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Town Hall
En Espanol

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery By Vice President Al Gore
Atlanta, GA

Tuesday, May 2, 2000

This Sunday in Boston, I had a chance to talk about America’s great responsibility in the world—and the steps we must take to protect our national security in this global age.

Today, I want to talk about a responsibility that is just as great—assuring peace, safety, and security within our own borders.

All too often, I have seen how crime and violence can tear families and communities apart.

I have comforted parents who have lost their children to gun violence. I have heard the powerful testimony of women who have been victims of domestic violence. I have talked with the teachers, clergy, and community leaders who work to break up teen gangs, and save young lives one at a time. I have seen the everyday heroism of America’s law enforcement officers —as they strive to prevent and punish crime.

This community knows the challenge well: one year ago this month, I met with the families of Heritage High School in Conyers—where a fifteen-year-old boy brought a gun to school and wounded six of his fellow students.

I pledge to you today: if I am entrusted with the Presidency, I will launch a sweeping anti-crime strategy to make our families safe and secure. I will intensify the battle against crime, drugs, and disorder in our communities.

I’ve been in this fight for a long time now. When I served in the Senate in the 1980’s and early 90’s, fighting for the Brady Bill and for stronger anti-drug laws, too many communities were brought to the brink of surrender. A steep rise in crime had forced families off our streets, and behind closed doors and shuttered windows.

Washington was deadlocked—caught between those who thought the only answer was to be tougher on criminals, and those who thought the only answer was to be tougher on the causes of crime.

It was a vicious cycle: as crime and fear grew, too many families became afraid to live up to their own responsibilities—to help take back their communities from the thugs and the dealers. And too many criminals saw the disorder on our streets as an invitation to violence and lawlessness.

Seven years ago, we began to change all that. President Clinton and I believed that we needed a tougher, more comprehensive strategy, to fight crime on every single front: smarter prevention to stop crime before it even starts. More police on our streets—to thicken the thin blue line between order and disorder. And tougher punishments—including the death penalty—for those who dared to terrorize the innocent.

We’re putting 100,000 new community police officers on the street, all across this country. We funded new prison cells, and expanded the death penalty for cop killers and terrorists. We stood up to the gun lobby, to pass the Brady Bill and ban deadly assault weapons. We didn’t take a single gun away from a single hunter or sportsman—but we stopped nearly half a million felons, fugitives, and stalkers from buying guns. We fought for and won the biggest anti-drug budgets in history, every single year.

Now we can see the results of that strategy: serious crime is down seven years in a row, to its lowest level in a quarter-century. We have seen a 24 percent decline in violent crime. The number of juveniles committing homicides with guns is down by nearly 60 percent.

But let’s be clear with one another: these numbers are relative. They measure reductions from the extraordinarily high crime rates of the Bush-Quayle years. They show that we are headed in the right direction, but too many families still live in fear. Every night, when we turn on the evening news, we can see the toll that crime and violence are taking on our families. We’ve come a long way—but the criminals aren’t about to retreat. And that is why America must not retreat.

We can’t go back to the finger-pointing and failed strategies that led to that steep rise in crime in the Bush-Quayle years. We can’t surrender to the right-wing Republicans who threatened funding for new police, and tried to gut crime prevention. And we can’t go back to the old Democratic approach—which was tough on the causes of crime, but not tough enough on crime itself.

If I’m entrusted with the Presidency, America won’t go back. We will move forward, until we redraw the line between right and wrong: on our streets, on our lawbooks, and in our hearts and minds.

Throughout this campaign, I’ve talked about the steps we must take to keep guns away from those who shouldn’t have them—in ways that respect the rights of hunters, sportsmen, and legitimate gun owners. We need mandatory child safety locks, to protect our children. We should require a photo license I.D., a full background check, and a gun safety test to buy a new handgun in America. And I’ll be talking more about these issues in the weeks ahead.

