Public Papers

Remarks at a Kickoff Ceremony for the Eighth Annual National Night Out Against Crime in Arlington, Virginia


Thank you, Dick -- Mr. Attorney General -- thank you very much. To Judge Bonner, my respects. And I'm just delighted to be here. To Matt Peskin, the Director of the National Association of Town Watch, I was glad to have met him and glad that he's here.

And we've got other key members of our law enforcement team here today. I can't see him, but I'm told Carol Hallett's out there, the U.S. Customs Commissioner; Mike Moore of the Marshals; Steve Higgins, the Director of ATF; Peter Nunez, the Assistant Treasury Secretary for Law Enforcement; and Maurice Turner, who is our nominee, and I'm proud to say that, for the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

This is my first visit to the DEA headquarters, this one. And certainly, I'm told, the first visit of a President to come to DEA headquarters. And this one where some of America's biggest heroes work every single day. I know quite a few DEA agents have joined us this morning along with a class of the DC Metro Police -- the recruits there -- the DEA Basic Agent Class 81. And let's thank them also for the courageous work they're doing. I am also pleased that so many local neighborhood Town Watch activists could join us here today.

And I really wanted to say that you deserve our thanks for your courageous and selfless work, too. And it's also great to see these kids here in the front, the young kids, I'm told, from the District. I'm delighted to have them here, and I understand one of them is going to come up and help us screw in this light bulb in a little bit.

What a pleasure it is to join with you this morning for the kickoff ceremony of the 8th Annual National Night Out. I admit I told the staff that participating in the Night Out ceremony did not mean they get the morning off ceremony -- [laughter] -- although several are with me and delighted to be here.

This evening, 23 million people in 50 States, the U.S. territories, and military bases all over the world will say good-bye to crime. And they'll turn on these outside lights, sit on porches, and visit with their neighbors and the local police officials. And they're going to host block parties and cookouts and parades and contests. And they'll organize the most effective crime-fighting force known to anyone -- and that is communities that care.

We want to turn back the clock in this area to the good old days when all the kids knew the cop on the beat, when people looked out for their neighbors, and when we felt safe in our own communities.

Too many times today, as Dick pointed out, neighbors and police are perfect strangers. The communities don't come together. And the result: Too many crimes go unobserved or unreported; too many criminals go free.

We have a chance to change all that. And tonight will be the biggest Night Out ever -- 8,300 communities, I'm told, nearly every American major city will join in. Hundreds of suburban and rural communities will join the festivities.

In Minneapolis, last year's biggest Night Out city, concerned citizens will gather at over 700 block parties. At the Minneapolis Youth Kickoff Dance, more than 1,000 young people will give crime the twist, the pretzel, and the bump. And in Memphis, people will rejoice at a mock funeral -- community watch groups there have organized to bury crime. In New Orleans, it's a Mardi Gras-style jazz festival for crime that will promote the day when criminals will sing the blues.

And in Buffalo, New York, police agencies and government officials from the United States and Canada will join in a Hands Across the Border ceremony while crime fighters aboard the U.S.S. Little Rock say bon voyage to crime.

Forest Hills, Texas, will host an Old West Shoot-Out against the bad guys in the black hats. And the 7276 U.S. Air Base Group in Crete, Greece, will sponsor a Spot the Burglar contest.

In cities and towns across America and at our military bases overseas, law-abiding citizens want criminals to know that there are more of us than them. And neighborhood watch programs and other community patrols will serve notice that we plan to deploy our most powerful weapons against drugs and crime: our eyes and our ears.

The fight against crime in many ways is a fight to rebuild the institutions from which America has always drawn its strength: families and schools and neighborhoods and places of worship. And our administration believes in building a rule of law by emphasizing the values and virtues that make our land great.

Our comprehensive crime bill would strengthen the relationship between law enforcement officials at the local, State, and Federal levels. And right now that legislation is up on Capitol Hill, and I'd like to have a comprehensive crime bill that I can sign into the law by the end of this year. And we're going to keep pushing for that end.

I think the American people want such legislation. Sometimes you hear of my lack of interest in domestic affairs. Well, here's a good example of something they can move on right now and should have been enacted a long, long time ago.

And we've proposed reforms that let local prosecutors and judges do their job. And they're the ones who know how to fight crime in your community, not some so-called expert back here in Washington, DC. And what we need are more police officers, prosecutors, and judges who understand the rule of law.

Our nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court -- let me just say a word about him -- Judge Clarence Thomas. He not only has lived the values that we hold dear, he's promoted them through his distinguished career in public service. And his personal story -- when you meet him you can't help but be impressed -- in my case, deeply moved. It impresses everybody, everybody that's fair and openminded.

And I nominated him because he has the brains, he has the record, and he has the personal decency that Americans should expect in a Justice of the Supreme Court -- a fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law.

Judge Thomas has tremendous support from a broad section, a cross-section of America. And that across-the-board support includes minority communities, overwhelmingly supported in minority communities, I might add, and is now manifesting itself in measurable ways. So, when you hear about opposition to Judge Thomas from one beltway group or another, it's clear that they are simply out of touch with mainstream America.

Look at today's piece in the Washington Post by Margaret Bush Wilson, a former chairman of the NAACP's National Board of Directors for 9 years. She was chairman of the Board for 9 years, and she's known Judge Thomas for 17 years, known him personally. In supporting the Judge, she said, ``I know that as a Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas will continue to defend and protect the rights of the needy. He does not permit anyone to think for him and he is intellectually honest.'' Maybe some of these groups out there could take a lesson from that distinguished civil rights advocate and look at the facts and the record instead of engaging in ideological attacks.

As we talk today about values and about taking responsibility for building a better future, Clarence Thomas comes to mind. He certainly exemplifies the very attitudes we want all Americans to adopt as they build better, safer communities.

You also understand the front lines -- reporting suspicious activities, identifying these drug dealers, even closing down crack houses. And you play a critical role in building a better future for this Nation. I salute you for your faith in America and your hope in a better tomorrow for our children. It was very good for me to walk by this lobby and see those shields of those who have given their lives in your line of work, standing up against crime to the benefit of all Americans. It brought home to me once again, as previous awards ceremonies have, how indebted I am and how indebted this country is to those of you who served in that manner on the front line. Don't sit at the head table, not the heroes receiving the awards, but out there day in and day out trying to make things a little better, a little safer for these kids that are here today and others like them all across the country.

So, in addition to saluting this program, I want to tell you from the heart I am very, very grateful to everybody that serves at DEA, the other groups that I mentioned here or those that are going into police work, you have my confidence and you have my gratitude. So, it's a fitting way to start this light bulb ceremony by me just saying from the bottom of my heart, thank you very, very much. And may God bless the United States. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:10 a.m. in the Auditorium at the Drug Enforcement Administration. In his opening remarks, he referred to Attorney General Dick Thornburgh; Robert C. Bonner, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration; Carol B. Hallett, U.S. Customs Commissioner; K. Michael Moore, Director of the United States Marshals Service; Stephen E. Higgins, Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Peter K. Nunez, Assistant Treasury Secretary for Law Enforcement; and Maurice T. Turner, Jr., nominee to be Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance.