Remarks to the Community at Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago
Just give her another hand. She did a good job, didn't she? [Applause.]
Ladies and gentlemen and boys and girls, I am glad to be here today, glad to be back here today, glad to be here with Tiffany, who represents our best hope for the future and our obligation to do the right thing here in Robert Taylor Homes and throughout the United States.
I'm glad to be here with Secretary Cisneros. You can tell by listening to him talk that he really cares about you and what happens to you. And I hope you can tell that he didn't just appear when he became the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He was a mayor for many years in San Antonio, Texas. And I believe he'll go down in history as perhaps the most gifted Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development we ever had for trying to deal with problems like this.
I want to thank Senator Simon; Senator Moseley-Braun; Congressman Rush; Congresswoman Collins; Vince Lane; the mayor, who's not here, but I saw him earlier this morning; your State senator; your members—your alderman; your United States Attorney who's here; and my good friend Bishop Ford, thank you, sir, for being here. God bless you.
Hillary and I are delighted to be here. Vince Lane brought me here 3 years ago before I even started running for President, because I had heard that there was an effort here by citizens to engage in tenant patrols, to give our young people something to say yes to, to try to make these housing units safer, and I asked if I could come and see it.
When I first came here, I was just the Governor of another State, an interested American, a person who couldn't tolerate the thought that young people would be raised in the kind of danger and deprived of the kind of hope that I was seeing, not just here but throughout the United States. And I will never forget as long as I live the first impression I had going into the units where there had been a real effort to clean them up and make them safe, going into others where people still plainly felt at risk, and then, most important of all to me 3 years ago, talking to the young people about their lives and what they wanted for the future.
And I come back here today; I want you to know that I am very honored as President to have the chance to work with you to prove that we can make life better here, that we can have more opportunity for our children, more safety for our streets, more responsibility from all of our people; that we can, in short, do what we ought to do to give everybody a better future, thanks to you and our partnership.
You know, I have to say this just for a moment. I was a little late coming to Illinois yesterday because I spent most of the day working on our differences with North Korea over their nuclear program. A major part of my job is dealing with the security of this country, the national security. But it's also important to recognize that this Nation's security also depends upon whether the children who live here in Robert Taylor Homes can go to sleep at night safe and get up and go to school in the morning safe. That is a big part of our national security as well.
And everything we have tried to do in the last 18 months, from creating more jobs to training our people to take them, to trying to provide health care for all Americans, to working on empowering our communities through welfare reform and the crime bill and the family leave bill, everything is designed to achieve some pretty simple objectives: to give every American without regard to race or gender or region or income a chance to live up to the fullest of his or her God-given capacities; to challenge every American to assume the responsibilities of good citizenship and good conduct; and to rebuild the strength of our national community at the grassroots level where the people live and to do it by having our Government work for ordinary people again, not just for the most powerful and the most organized.
Well, that involves people like you. There are plenty of people, I think, who just want to live in peace and have a chance. I look out here and see these kids and I heard Tiffany's classmates cheering for her when she got up, and I thought to myself, this would happen in any town in America. In any little small town in America if the President showed up, well, if a student introduced him, the classmates would cheer. There's no real difference here—except that you have been asked to live in circumstances where there is too much violence, too many drugs, and not enough things for our young people to say yes to. You just can't tell people to say no all the time; they have to have something to say yes to as well.
That's why I want to thank these men and the others who are here with the midnight basketball program. I love that program. And it's going to make a difference. I want to thank the young people there with their "Peer Power" T-shirts on. I want to thank the people who are in the City Year project here—I've got one of their T-shirts—in community service. I want to thank the people here who work in the tenant patrols. I want to thank people, in other words, who are doing something to seize your own destiny.
You know, I like to think, and I believe with all my heart, that as President I can make a positive difference for America, that I can make this a better country. But you know and I know that if what we're really trying to do is to change the lives of the American people for the better, all I can ever do is to be your partner. You still have to do your part. And the power that I see in the hearts and the eyes of the people with these "Midnight Basketball" shirts on or the people with the "Peer Power" shirts on or the people who engage in the tenant patrol or who are involved in the drug-free program here that I see—this "Phillips Academy" shirt—the power there is the most important power in the United States of America. When the people of this country make up their mind to do something, there is no stopping them.