Today, I want to focus on the new tools we must give to police and prosecutors, and the new rights we must give to the victims of crime.

If you entrust me with the Presidency, I will push for a dramatic new increase in the number of community police on our streets. And I will fight to give police the tools and the training they need to keep our streets safe and our families secure.

I will toughen the laws against serious and violent crime—to restore the sense of order that says to children as well as to criminals: don’t even think about committing a crime here.

I will reform a justice system that spills half a million prisoners back onto our streets each year—many of them addicted to drugs, unrehabilitated, and just waiting to commit another crime. Stopping the revolving door of recidivism is the key—both to crime control and prison overcrowding.

I will put the rights of victims and families first again—and I will push for more crime prevention, to stop the next generation of crime before it’s too late.

First, any effective anti-crime strategy must start with America’s law enforcement officers—the men and women who do daily battle to ensure peace and security, life and liberty.

I know what a difference it makes to have more police—community police who know the families, and know when trouble is starting to brew.

And I believe we need even more police, not fewer. We’ve funded 100,000 police; 60,000 are already on the job. I’ll set our sights even higher—to reach a total of at least 150,000 new police, in neighborhoods across the country.

Congress only reluctantly gave us a small down payment on these new police. And we can’t forget that the Republican Congress even took action which could have cut the number of new police in America. That’s why I support Senator Biden’s budgetary "lock-box" for the money that funds law enforcement. That way, we can ensure that the money is never cut or threatened. Policing is a vital commitment in our communities; it should be a solemn obligation in the halls of Congress.

As we fund more community police, we must realize that these men and women put their lives on the line for us, each and every day. We have to respect them. We have to work with them, to prevent crime. And I believe our national government must do all we can to make their jobs easier and safer.

We can begin by making it easier for local law enforcement to track the latest crime trends—block by block, crime by crime. I will work to give police new computerized crime mapping software—so they know which hotspots to target, and which places still need to be made safe.

And let’s face it: many police are sworn enemies of the dealers and the criminals—whether or not they’re in uniform, and whether or not they are still on the job. If I’m entrusted with the Presidency, I will strongly support the right of off-duty police officers to carry concealed weapons.

Laws that allow concealed weapons into churches make police officers’ jobs harder—which is why I’m proposing to ban that practice. But we have to recognize that the threats against our police don’t diminish when their shifts are over—and neither should their ability to meet those threats.

More police, and better-equipped police, are essential. But no amount of new police will make a difference if they do not have tough, effective laws to enforce.

We can never keep our families safe if our criminal justice system is so often a revolving door, where even violent criminals sometimes get off too easy. That is why our second priority must be tougher anti-crime laws.

We can start by getting tough on gang violence. I will fight for a federal law that helps communities establish "gang-free zones"—with curfews on specific gang members, a ban on gang-related clothing, and the specific legal authority to break up violent teen gangs, once and for all.

I will fight for new laws to meet our most pernicious threats. We need tougher penalties against all sex offenders. And we must punish the traumatizing and lifelong effects of crime and violence. If you commit any violent crime in front of a child, you should pay an even higher price for it: more time in jail.

A safe and secure community demands special protections against those who are most vulnerable . That is why I propose special measures to protect our seniors. We should raise the penalties for those who commit crimes against the elderly. We should give federal prosecutors new tools to fight fraud and abuse. And we should move aggressively to shut down fraudulent telemarketers who target the elderly.

And as we toughen our laws, we have an obligation to ensure that they are fairly enforced.

Good policing demands mutual trust and respect between the community and the police. We shouldn’t let the acts of a few rogue officers undermine that trust. That is why we need to end the unjust practice of racial profiling in America—because it’s not only unfair, it is inconsistent with the successful approach known as community policing.

We also need to make sure our nation’s police officers get the best training. That way, we can ensure that police catch every criminal—and earn the enduring respect of every law-abiding citizen.

