Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to the United States Conference of Mayors

May 21, 1997

Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor. Mayor Helmke and other officers of the Conference of Mayors, General McCaffrey, Mr. Vice President, to members of the Cabinet and the administration, all of you who are here. First, let me thank you for participating in what, as Mayor Daley said, is a fairly unprecedented, long-term, consistent effort at cooperation with all these Federal agencies to try to work through a united approach to this issue.

It occurred to me as I was coming here that one of the things I ought to say is that all the objectives that all of us have for our country depend in part on our being able to give our children a drug-free future. I came here saying that I wanted to be President because we needed to change America for the 21st century, to make sure opportunity would be available for all people—it's by definition not there for people who are too paralyzed to take advantage of it—to make sure that all citizens would be responsible contributors to a community becoming more united. Drugs divide America in all kinds of ways that you're very familiar with and, by definition, represent irresponsibility.

And I wanted our country to be a leader in the world for peace and freedom and prosperity. And it's hard for America to lead when we're fighting all the time over the drug issues. And we certainly do. I just got back from a trip to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, and each stop along the way, it was a big point of our discussions.

So it's important that you're here. A lot of you were just at the Presidents' Summit of Service in Philadelphia. We said we were going to try to create communities in which every child in this country by the year 2000 would have a safe place; a decent, healthy start in life; access to a good education and marketable skills; a mentor trying to help him or her; and have a chance to serve themselves—our children. We can't do any of that unless these kids have a drug-free future. So this is very, very important.

Before I get into the substance of my remarks, I'd also like to say a special word of thanks to someone who has worked with you on our behalf for over 4 years now. This is Marcia Hale's last day on the job, and I think we ought to say to her she has done a magnificent job representing the mayors. [Applause] Thank you. She leaves for London tomorrow. She's going to work for a great American company, and as nearly as I can tell, she will soon be in a position to support me in my old age. [Laughter] And so we wish her well.

Let me say that, also, I want to thank all of you for the work you've done with the Attorney General and with our other law enforcement officials in trying to drive down the crime rate. We can be very pleased with what has happened when we've had more police, more punishment, more prevention in our communities with a community-based strategy. One of the chiefs of police I met today said that the COPS program had been the best thing the Federal Government had done in his 37 years in law enforcement, and I appreciate that.

You all know that the crime rate has dropped for 5 years in a row, and we learned last week at the annual observance at the Law Enforcement Memorial that we had the fewest number of police officers killed last year in the line of duty in 35 years. And all those are good signs.

We've also had some success in the fight against illegal drugs. Monthly drug use today is about half of what it was 10 years ago. But what we have to face is—and I was glad General McCaffrey said what he did—is that we have had this anomalous situation in America for the last several years where crime is going down but crime among juveniles is going up; drug use among young adults, which used to be— that used to be the biggest problem category— 18 to 35, going down, drug use among juveniles going up. And that is the thing, I think, that is plaguing all of us.

This report you have given, I think, is very, very instructive about what we can do, and I want to talk a little more about what we can do together. But I think it's also important to point out that this problem is the problem of every American citizen. It goes beyond the responsibilities of even the President and the Attorney General and the drug czar and the DEA and the mayors and even the people who are involved in prevention and treatment. Our society cannot say on the one hand we want to have a tough and tolerant attitude toward drugs and on the other hand send a very different message every time there might be a little money to be made out of it.

And I want to say specifically, there have not been consistent and unwavering messages. You know, a lot of you have experienced in your communities the increasing allure of heroin among young people. We've seen a lot of communities where cocaine use goes down, heroin use comes up. For most people in our generation—a lot of you are younger than I am, but most of you are about my age—we all grew up thinking heroin was the worst thing in the world, and there were these horrible images associated with it, strung-out junkies lying on street corners in decidedly unglamorous ways. But we now see in college campuses, in neighborhoods, heroin becoming increasingly the drug of choice. And we know that part of this has to do with the images that are finding their way to our young people.

In the press in recent days, we've seen reports that many of our fashion leaders are now admitting—and I honor them for doing this—they're admitting flat out that images projected in fashion photos in the last few years have made heroin addition seem glamorous and sexy and cool. And if some of the people in those images start to die now, it's become obvious that that is not true. You do not need to glamorize addiction to sell clothes. And American fashion has been an enormous source of creativity and beauty and art and, frankly, economic prosperity for the United States, and we should all value and respect that. But the glorification of heroin is not creative; it's destructive. It's not beautiful; it is ugly. And this is not about art; it's about life and death. And glorifying death is not good for any society. And I hope that we have all come to recognize that now, because none of us are going to succeed unless all of us work together on this problem.

