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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 29, 1997
                             TO THE NATION

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Spring is a season of renewal, not just of the world around us, but of the ideals inside us -- those that bind us together as a people. Millions of families will come together to celebrate Easter this weekend and Passover in the coming weeks, to reaffirm their faith in God and their commitment to our sacred values.

And in this season of renewal, I ask all Americans to reaffirm their commitment to this central ideal -- that we are many people, but one nation, bound together by shared values, rooted in the essential dignity and meaning of every American's life and liberty. That is the root of the American idea of a community of equal, free, responsible citizens and the American Dream to build the best possible future for our children.

The divide of race has been America's constant curse in pursuit of our ideals. The struggle to overcome it has been a defining part of our history. Racial and ethnic differences continue to divide and bedevil millions around the world. And as we become an ever more pluralistic society with people from every racial and ethnic group calling America home, our own future depends upon laying down the bitter fruits of hatred and lifting up the rich texture of our diversity and our common humanity.

We're not there yet, as we often see in the tragic stories in the news. Just last week in Chicago, a 13-year-old boy, riding his bike home from a basketball game, was brutally attacked and almost beaten to death -- apparently for no other reason but the color of his skin. Lenard Clark is black; the young men accused of attacking him are white. This weekend, I hope all Americans join Hillary and me in a prayer for Lenard and his family.

There is never an excuse for violence against innocent citizens. But this kind of savage, senseless assault, driven by nothing but hate, strikes at the very heart of America's ideals and threatens the promise of our future -- no matter which racial or ethnic identity of the attackers or the victims. We must stand together as a nation against all crimes of hate and say they are wrong. We must condemn hate crimes whenever they happen; we must commit ourselves to prevent them from happening again. And we must sow the seeds of harmony and respect among our people.

And let's be honest with ourselves: racism in America is not confined to acts of physical violence. Every day, African Americans and other minorities are forced to endure quiet acts of racism -- bigoted remarks, housing and job discrimination. Even many people who think they are not being racist, still hold to negative stereotypes, and sometimes act on them. These acts may not harm the body, but when a mother and her child go to the grocery store and are followed around by a suspicious clerk, it does violence to their souls.

We must stand against such quiet hatred just as surely as we condemn acts of physical violence, like those against Lenard Clark.

At the same time, black Americans must not look at the faces of Lenard Clark's attackers and see the face of white America. The acts of a few people must never become an excuse for blanket condemnation -- for bigotry begins with stereotyping, stereotyping blacks and whites, Jews and Arabs, Hispanics and Native Americans, Asians, immigrants in general. It is all too common today, but it is still wrong.

In Chicago, we see leaders of different races and political philosophies coming together to decry the crime against Lenard Clark. That is good and it is reason for hope.

The holidays of this season teach us that hope can spring forth from the darkest of times. Those of us who are Christians celebrate a risen God who died a painful, very human death to redeem the souls of all humanity without regard to race or station.

So as families come together to celebrate Easter and Passover, as parents reunite with their children, their brothers and sisters, and friends with each other, let us all take time to search our souls. Let us find the strength to reach across the lines that divide us on the surface and touch the common spirit that resides in every human heart.

And let us also remember there are some Americans who feel isolated from all of the rest of us in other ways -- sometimes with truly tragic consequences like the events just outside San Diego, which have so stunned us all this week. Our prayers are with their families, as well.

In this season of reflection, we must find kinship in our common humanity. In this season of renewal, we must renew our pledge to make America one nation under God. In this season of redemption, we must all rise up above our differences to walk forward together on common ground, toward common dreams.

Thanks for listening.