I do want to say this—Secretary Cisneros mentioned it—after the dispute in the courts involving the sweeps policy here, I asked the Secretary to come here, along with the Attorney General, and come up with a plan that would enable us to continue to try to work with you to make these communities safer. And we did put some more money, as he said, into law enforcement here. But I want you to know that when we go back to work in Washington next week, Senator Simon, Senator Moseley-Braun, Congressman Rush, and Congresswoman Collins and I, we're going to be facing the responsibility of resolving the most important anticrime measure that has ever come before the United States Congress. And in that bill are 100,000 more police officers for our streets and our cities. In that bill is a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons. And I just saw hundreds of them here in the police station.
It's interesting, when I was there, one of the reporters asked me about the policy here of the sweeps and about the assault weapons, and he said, "Mr. President, are we going to have to be willing to give up some of our personal freedom to live in safety?" And I said that I thought the most important freedom we have in this country is the freedom from fear. And if people aren't free from fear, they are not free.
This bill has harsher punishments for people who are serious criminals, but it also has more opportunities for young people to stay out of crime in the first place: more money for programs like the midnight basketball, more money for after school programs, more money for summer jobs, more money for drug treatment, more money to give our people something to say yes to as well as to say no to.
This is a big deal, folks. It will make a difference here in Chicago and throughout the United States of America. And it is imperative that we pass that crime bill and pass it now, so we can go about the work of making you even safer and helping you to take responsibility for your future. And I hope you will support that.
I want to thank Tiffany because she testified for the crime bill, didn't you? And she made an impression on the Members of the Congress. This is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue. It's not an African-American, Hispanic, or a white issue. It's about our children and our future and what kind of people we are and whether we're going to behave like civilized human beings, or whether we're just going to take every little old quick advantage we can get, even if we have to kill people to do it. We cannot survive as a people if our children cannot grow up safe and free from fear in good schools, on safe streets, doing wholesome, constructive things.
I will say again, that's why we worked so hard to try to find a way to continue the sweeps policy that Vince Lane developed, not because we want to take anybody's freedom away from them but because we want our children to be free from fear.
Let me just say one last thing. We talk a lot in this country about our rights. And our rights as Americans are the most important things to us. We have rights written into our Constitution that other people all around the world would still give their lives for: the right to free speech, say what's on our mind; the right to worship God as we choose; the right to assemble with people who agree with us and say whatever we want in groups, even if it offends everybody else; the right to be free from arbitrary conduct by our Government; the right to a trial by jury. We have a lot of rights in this country. But the thing that makes our rights work is the right of the community to exist and the responsibilities of citizens to help them exist.
And the thing I take away from this today, the thing I took away from my last visit to Robert Taylor Homes, is that deep inside the spirit of you, all of you who live here, is the overwhelming desire not only to exercise your rights but to see this community be full of responsible citizens, to make the community work again. And I will take that back to Washington when we fight for the crime bill, when we fight to reform the welfare system, when we fight for the empowerment zones to get investment and jobs into these communities, when we fight to give you a chance, because I know that here in this place there are people like you and there are thousands more like you all across America who really believe, who really believe, that we can solve these problems, that we can live together as brothers and sisters, that we can exercise the responsibility required of any great nation. And I will always remember that.
And I want you to believe, every time you put on one of these midnight basketball shirts, every time you participate in a tenant patrol, every time a student joins a drug-free program, every time one of these kids goes into a community service program like City Year, every time you do that, you are saying, "I not only claim my rights as an American, I recognize I have responsibilities as an American. I'm going to do my part to give this country back to the kids and take it away from the drug dealers and the gun-toters." That's what we've got to do together. And I know we can do it.
God bless you, and thank you very much.
NOTE: The President spoke at 10:20 a.m. on the basketball court outside the community center. In his remarks, he referred to community resident Tiffany Hudson, U.S. Attorney James B. Burns, and Bishop Louis Henry Ford, pastor, St. Paul Church of God in Christ, Chicago, IL.
William J. Clinton, Remarks to the Community at Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/219525