Let me say that I also recognize that we have more to do here. The balanced budget agreement that we have reached with the Congress, and which received overwhelming support from Members of both parties in the House of Representatives last night—I am very, very proud of it—will allow us to continue to increase our efforts to work with you to do our part of the job. And I agree with what Mayor Daley said; we have a lot of things to do here, including improving the coordination between what we do and what you do.

Among other things, General McCaffrey has succeeded in making the case for a $175 million advertising campaign which will be leveraged with private sector resources to give our children the hard facts about drugs. I think that is very important. We have a lot of evidence that drug use does go down or up depending upon the absence or presence of certain messages and a certain cultural environment about it.

There are also two other things I'd like to mention because they were mentioned specifically, Mr. Mayor, in your plan. First, we have some good news to report in our progress about methamphetamines. Last year, we targeted this increasingly popular drug as a special focus for our efforts. Meth has a devastating effect on those who use it. It is produced in clandestine labs which carry an enormously high risk of fire and explosion. The Congress supported our efforts by enacting the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act, establishing new controls over the chemicals used to make meth and strengthening penalties for trafficking in those chemicals.

Now a year later, we are releasing a oneyear progress report. First, seizures of dangerous drug labs used to manufacture meth are up 170 percent in one year alone. Second, the use of methamphetamine is down in key western cities. In 8 of the 10 cities where meth use had been skyrocketing, it's dropped between 7 and 52 percent. So this shows you that if we work together, we can actually turn the tide in problem after problem after problem.

A second focus of our efforts—and again, one that you mentioned in your report—involved a vigorous crackdown on money launderers. We know that without a steady stream of laundered cash, the drug trade will wither. Today the Treasury Department will take three steps to further cut off the cash. We will require currency exchanges, check cashers, and other money services to register with the Treasury Department. We will require more businesses to report suspicious activity under penalty of law and will require the transfer of funds overseas above $750 to be reported to Federal law enforcement. We know this will cut back on money laundering. It will require some efforts at compliance, but it is worth doing. We know if we can get to the money, we can get to the problems very often.

Finally, let me ask your help in trying to get the Congress to pass the kind of juvenile justice bill we all know that we need. Organized gangs, armed to the teeth, prowl too many of our streets and threaten too many of our communities and are part of the drug problem. I have proposed comprehensive legislation, modeled on what is working in Boston and many other cities present in this room and around the country, that will protect our children better from violence and give local communities the capacity to have safe streets again.

The plan will add prosecutors and probation officers, keep schools open longer to keep children off the streets. And we know an awful lot of the problems young people have occur in the first few hours after they get out of school and before they can be home with their parents.

It will also require child safety locks on guns. Right now, we protect aspirin bottles better than we protect guns. And it would extend the provisions of the Brady bill to juveniles who commit serious violent crimes; they wouldn't be able to buy a gun when they turn 21.

The legislation passed in the House of Representatives contains tougher penalties and more prosecutors, but only about a dozen States qualify. It does not do anything on prevention. It does not make all States available for extra prosecutors and probation officers. And it does not deal with the child safety locks or extending the coverage of the Brady bill to juveniles who commit serious crimes.

Now, I believe we ought to get a good juvenile crime bill here that can be actually used in the way the crime bill of 1994 and the COPS program are being used by you on the streets. We want to give you something you can use. This bill, like the other ones, was largely written by local officials telling us what should be in the bill. So I do not want this to be a political issue; I do not want this to be a partisan issue. I tried to do this in a very straightforward way, based on what those of you who labor in this vineyard every day told me was the right thing to do.

So I hope that you will help us do that, continue to make progress on meth, continue to make progress on money laundering. I assure you we will review your plan and your recommendations very closely. And again, let me say I also hope you will help us remind the people in your communities that if we want our kids to be drug-free, we've got to work hard to send the right signals.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:30 a.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor Paul Helmke of Fort Wayne, IN, and Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago, president, U.S. Conference of Mayors.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the United States Conference of Mayors Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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