Third, we must realize that two-thirds of all prisoners are arrested for new offenses within three years of release. One part of the blame belongs to our criminal justice system itself—which does not do enough to break the cycle of crime and drug abuse while criminals are in prison.

At first glance, it might seem that the solution to overcrowded prisons is to simply release those who are guilty of the least serious offenses. But any criminal justice expert will tell you: when inmates have easy access to drugs in prison, but no access to drug treatment and no serious program of drug testing; when inmates are sent back onto the streets unrehabilitated, unrepentant, and unskilled—then they’re just going to commit more crime, and go right back to prison.

We have to stop that revolving door, once and for all. First of all, we have to test prisoners for drugs while they are in jail—and break up the drug rings inside our prison system. Most Americans find it hard to believe that drug use continues inside prison walls, but shockingly, it does. We have to expand drug treatment within our prisons; according to one recent study, treatment is about ten times more effective in reducing serious crime than today’s approaches. And we have to insist on more prison time for those who don’t break the habit.

I believe we should make prisoners a simple deal: before you get out of jail, you have to get clean. And if you want to stay out, then you’d better stay clean.

We should do even more to make sure that when criminals leave jail, they leave a life of crime behind. We should impose strict supervision of those who have just been released—and insist that they obey the law and stay off drugs. In return, we should help them make it in the workplace.

In the end, these measures will reduce the size of our prison population—and give more criminals a chance to live clean and productive lives. That is only the beginning of the steps we must take to crack down on drugs.

If I’m entrusted with the Presidency, I’ll send a strong message to e very American child: drugs are wrong, and drugs can kill you.

I’ll lead a national crusade to dry up drug demand, hold up drugs at the border, and break up the drug rings that are spreading poison on our streets.

I’ll fund more drug courts, to speed justice for drug-related crime.

I’ll double the number of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas—drug hot-spots where we aggressively target our enforcement efforts.

I’ll expand drug treatment for at-risk youth. At first glance, this might seem like a criminal justice luxury. Some have argued that we should save scarce dollars by cutting back on drug treatment, and investing that money in other crime-fighting measures believed to warrant a higher priority. I believe this is a false savings. If we deny drug-addicted criminals treatment—if we put them on six-month waiting lists—we shouldn’t be surprised when many of them commit more crimes, to keep paying for the habit that has imprisoned their souls. And if we offer them treatment six months later, it may be too late for them—and for the victims of their crimes.

I believe we have to support the Drug-Free Communities Program—which strengthens community efforts to reduce substance abuse among young people.

And I’ll work to make sure that all of our school zones are drug-free zones—by stiffening the penalties to those who would use children to peddle drugs, and those who would sell drugs anywhere near our schools.

Fourth, we need a criminal justice system that both upholds our Constitution and reflects our values. Too often, we bend over backward to protect the right of criminals, but pay no attention to those who are hurt the most.

I believe victims should have a voice in trial and other proceedings. Their safety should be a factor in the sentencing and release of their attackers. They should be notified when an offender is released back into their community. And they should have a right to compensation from their attacker.

I will lead the fight to pass a Victims’ Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution—one that is consistent with fundamental Constitutional protections—so that our justice system puts victims and their families first again.

I will strengthen our efforts to protect and care for the victims of domestic violence—an issue I first encountered as a local reporter with the Tennessean, nearly three decades ago.

We have to make sure that all battered women have the legal protection and the support they need to be safe in their own communities, and keep their attackers away.

And by stopping domestic violence, we can also break the generational cycle of violence. We know that when children grow up in abusive families, they are more likely to become abusers themselves.

This Sunday, as I spoke about America’s international security challenges, I talked about an approach I call "forward engagement" —addressing problems early in their development, before they become crises. The same approach applies to our safety and security here at home. For all we do to strengthen the rights of today’s victims, we have an even deeper obligation to prevent people from becoming victims tomorrow.

And so, if I’m entrusted with the Presidency, I’ll insist on a policy of zero tolerance toward guns and drugs in our schools—and I’ll expand discipline and character education in our schools—to make our schools safe havens from guns, crime, and violence.

