matter in individual lives unless good things are happening in individual lives, in families, on blocks, in communities.

And that's where you come in. I hope by coming here today that we will put a face on the idea that the American people do not have to tolerate unacceptable rates of crime. The American people do not have to tolerate worrying whether their children are safe. The American people do not have to tolerate schools that are dysfunctional. If they will get ahold of their communities and work with their schools and work with their police departments we can turn this country around and we can take this country into the 21st century with the American dream alive for everybody, with a country that's coming together, not drifting apart. And you are the example of what every community can do if they will.

I was delighted to hear your superintendent make the announcements about the building program. I just announced an effort in Washington to put a few billion dollars over the next 4 years into school construction, for the first time the National Government has ever done it, by lowering the interest rates for net new construction—things that were not going to be done anyway—to try to help all of our schools rebuild, including the poorest schools, to encourage them to go out and get their taxpayers to help, too, and say we'll try to ease the burden.

We're working hard on trying to do what you just announced for next year, making sure that by within 4 years every classroom and every library in America is hooked up to the Internet. But here's another challenge for you: We're also working hard this summer to get 100,000 teachers to train 500,000 other teachers to use the Internet with their students properly.

Now, think about this. Now, let me give you some idea of what this can mean. I was in New Jersey the other day with the Vice President. And I think New Jersey has the second highest per capita income in America, but it also has some of the poorest school districts in America. I was in one of the poorer school districts where a huge generation of the students are in first—excuse me—a huge percentage of the students are in first generation immigrant families. This school district, compared to those enormously wealthy and wonderfully well-staffed and well-equipped suburban schools in New Jersey, had a high dropout rate, a low collegegoing rate, a low performance rate, a lot of problems.

And Bell Atlantic went in there in partnership with the community and with the schools. They put computers in the schools. They put computers in the homes of some of the family members. And they taught the teachers to use the equipment and the software so that those children would literally have access to the same quality of knowledge that any children in any school district anywhere in this country had. Within 2 years, the dropout rate was below the State average, and the test scores were above the State average, in a poor immigrant school district. We can do this if we'll do it together. And that's what you are doing.

I was delighted to hear your chief talk about the statistics you've achieved with community policing. When I became President after the 1992 election, I had already actually been to Los Angeles County—in 1990, I believe it was, or '91—to look at a community policing experiment. I'd seen them working all over the country. And the most important thing to me was that they proved that people didn't have to put up with unacceptable crime rates, but that the police could not do it alone. The police had to go back to the streets, but the people who lived on the streets had to come back to the police, and they had to work together hand in hand.

So when I asked the Congress to adopt the new crime bill, the most highly publicized parts of it—and they were important—were, first, passing the Brady bill and, second, passing the ban on assault weapons. By the way, since the Brady bill became law, no hunter has lost a rifle, contrary to the rhetoric. [Laughter] But 60,000—60,000—felons, fugitives, and stalkers have not been able to buy handguns, and it's a good thing. It's a good law, and it's the right thing to do.

Anyway, the most important thing over the long run and about the crime bill was that it contained a mechanism to put 100,000 more police officers on the street. These police departments we were asking to go out and adopt community policing, many of them were in areas where, as with the Nation, the violent crime rate had tripled in 30 years, gone up by 300 percent, but the police forces had only increased by 10 percent. Literally we had police departments that were overwhelmed by trying to catch up to crimes that had already been committed without the resources to reorganize themselves to prevent crime from being committed in the first place and use friends and neighbors to catch the criminals once they do commit crimes.

And so we began this work. We've now funded 43,000 of these police, over 6,000 of them to the State of California, over 2,000 to Los Angeles County. And it's beginning to make a difference, but not because of anything we did in the National Government. All we did was to try to give more communities the tools to do what you're doing here, because you can achieve these results, and you deserve an enormous amount of credit for doing it.

What I'm hoping is that by being here today, we'll get enough publicity out of this so that 200 or 300 other communities will call here in a week or two, they'll call the principal, the superintendent, the chief of police, the mayor, and they'll say, "Help me do this. Help me do this."

On the crime issue, let me also encourage you not to let up. Don't let up. Keep helping the police. Keep working with them. These crime statistic drops are very impressive, but the crime rate is still too high in America. It is still too high. And it will be too high until you are surprised when the evening news leads off with a crime story. That's when you'll know that we're in good shape, when you're surprised.

Let me also say that these things you are doing in the schools with the truancy and the uniform initiatives may wind up being the most important anticrime initiatives you'll ever adopt. Because we have had one deeply troubling development in the last 3 1/2 years, that if you had told me this in 1992 I would not have believed it, for the crime rate is about to go down 4 years in a row, but the rate of violent crime among young people between the age of 12 and 17 is still going up. The rate of cocaine use in America has dropped a third, but the rate of casual drug use among young people between the ages of 12 and 17 is still going up. And as any educator can tell you, when school starts this fall, there will be almost 52 million young people in school, the largest class in public schools since the baby boom. And the people that are coming in now to kindergarten and first grade for the next several years are going to be very, very large classes in our country. We have about 6 years to get ahead of this juvenile crime and violence and drug problem before we have a problem on our hands that will be almost unmanageable, unbearable, and painful.

So that's another reason I'm here. I know it. I told the principal and the superintendent and the chief I hoped I'd caused a lot of work for them in the next few weeks, because other communities have got to do this. We simply cannot let the largest number of schoolchildren in history come into our schools and grow up into adolescence in a country that is coming apart when it ought to be coming together, when there is no excuse for it, since we know what to do, and you're doing it. That's the point that I want to drive home to America.

