Richard Nixon photo

Remarks on the Mutual Broadcasting System: "Order and Justice Under Law"

September 29, 1968

Suppose for a moment, my fellow Americans, that you read in your morning newspaper of a great national disaster. It killed 12,000 people. It hospitalized 200,000 more. It produced financial losses of a billion dollars. You, of course, would be shocked. You would demand that every measure necessary be taken to prevent such a thing from occurring again.

And, yet, we undergo just such a disaster every year in America. Each year the losses of life and property are even greater. Violent crime is responsible.

Suppose—again—that you saw cities plagued by fire; entire neighborhoods destroyed, buildings gutted, thousands hospitalized or homeless, businesses wiped out.

You might thing that we had been attacked by a foreign power. Again, you would demand prompt action.

Yet this destruction is the work of other Americans, transformed into a mob.

Let us view one more scene. Another mob surges through the street, shouting political slogans, battling the police, hurling epithets. It barricades itself in public buildings. It vows to paralyze a city, or to bring down an ancient institution of learning—unless its demands are met.

You might think that this was happening under some alien tyranny, where the people had no representation, where there was no ballot, and where insurrection was the alternative to abject submission.

No—again—this is happening in America. It is happening despite the fact that the democratic system in America does allow for change. It allows citizens to bring about change by means of the ballot. But orderly change does not satisfy the violent faction.

How has all this come to pass in America? How have we permitted it to happen? Americans are demanding an answer from those who have a solemn obligation, from those who are obliged by their oath of office, to be the protectors of our liberties.

Some have said that we are a sick society. We're sick, all right, but not in the way they mean. We are sick of what has been allowed to go on in this nation for too long.

Skyrocketing Crime Rate

Under the stewardship of the present Administration, crime and violence have skyrocketed in America. Under its stewardship, crime and violence have increased 10 times faster than population.

All you have to do is look at the most recent FBI report. On all the graphs the lines have turned sharply up. Between 1960 and 1967, daytime burglaries against homes rose 187 per cent. Violations of the narcotics laws rose 165 per cent. Murder rose 34 per cent. Assault was up 67 per cent. Comparing the first half of 1968 with the same period of last year, the FBI found an increase of 21 per cent in the seven major crime categories.

Now, by way of excuse, the present Administration places the blame on poverty. But poverty is only one contributing factor. During the Depression the crime rate was at an all-time low in America. Today we are richer than ever before and our wealth is more widely distributed than in any other country. And we have more crime and violence than ever before. There is crime in the suburb as well as in the slum. If poverty were eliminated tomorrow, the violent and the criminal and the depraved would not disappear.

"Safe" Lawbreaking

The truth is that we will reduce crime and violence when we enforce our laws—when we make it less profitable, and a lot more risky, to break our laws.

One lesson has not been lost on the criminal community. Today only one in every eight crimes results in conviction and punishment.

Today, an arrest is made in only one in every five reported burglaries. Today, an arrest is made in less than a third of reported robberies.

Today, it is comparatively safe to break the law. Today, all across the land, guilty men walk free from hundreds of court rooms.

Something has gone terribly wrong in America.

Now, what is the responsibility of the Administration of which Hubert Humphrey is a part? Well, it's time for an accounting. Its responsibility is large. It has failed. It has failed in energy, failed in will, failed in purpose.

The Attorney General, Mr. Ramsey Clark, has the primary responsibility in this area. But listen to him. "The level of crime," he said last year, "has risen a little bit, but there is no wave of crime in this country."

And this is not an isolated statement. It seems to reflect the Administration's overall attitude.

At the present time we are experiencing a prodigious growth in organized crime. The earnings of illicit gambling, prostitution, narcotics and loansharking now amount to 50 billion dollars a year in America. And yet the Attorney General has dismissed this as a "tiny part" of the crime picture. He simply has no sense of urgency.

Legalized Wire-tapping

Take the matter of wire-tapping.

The Congress has passed carefully considered and carefully drawn legislation, authorizing wire-tapping with full constitutional safeguards, for the investigation of specific crimes.

The three previous U.S. Attorney Generals not only outlined the need but also sponsored legislation to authorize wire-tapping.

And, still, the present Attorney General opposes it.

And what is the attitude of Hubert Humphrey?

