Public Papers - 1990 - January
Remarks to the Law Enforcement Community in Kansas City, Missouri
Thank you, Mayor Berkley. Thank you very, very much, all of you. Thank you very much. But how did you know that our dog, Millie, was the most popular person in the Bush family? [Laughter] I'm delighted to be introduced by my friend Dick Berkley, and thank you for that warm introduction. As he confessed, we go back a long, long time, and I'm grateful to him for his friendship and his leadership. I also want to thank and pay my respects to two that flew out here with me on Air Force One: our distinguished Attorney General, Dick Thornburgh; and our drug policy czar -- why we use the word in the United States, I do not know -- but our able Drug Policy Director, Bill Bennett. Both here with me today, and both doing a superb job for our country.
It's always good to see the Governors, and be with them, of these two great States, both friends -- John Ashcroft, from Missouri, and of course my friend Mike Hayden, from just across the line -- I think it's just across the line -- but both of them, side by side with us, recognizing that the States must have considerable influence, must take a lot of action, if we're going to solve the problems that I wanted to talk to you about today.
And of course, we also had some other travelers with me, friends of good standing flying out, your two able Missouri Senators, Jack Danforth and Kit Bond. Both -- whoops, they're here -- here's one. Where's Kit? Over here. And of course, Congressman Ike Skelton, my friend, and also Tom Coleman. And let me just say about this group of Representatives, Senate and House: All of them, all four, are taking leadership roles in this fight against crime. And I know that your Congressman from the district I just visited, Alan Wheat, wanted to be here. He is attending to duties in Washington. I hope he's doing the right thing back there, as Congress just reconvened. And of course, so many law enforcement and community leaders -- the police chief has been at my side, and the respect with which he's held by people in the communities is very clear and obvious -- Commissioner Ray Price.
And of course, I had a wonderful meeting with the Ad Hoc Group. I've known the leader of the group because he is serving on one of our most prestigious antinarcotics task forces in Washington, Presidentially appointed, working closely with Bill Bennett and me. Al, we're just delighted that you are willing to not only do what you are doing here but take the time to be a part of that. Al Brooks -- an outstanding leader for this community.
Then I had a list -- not to read off, necessarily, but I would be remiss if I didn't say how pleased I was with the briefing I received out here -- the Ad Hoc Group. Inspiring presentations -- and I won't mention them all, but Dr. Stacey Daniels, Dr. Mark Mitchell, one a Ph.D. psychologist, the other an M.D.; Cliff Sargeon, who just hitchhiked a ride with us somewhere along the line -- I don't know where he is out there -- and of course, Ron Finley and Vic, Majeeda, Aasim -- so many others that just made this whole program come alive.
And now, before I get to my words, let me also salute the Army and thank the band from Fort Riley for that wonderful music. Outstanding, as always.
And I can tell you -- and mean it -- that it is great to be in the heartland, great to be back in Kansas City. And you know, Kansas City has so much of which to be proud. You've heard the tally: grassier than Ireland; built on more hills than ancient Rome; more water, more fountains than Paris. But you also know what really sets Kansas City apart. It is not your parks. It's your people. They call it the Kansas City spirit -- restless, idealistic, determined. It's the kind of spirit that pushed back frontiers and brought the railroads west, rebuilt a burned-down convention hall in 90 days, and survived three floods this century. And, yes, it's a community spirit, a spirit that emphasizes the value of collective well-being. Norman Rockwell captured -- in a painting called just that -- the ``Kansas City Spirit.'' It pictures a brawny, sunburned man, feet firmly planted on the ground, eyes on the distant horizon. And one hand clutches a blueprint, and the other's rolling up his sleeves.
And thank God, it's a spirit that is very much alive today, because in recent years, it's not the convention hall that's caught fire but the streets themselves, burning with a new form of pain called crack and crackling with a burst of gunfire not heard in Kansas City since the outlaw days of the Old West.
But people in this town refused to surrender to the drug plague. You took back what's yours -- took back your kids and took back your streets. It began like the spirit of Kansas City, when one man rolled up his sleeves and stepped forward with a blueprint -- a blueprint that's become a model for our cities, an inspiration to people everywhere. I had the pleasure of meeting with him, as I alluded to earlier, and with his group this morning; and I know that many more than I mentioned are here with us this afternoon. They're a group of homegrown Kansas City heroes called the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, and the man's name -- you know him, Alvin to some, Al to me -- Al Brooks.
Ad Hoc recognized early on that the war on drugs meant unconventional warfare, a battle to be fought day by day, house by house, family by family, child by child, because each kid saved is a victory won. Working closely with police, Ad Hoc members gather in force -- gather by the dozen, using bullhorns, wooden coffins, street rallies -- to warn drug dealers to get off the street. They're not subtle. I just saw them in action out there. But they are determined, and they are united, and they are clearly making a difference.
I spent a part of the morning here in the downtown inner-city area. I can't remember a more inspiring experience since I've been President. Went to 33d and Park -- saw what they used to call the drug tree, an ancient, curbside oak where the drug dealers put up a basketball board to lure young children and cover up their own deadly operations. And it's still a rough area, still not free of crime. But a lot of crack houses are gone, and a lot of pride's come back. And block after block, house after house carries the sign of victory, Ad Hoc's six-word warning to the cowards of the night: ``This neighborhood fights back against drugs.''
