George Bush photo

Remarks to the Law Enforcement Community in Wilmington, Delaware

March 22, 1989

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, thank you all. Honored guests, thank you all very much. Thank you, Governor Castle, for the introduction, and all of you for the pleasure of your company. And let me say what an honor it is to be here among Delaware's finest and among friends.

I want to pay my respects to Lieutenant Governor Dale Wolf, and in particular, I want to salute four friends who share this platform. Bill Roth, your senior Senator -- he's been a force for peace and prosperity. He and I were classmates in the Congress, both elected on the same day in 1966. We've been friends ever since, and I've been watching him in action. And not only is he known for his economic prowess and knowledge but he has been strong in fighting the use of crack and cocaine and other narcotics.

[Attorney General] Dick Thornburgh, America's chief law enforcement official, is here -- say more about that in a minute. Our first Drug Control Policy Director -- I'm trying not to say czar. [Laughter] There is something -- I don't want to say un-American about it, but -- [laughter] -- it just doesn't ring why we set up a czar of baseball or a czar of the narcotics battle. But nevertheless, we've got a strong, tough guy; and if we were electing a czar, he might well qualify. [Laughter] But nevertheless, you're going to see him in action over the next 4 years. Both Dick and Bill are combating this menace which endangers us all.

And then as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, your own Senator, Joe Biden. He was one of the principal architects of the legislation that created this new drug post. And he's been a tireless fighter out there, leading the way in the Senate. So, Bill Bennett, Bill Roth, Dick Thornburgh, Joe Biden, and I will work together to shape this drug strategy to really try to nurture a safer, fairer, and more decent land. I told Bill Roth, incidentally, if he didn't tell the ostrich joke, I wouldn't make him hear about Millie and the puppies. [Laughter]

Earlier today, several of us were up over in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. And then I've just come right here now from your Y, from the Wilmington YMCA, where kids are learning karate and learning to avoid drugs through the Wilmington Cluster Against Substance Abuse program. And the message there in that group is: "Kick drugs out of your life." And sure enough, there they were. I almost got hit by a couple of heels flying by me. [Laughter] But I got a kick out of those kids. And come to think of it, the karate out there reminded me of a family dinner at Kennebunkport with our 11 grandchildren. I've never seen so much mayhem. [Laughter]

But there was a stronger message from those kids. You know, here they are, perhaps some of them out of underprivileged backgrounds, joined together, led by volunteers and others out there, teaching them to stay out of the drug culture. And I don't care whether you're President of the United States, a worthy citizen of Wilmington, just a plain guy coming off the street somewhere, it couldn't help but make a tremendous impression on anyone if you had a chance to see that program, see these little guys out there with discipline and energy and spirit, trying to do their part in this fight on drugs. It was an inspiration to me, and I won't forget it.

Getting ready for this visit, I thought of a poem that captured the spirit of this gathering and the true genius of America. The poet was Carl Sandburg, the poem entitled, "The People, Yes."

"The People, Yes." They're retired laborers, textile workers, and pillars of the law.

"The People, Yes." They live on the prairies in Nebraska, in the central valley of California, in the small burgs and factory towns of the first State of Delaware.

"The People, Yes."

These Americans support their police and respect our legal system. And they cherish the decent stability which makes justice possible and our lives secure. My friends, nothing -- nothing -- threatens the stability of our families and our nation more than the scourge of drug abuse. And as a candidate for the office I now hold, I pledged to undertake a mission to try to make America free from drugs. Well, my selection of Secretary Bennett to direct the newly created Office of the National Drug Control Policy shows that I meant exactly what I said. As Secretary of Education, Bill was a crusader for excellence, challenging the educators all across this country to do better. And as America's first Drug Control Policy Director, he's engaged in an even greater struggle: America's war on drugs. He's going to do just fine.

This war seeks to educate all Americans on the inherent evils of drug abuse, and it'll encourage those caught in the trap of drug addiction to get clean and stay clean. And this war pledges increased support for those tasked with the dangerous job of stopping the flow of drugs into America. And it vows to enforce our drug laws.

Last month before a joint session of Congress, I spoke about four critical areas in the war on drugs: education, treatment, interdiction, and enforcement. And I asked for an increase of $1 billion in budget outlays -- to nearly $6 billion in 1990 to escalate this war. Some money will be used to expand treatment to the poor and addicted young mothers. Some money will be used to cut the waiting time for treatment and to help urban schools where the emergency is the greatest. And $1.1 billion of my request will go for education.

And here in Delaware, you have shown the way. And it hasn't been easy. After all, Interstate I - 95 is a major, major avenue of illicit drug trafficking -- intersects the greater Wilmington area right here. But Delaware law enforcement officers -- like one who is with us today, I'm told, Delaware State Police Corporal Durnan and many of you -- are aggressively fighting this war. Where is the Corporal? And all the rest of them. I single him out, but I know he'd say it's everybody here, and all across this State, that are waging this fight. Under Governor Castle, your "Above the Influence" campaign is combating alcohol and drug abuse. And the Wilmington Cluster program aims to pull students together and help the communities help themselves. And for that, I congratulate you.

Delaware is waging war against drugs. And it's a war we must and will win. For while more than 200 million Americans didn't use illegal drugs last year, over 23 million Americans did. And that means we must stop those who produce and buy and traffic drugs. And that, in turn, means an all-out fight in enforcement and interdiction.