I’ll dramatically increase our commitment to after school care and child care—to engage our children in the critical hours when their parents cannot look after them—the afternoon hours when most drug abuse, juvenile crime, and teen pregnancy take place.

And I’ll work to build new partnerships with the nation’s faith-based organizations—which have proven especially effective at meeting challenges such as gang violence and drug addiction.

By increasing America’s commitment to smart, proven crime prevention, we can stop crime and strengthen our communities long before lawlessness and violence have a chance to take root.

Each of these efforts is critical; all of them will help us win new ground in our fight against crime and drugs. I believe all of them are part of our national responsibility to get tough on the criminals who would shred the very fabric of our communities.

But none of this will work if the American people do not take more personal responsibility—in your own neighborhoods, in your own families, in your own words and deeds.

The answer is greater responsibility from all of us. Parents have to become more involved in the lives of their children—and teach them the fundamental lessons of decency and character, of responsibility and citizenship.

We have to teach our children why crime and violence hurt us all—and why the glorified images of crime and violence on our movie and TV screens are no model for our society.

I believe we have to demand more restraint and responsibility from those who peddle violent images to our children. That is why I have worked so hard with the TV industry on the development of the V-Chip and TV ratings, to give parents a greater ability to control what their children watch. I have worked with the Internet industry, to give parents a greater ability to monitor their children’s Internet use, and block out inappropriate content. And my wife Tipper was an early leader in the fight for greater responsibility from the entertainment industry.

At their heart, these are not partisan issues. In fact, the only way we have made progress in fighting crime and drugs is by breaking out of the old orthodoxies—and working across party lines on real solutions. Every American has to take responsibility, and make public safety a top national priority—above politics or partisanship.

That is what I find so troubling about the views of my opponent, George W. Bush. So far in this campaign, he hasn’t addressed the issue of crime in much detail. But from what we have seen, it is already clear that there are serious, philosophical differences between us.

He seems to believe that there is no national responsibility to help fight crime. I believe it is one of our greatest national responsibilities, and that communities shouldn’t have to go it alone.

And he seems to believe that we don’t need to stop the revolving door of drug-related crime. I believe we should not only put repeat offenders behind bars, we should also get tough on them before they leave prison—so they never return.

Consider the record. Governor Bush supported the Contract With America, which could have cut the number of new police officers, even it gave away billions in special-interest tax breaks.

Now he has a giant tax plan of his own—$2.1 trillion, bigger than anything the Republican Congress has ever dared to propose. Under the Bush tax plan, there is simply no way we could reach our goal of 150,000 new police.

I am proposing to lock our police funding in a special budgetary fund; George W. Bush is proposing to pick the lock with his irresponsible tax giveaway.

Just as importantly, we know that breaking the cycle of drug addiction is essential to fighting crime and recidivism. Yet George W. Bush slashed drug and alcohol treatment programs for Texas prisoners. Governor Bush even argues that "incarceration is rehabilitation"—which may be why recidivism has jumped by about 25 percent in Texas since he took office, to a level far above the national average.

I believe we should demand that criminals get clean to get out of jail; Governor Bush seems content to keep pushing them out of the same old revolving door.

The people of Texas deserve better—and the people of America deserve better. We need more police, not fewer. We need to get tough on repeat offenders, not just put them back out on our streets.

If we are really serious about fighting crime and drugs, then we have to do what works. We have to do what is responsible. We have to cover our communities with a blanket of blue. We have to toughen our laws. We have to stand up for the rights of victims.

We have to stop the endless parade of repeat offenders. And together, we have send an unmistakable message to all our people: that we will not tolerate crime and disorder.

That is how we can build safer, stronger communities, all across America. It is how we can defend our national security, within our very borders. We’ve come a long way together. America is safer than it has been in decades. Let’s not let up—until this nation is crime-free and drug-free, once and for all. Thank you.



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