Let me say that on this antitruancy program, this may seem simple to you, and I was—where is the officer, Chief, you gave credit to? He didn't stand up. Where is he? Stand up. Where did he go? Over there. Thank you. Give him another hand. [Applause] Now, you might ask yourself why other people don't do this. The answer is it probably hasn't occurred to them, and they may not think they can do it. You have proven that it can be done and you can get results.

In the school uniform policy, I understand that that's—you said it was unpopular with your kids the first time you mentioned it. I could go to any place in America and speak to young people and have them cheering and stomping until I mention school uniforms and then they go, "No-o-o!" [Laughter] You may know this, but I went to Long Beach a few weeks ago, and I had two students stand up and talk about it. And one of the young people said, "We got to pick our uniforms, and we picked green and white because the gangs were heavy in our area and they wore red and blue. And it's the first time in 3 years I've been able to walk to and from school without looking over my shoulder." That's worth something.

And then one of the things that was said here about it, a young woman said, "It's wonderful now, but it's as good for the wealthy kids as it is for the poor kids because now we judge ourselves by what we are on the inside and not what we have on the outside." These are good values to get across to our young people. So I just want to encourage you in this.

Not very long ago, I was in New Orleans talking about their curfew policy. New Orleans used to have one of the highest crime rates in the country, and they had all these kids on the street at night. So they started a curfew policy, as a number of other cities had, that was very rigorous. But they also set up a curfew center manned by ministers and by psychologists and by health care professionals. And I was so moved when I heard the story of one 7-yearold boy that was picked up wandering the streets at midnight. And they took him to the curfew center, and the lady who was working that night said, "What do you want?" And he said, "I want somebody to hold me." Now, if that boy had been found 8 years later, he might have been booked in jail for a felony. Maybe he won't be now, because he found somebody to hold him.

We have got to take responsibility for the fabric of our children's lives in this community. One of you kindly mentioned the concept village that my wife put in her book. We are responsible for all these kids. One of the reasons this juvenile crime rate is still going up is there's too many of these children out here virtually raising themselves on the street. And they don't know how to do it. It's hard for parents if you do know how to do it. They don't know how to do it.

People get into gangs partly because everybody wants to be part of something that's bigger than they are. We all do. When you let kids wear school uniforms, you're putting them in a good gang. The police wear uniforms; they're in a good gang. That's what it is; you identify yourself with something that's bigger than you are. That's what it is.

I hope you will all become apostles. I bet every one of you has friends or family members that live in other communities, perhaps in other States. They need to know about this. Because as President, we can put out guidelines to show schools how they can adopt these uniform policies and have no legal problems, how they can have truancy policies and have no legal problems, how they can have curfews and have no legal problems; that's what we're doing. The Department of Education is putting out guidelines on character education and other kinds of reforms that are based on teaching values and helping to recover our kids. We can pass the safe and drug-free schools bill and give more funds to more communities so everybody can have a D.A.R.E. program like you do, because they work and they really make a difference in children's lives.

We can, in other words, give you the tools that you need to do more with your own community, your own family, and your own education, your own future. But we can't do any of it for you. And if you look at the real challenges facing America, the fundamentally critical ones are those that will have to be dealt with one on one, child by child, family by family, school by school, neighborhood by neighborhood. And my job is to try to highlight these things and to see that we in Washington do what we can to support you and give you the tools you need to succeed. But if every community in America tomorrow would decide to organize themselves the way you have and to do what you have done, the differences would be breathtaking within a matter of 2 years.

That is what I am hoping and praying for, because I'm telling you, there is no country in the world as well-positioned as the United States for the 21st century. We understand what it means to be in a global village. We understand what it means to be in an era dominated by information and technology, where education is at a premium. And unlike most other countries, everybody from every place else in the world is already here anyway—[laughter]—which is an enormous asset for us.

I wish you could have been with Hillary and me the other day when we went to visit the Olympic team in Atlanta. We had them all in an auditorium like this. We had a lot of the senior Olympians that came back, who were the heroes of these present-day Olympians when they were little kids. And we had a great time. But I looked out at them and it just occurred to me, you know, if they were all separated, just walking around in the village, you might think the Americans were part of one of the Asian teams, one of the Middle Eastern teams, one of the Latin American teams, one of the Nordic teams, one of the European teams, one of the African teams, because we're from everywhere. We're bound together by the ideals and the values enshrined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence and by a sense of mutual respect and the ability to work together.

And that's the last point I want to make. Every single thing we have celebrated here today is rooted in the willingness of people here to work in partnership. I'll bet you in all these projects you've talked about, when you're enforcing the truancy laws or implementing the school uniform policy or walking the neighborhood blocks, it doesn't matter if you're a Republican or a Democrat or an independent. It doesn't matter what your race is, doesn't matter what your religion is, doesn't much matter what your income is. Nobody can hide from these things today. We're all in this together.

And I see you out here, sitting together, applauding your local leaders, applauding what you have done together. And all I can say to you is, please, please, please, number one, keep it up, find ways to increase it. And number two, find ways to talk to your friends and neighbors around the State and around the country about this, because what you are doing will determine whether we can go raring into the 21st century united and strong.

Thank you, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:26 p.m. in the auditorium at Monrovia High School. In his remarks, he referred to Joseph Santoro, chief of police, and Mayor Robert T. Bartlet of Monrovia; Yolanda Gallardo, board of education member, Monrovia Unified School District; and Willie Williams, chief of police, Los Angeles.

William J. Clinton, Remarks in Monrovia, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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