As you know, in the last year, the global production of coca and marijuana, opium poppies, hashish, increased sharply. And that supply abroad imperils our kids at home. It threatens countries like those that have been long friendly to the United States, and it reaffirms the need to stop drugs before they reach our borders and to eradicate them at their source.

I mentioned Bill Bennett, but let me just say a word about your neighbor, Mike Castle's former compadre, Governor Thornburgh. He's been on the cutting edge as the Governor, you see, fighting the problem at the State level. And the Governors are those out there delivering the services and working the problems of backing their law enforcement people. So, he's been through all that. And there is no one I can think of in the United States better suited now to be the chief law enforcement officer of the United States than Dick Thornburgh, your neighbor and our friend.

Two weeks ago, I asked Attorney General Thornburgh to go to South America to meet with the Presidents and top officials in Colombia and Bolivia and Peru. And the topic? How to curb drug production and arrest, convict, and destroy trafficking cartels. He came back with a very interesting and, in ways, troubling report. The Presidents may want to cooperate, and yet some of their communities are so wrecked by crime that it is extraordinarily difficult for them, no matter how good their intentions, to stand up against these illegal cartels and these armed gangs that seem to control the crops that destroy the lives of our kids. We hope to work more closely with our hemispheric neighbors in this vital effort. We're not going to give up on that at all.

And I'm glad to tell you that Dick reported to me that in these countries -- and then through his contacts in others -- they are much more eager now to get on with the task. Heretofore, I believe that the Presidents of the South American countries always felt that it was our problem and if it weren't for the rich Norte Americanos consuming the product, that then the problem would go away. But today, sadly, their own societies are adversely affected by drug use. And so, it isn't just the consuming United States. We are in this with our friends south of the border, and we're going to fight it in an international multilateral concept. We've got to destroy the crops and the labs that process the crops in these drug-producing countries. We've got to protect our borders; and that isn't easy, as you know, given the enormous length of the borders.

Our budget proposes $690 million for Coast Guard drug interdiction, which plays a major role in coordinating the identification and search of suspicious planes and vessels. We've also proposed more than $300 million in interdiction funds for the Department of Defense. All told, fully 70 percent of our drug budget is for law enforcement purposes. In particular, we want to significantly increase funding for Federal prisons. Why? Because prison overcrowding has caused too many convicts to go scot-free. And I will act also -- and I'll need your help and backing -- to enforce tougher sentences.

You know, I've talked a lot about zero tolerance. "Zero tolerance" is not a catchword. It means, quite simply, if you do crime, you do time. And that means judges who strictly apply the law to convicted drug offenders and severe sentences for dealers who hire children. And it means increasing Federal drug prosecutions. And, yes, it means strict enforcement -- and I mean strict enforcement -- of the Antidrug Abuse Act of 1988. I want increased prison sentences for drug-related crimes and, yes, the death penalty for drug kingpins and those who commit these drug-related murders. We owe our police officers nothing less than that. I was very pleased that yesterday the Supreme Court validated drug testing. I hope this will help achieve our goal of a drug-free workplace.

A secure community is the right of every American. Toward the end, guns can be imported under current law only if they are adapted for sporting purposes. That's the way the law reads now. We've recently taken a step and temporarily suspended the import of these AK - 47's and certain other semiautomatic weapons into this country, as we continue to search for a solution to this difficult and complex problem.

I do believe -- and I expect many in the room like me are sportsmen -- I do believe in the legitimate right of sportsmen and others who own guns. But I also believe in supporting our police officers who lay their lives on the line. And I am convinced that the vast majority of sportsmen want to find a way to support our law enforcement officers, and I want to be with them in finding a solution to this problem. I said yesterday that I'm a member of the NRA [National Rifle Association], and I am. I have nothing to be ashamed of there. But I happen to believe that the vast majority of NRA members support the position I've just taken: that the time has come to do something about these automated weapons that are threatening the lives of these people behind me. And I'm going to see that it takes place.

You know, many issues involve shades of gray. Crime is not among them. Drug trade is not among them. It involves good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats, good and evil. And many of you, I'm sure, have heard of Everett Hatcher -- I'll bet these guys have -- Federal agent involved in an undercover drug investigation. He was only 46 years old, the father of two. Barely 3 weeks ago, an hour after radioing colleagues that he was driving to a new site to meet a drug dealer, he was found shot to death in Staten Island. And earlier this month I met with his widow, Mary Jane -- a very emotional moment. And we have offered $250,000 for information leading to the apprehension of the man wanted in connection with this murder. But it brought it home to me, loud and clear: We have got to win the war on drugs for Everett Hatcher and all those of your profession who have given their lives to free America of drug abuse.

To build a better life, to make tomorrow free of drugs, will require the will and spirit of the American people -- people like Everett Hatcher, people like Corporal Durnan, people like you. And of this I am certain: As Americans, nothing lies beyond our reach. The people, yes. The future, yes. By serving one, let us seize the other.

And thank you for inviting me and for your many kindnesses. And God bless you all, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:35 p.m. in the Delaware Ballroom at the Radisson Hotel. He was introduced by Gov. Michael N. Castle. Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, DC.

George Bush, Remarks to the Law Enforcement Community in Wilmington, Delaware Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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