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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 16, 1994
                            TO THE NATION

The Roosevelt Room

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This week we joined in sorrow for those who lost their lives in the downing of two of our helicopters over Iraq. I want to begin by expressing, again, my condolences to the loved ones of those who died. They gave their lives in a high cause -- providing comfort to Kurdish victims of Sadaam Hussein's brutal regime -- and we honor the sacrifice of those brave individuals.

Today I want to talk about one of the greatest threats we face right here at home -- the threat of crime in our communities. In 1991, I visited the Rockwell Gardens in the ABLA Housing Projects in Chicago where I saw firsthand what happens to our children who live too long in the shadow of fear. Dozens of children rushed out to greet me, eager to have someone to tell their stories to. They talked of gunshots and drug dealers, of late-night knocks at their doors and hallways where they dared not stray. Many of their stories had a common theme -- their childhoods were being stolen from them.

Vince Lane, the head of the Chicago Housing Authority, is a genuine hero to these children. He's trying to show the children that someone cares. To help, he put into effect a search and sweep policy to clean out Chicago's public housing communities, to find weapons, to get people out of those housing projects who didn't belong, to find drugs. But just over a week ago a federal district judge declared Vince Lane's search and sweep policy unconstitutional.

Every law-abiding American, rich or poor, has the right to raise children without the fear of criminals terrorizing where they live. That's why, as soon as I heard about the court's decision, I instructed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros and Attorney General Janet Reno to devise a constituitonal effective way to protect the residents of America's public housing communities. Secretary Cisneros and Attorney General Reno moved quickly. Today I am announcing a new policy to help public housing residents take back there homes.

First, at my direction, Secretary Cisneros is in Chicago to provide emergency funds for enforcement and prevention in ganginfested public housing. We'll put more police in public housing, crack down on illegal gun trafficking, and fill vacant apartments where criminals hide out. And we'll provide more programs like midnight basketball leagues to help our young people say no to gangs and guns and drugs.

Second, we will empower residents to build safe neighborhoods, and we'll help to organize tenant patrols to ride the elevators and look after the public spaces in these high-rise public housing units.

Finally, we're going to work with residents in highcrime areas to permit the full range of searches that the Constitution does allow -- in common areas, in vacant apartments and in circumstances where residents are in immediate danger. We'll encourage more weapons frisks of suspicious persons, and we'll ask tenant associations to put clauses in their leases allowing searches when crime conditions make it necessary.

This new policy honors the principles of personal and community responsibility at the very heart of this administration's efforts. It also shows all Americans that their government can move swiftly and effectively on their behalf.

Now we must move swiftly on the crime bill before Congress. The bill provides the right balance of protection, punishment and prevention. It will put 100,000 more police officers on the streets for community policing efforts that work. It will make three strikes and you're out the law of the land and provide money for new prisons. And it will pay for a wide variety of prevention programs to give our young people a future they can say yes to.

This is a crucial moment in the crime bill debate. It's time to tell Congress you've waited long enough for comprehensive national crime legislation; that you don't want political posturing or frivolous amendments, and instead, you need help to take back your communities.

This crime bill is for all our people, but nobody needs it more than the people like the mother of three who lives right here in Washington. A week ago, this 33-year-old mother came home after celebrating her ten-year-old daughter's birthday to find a gang of gunmen ransacking her apartment. The mother had one plea for the intruders: "If you believe in God, please don't shoot my children. Shoot me." The reply was cold and terrifying. "I don't believe in God," said one of the gunmen. Then he shot her daughter dead. Before the gunfire ceased, another child and the mother were both shot, and her three-year-old son witnessed the whole thing.

The sad fact is, the police now believe the shootings were carried out by youths who hang out in the very apartment complex where that mother was trying to raise her children.

There are many rights that our laws and our Constitution guarantee to every citizen, but that mother and her children have certain rights we are letting slip away. They include the right to go out to the playground, and the right to sit by an open window; the right to walk to the corner without fear of gunfire; the right to go to school safely in the morning; and the right to celebrate your tenth birthday without coming home to bloodshed and terror. The crime bill will help us take back those rights for all of our people. So will our new policy to protect public housing residents.

We must decide we will not tolerate more tragedies like that mother's. When we do that, together, we can replace our children's fear with hope.

Thanks for listening.