Well, his own casual approach to the problem was demonstrated by his recent White Paper on crime. If you were going to issue such a paper, wouldn't you look into the subject pretty thoroughly? Well, apparently, he didn't do his homework. Amazingly, eight of his major proposals are already on the books in the Safe Streets Act. Hadn't he read it?

And his proposal to develop sentencing guidelines had already been covered by the new Federal Judicial Center.

How can we expect him to know what still has to be done, when he doesn't know what already has been done?

Does Crime Pay?

Is it any wonder that criminals in America are not losing much sleep over the efforts of the Department of Justice? Is it any wonder that the old saying, "Crime does not pay," is being laughed at by criminals?

The present Administration has failed to enforce the Narcotics Addict Rehabilitation Act of 1966. Even though there are over 60,000 narcotics addicts in this country, the Administration has committed only 305 of them in two years.

Now, would you say that they had much of a sense of urgency about the narcotics problem?

The whole federal effort is handcuffed by red tape. The paper piles up— the criminals go free. If the criminals were this badly organized, they would all be in jail.

Let us recognize that we're in a war, and let us mobilize all of our forces to win that war. Let us resolve that the wave of crime and violence will not be the wave of the future in America.

Protecting All Citizens

And now, while we're talking about the rising tide in crime and violence, I'd like to make one thing very clear.

Somehow the idea has gotten around that stressing the need for order, and for progress under the law rather than outside of it, is being secretly anti-Negro. Nothing could be less true. Those who live in our urban ghettos are victims of lawlessness—victims out of all proportion to their numbers.

The poor—those who can least afford it—are the victims of the loan shark and the prey of the narcotics peddler. When the arsonist strikes, their homes burn. Their businesses sometimes never recover. More than any other group in our society, they want and they need the protection of enlightened and progressive law enforcement.

The criminal does not discriminate. He strikes without regard to race or creed. And so when we call for Law and Order, we are calling for the protection of all of our citizens.

And somehow another false idea has gotten around—that to criticize some of the decisions of the Supreme Court is to attack the court itself as an institution. This is not true. Some of the sharpest criticism of court decisions has come, in fact, from members of the court themselves.

In their own dissenting opinions, these justices have argued that several recent decisions of the court have tipped the balance against the peace forces in this country, and strengthened the criminal forces. And I agree with those dissenting opinions.

Just consider the three most important and controversial decisions. After convictions for murder, rape and kidnapping, they were reversed by the Supreme Court, and each of the three men involved was convicted of a new major crime.

Those who obey the law surely have a right to as much protection as those who break it.

Some have described criticism of the court's decisions as irrelevant, frivolous. I would like to ask you to make up your own mind about this.

Take the case of the United States vs. Beaseley, for example. Here, police observed three men beating and robbing an elderly man on the streets of Washington, D.C. When they approached, the three assailants fled. The police gave chase, caught one man, returned to the scene to aid the victim and radioed for help. The victim arose from the sidewalk and spontaneously identified the man as one of his assailants. But the identification made on the spot was ruled inadmissible as evidence, because of a Supreme Court ruling—the objection being that the assailant did not have an attorney present when he confronted the victim on the street in the custody of the police, moments after the crime.

I say it is the Court's duty to protect legitimate rights, but not to raise unreasonable obstacles to the enforcement of the law.

National Leadership

In my detailed program for Freedom From Fear, issued during the primary campaigns last spring, I discussed many facets of what must be done in this critical area of national policy. It is true that law enforcement is primarily a local responsibility—but the public climate with regard to law is a function of national leadership. And so, in this supplemental discussion, I would like to cite just a few things our incoming administration will do to win the war against crime and disorder in America.

First, we will take the following positive, immediate steps by executive order and other appropriate action.

We will establish a cabinet-level council, the National Law Enforcement Council, to coordinate federal policy on the control and prevention of crime.

We will establish a National Academy of Law Enforcement which would make available to local law enforcement agencies training in the most sophisticated, modern methods as well as information about the social sciences and about community relations for adaptation to local conditions and local situations.

We will promote a series of nation-wide town-hall conferences on crime prevention and control.

We will establish a National Coordinating Center to marshal the efforts of independent groups and institutions.

Council on Law Enforcement

At the present time, as you all know, there are Presidential, cabinet level councils developing and coordinating policy with regard to national security, to economics, and space. But we have no such high-level coordination on our number one national problem today—the control of crime and violence in America. This is why I shall establish such a Council on Law Enforcement, similar to the National Security Council and the Council of Economic Advisors.

In establishing a National Academy of Law Enforcement, we will aim to upgrade and professionalize those who are waging the war against crime.

This would enable our law enforcement agencies to be fully equipped intellectually for the complex tasks they face in our modern world. They would not in any sense be a federal police force. We want no federal police force. But they would have the best training we can provide. And as our local and state law enforcement agencies become more fully professional, they will receive to a fuller degree the respect they deserve. Problems of recruitment will be lessened. Careers in law enforcement will be enhanced. These men will be proud of their profession and the people will be proud of their policemen. In 1968 America cannot settle for less.

Civic Involvement

By philosophy and by ingrained habit the present Administration has neglected to provide the potential of independent sources of energy and creativity in America—civic groups, churches, educational institutions, the mass media, business and industry. Their resources and their skills can make a major contribution to the recovery of order in this country.

Think for a moment of narcotics addiction. Think what progress could be made if the resources of these groups could be brought to bear in a massive educational effort, directed especially at the young and the innocent.

All across the country people are waiting—waiting not for dictation but for guidance. What our independent groups basically need is information— information about what is needed, about what can be done, about what has worked in some other community.

Through the nation-wide town meetings which I will propose, and through the National Coordinating Center which I will establish, we will begin at long last to bring all the energies of our people to bear. The Coordinating Center will be a clearing-house of information, an avenue to effective citizen participation. It will bring together civic groups and law enforcement officials. It will make available the best ideas and help to locate funds. It will be one important way in which government can help to release the creative energies of the American people on this great problem.

Prevention Instead of Permissiveness

Other measures, equally necessary, will require a sustained effort over a long period of time. In this sustained effort we must enlist the entire community, not just the federal government. We do not need mammoth federal grant after mammoth federal grant—what we need is a comprehensive American commitment.

Such a commitment could achieve magnificent results in what is the most basic approach to the problem of crime: prevention.

Our prisons cry out for reform. This is one reason why 60 per cent of all adults discharged from our prisons are back within five years. We must stop this revolving door. Through economic incentives we must develop job training inside the prisons. And we will encourage enlightened methods of rehabilitation, such as half-way houses and work-release time.

And there are many other ways an active and concerned administration will wage the war against crime. Prompt justice is a more effective deterrent than justice delayed; we should accept the recommendations of the American Bar Association for overcoming the delays in our judicial process.

We must block the importation of narcotics into this country. It's a Federal responsibility to do so.

And above all, we must adjust our approach to the needs of the people, remembering that the needs of one community may not be the needs of another.

Social Conditions

Now, finally, I would like to make one important point very clear: We all know that social conditions contribute to disorder and crime. They contribute not only among the poor, but among the alienated as well—among all who feel that they have been cut off from full participation in our American society. For too long we have had government by Big Brother, rather than through the full participation of the people. For too many, in the suburbs as well as in the slums, the American dream has not really been fulfilled. And therefore we must move, as we will move, to bring these people—all of our people within our system—as full participants not only to reduce disorder, but because this is the right thing to do.

I would like to make one more point. I think it is the most important point of all.

I know that we need better leadership; I know that we need better law enforcement and more and better trained policemen, better courts, better methods. I commend the Congress for the action it has taken on gun control. But in the end there is a limit to what these things can accomplish.

They are, after all, the tools of order. They are not the sources of order. The law on the books cannot replace the law in the heart.

The American Dream

The sources of moral and civic order are in the family, the church, the school and the community. Have these—let us ask ourselves—have these been doing the best they can to preserve the old and valued standards in this nation? I don't think so.

If violence is met with indifference or appeasement, if the individual is no longer responsible for his actions, if a fog of permissiveness blurs our moral vision, if there has been an erosion of respect and decency, if there is too little concern about the social causes of disorder—then fundamental sources of order bear some of the responsibility.

And so I say—

In every family let us renew our commitment to the traditional American standards.

On every campus, let our college faculties and administrators and students say that the spirit of learning—not the spirit of vandalism—shall prevail.

And let our churches remember their ancient truths about the human heart, and their time-tested standards of moral conduct.

For only if we do these things will we have order and justice in America.

APP NOTE: From section four of the volume "Nixon Speaks Out" titled, "Crusade Against Crime".

Richard Nixon, Remarks on the Mutual Broadcasting System: "Order and Justice Under Law" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project