Part of the solution to the drug menace lies in effective, community-based initiatives like the Ad Hoc Group here. Also, cooperation between local and Federal law enforcement is essential, as we saw last Friday when Kansas City police combined with Federal agents to bust what may be the biggest crack ring in town. Another part, an essential part, lies in the demand side: stopping drug use before it starts, and helping those who want to stop. And our national drug strategy calls for record levels of new funding for both education and treatment.
But demand-side solutions alone, important as they are, will never be enough. There are people out there intent on doing evil -- cowardly, amoral. And when they spot someone vulnerable -- the school kid who has to cross a drug-infested corner to get home -- they see their fellow man the way a pack of jackals sees a wounded fawn.
A 4-year-old boy shot dead in a suspected crack house; an 11-year-old kid gunned down outside another drug den, allegedly at the hands of a 14-year-old guard; in a downtown bar, a mother sells her baby for crack; and a firebombing leaves three generations dead, including a grandmother and three little kids -- the headlines are horrifying, sickening, outrageous. And though they come from Kansas City, they are tragically familiar in cities across America.
Strong families are an important element in a healthy, respectful society. Many of life's most important lessons are learned within the walls of our own homes, and we must do everything we can do to strengthen our families and help them cultivate character in our children. But let us also be clear about the role of personal accountability, of the responsibility of the criminal for his actions. The fact of the matter is, the criminal chooses his way of life, his companions, the kind of crimes he commits. He's not the victim; he is the victimizer.
And you who have struggled, worked hard for safe streets know this. It's time we protect the rights of our elderly, our kids, and our crime victims everywhere. The law-abiding community that you represent has a duty to punish wrongdoers. Punishment is not, as some may see it, an unseemly indulgence in revenge. Just punishment is a moral, civilized response to wrong. Punishment is necessary not only as a deterrent to future crimes but for its own sake -- which is to say, for the sake of justice.
This tradition of justice speaks not of a society that disparages human life but, rather, one that treasures innocent human life as precious, as unique. In Larry McMurtry's -- you remember it -- classic western novel ``Lonesome Dove,'' two Rangers finally put an end to a brutal gang's deadly rampage, and one of the outlaws turns out to be Jake Spoon, the Rangers' old partner. ``It's a bad situation,'' says Captain Call, moments before arresting his old friend. ``But there he is. He put himself in it.'' McMurtry's saga, like the lives of the real-life pioneers who inspired it, reveals some simple truths. Most Americans believe each of us faces the innate temptation to succumb to evil and yet always has the freedom instead to choose to do good.
Today too many law-abiding Americans are prisoners in their own homes, and we really have to change that. We have got to change it. The wrong people are behind bars. Go to the community I came from. Talk to the lady and her husband in a Christian home, a cross and the Bible inside, locked in for fear of what's on the outside.
The first line of defense will always be our local law enforcement. But as in the days of legendary U.S. marshals like Bat Masterson and Wild Bill Hickok, places like Kansas City again need the support of top-notch Federal lawmen. Congress deserves our thanks for providing the new Federal troops that we asked for -- new agents, new prosecutors, new prisons to catch, convict, and contain those who prey on our cities.
But it's time for Congress, reconvening this very day, to finish the job, because it does no good to send the troops into battle wearing handcuffs. Shortly after taking office, I sent a comprehensive package to Congress to combat violent crime, to back up our new lawmen with new laws -- laws that are fair, fast and final. Fair -- an exclusionary rule designed to protect the truth and punish the guilty, and not good cops who have acted in faith. Fast -- habeas corpus reforms to stop the frivolous appeals that are choking our courts. And finally -- fair, constitutionally sound death penalty provisions, because for any drug dealer who kills a cop, no penalty, in my view, is too tough.
Major portions of our crime bill still await congressional action. But today there's another bill -- a Trojan horse standing at the gates of Congress. It's called S. 1970. It looks like a real crime bill. It sounds like a real crime bill. But look at it -- take a look at it. Go to the library and get it. In actuality it will be tougher on law enforcement than on criminals. And its so-called reforms of the exclusionary rule, habeas corpus, the death penalty, and the Justice Department itself will only entrench and extend the legal loopholes and the redtape that disrupt honest law enforcement and have angered the American people for far too long. It must be defeated. America needs a crime bill with teeth, yes, but this is a sheep in wolf's clothing.
We don't question anyone's motives. One of the things I don't like about politics -- maybe I should expect it, get into the arena, as Teddy Roosevelt called it -- it seems to be a charge and countercharge. I propose one agenda and somebody else, another. We don't have to question the other person's motives or integrity in making the proposal, but it is time to debate these differences openly. We can't accept anything -- and I will not -- that rolls back the clock on our ability to fight crime and punish wrong-doers. And good legislation shouldn't have to wait until the final weeks of an election year -- as happened in 1984, 1986, and 1988, just by coincidence. And America wants it done right. And America wants it done responsibly. And America wants it done now.
You in Kansas and Missouri, right here, have set a personal example of courage in grappling with tough choices. In this city, you fought back and you got involved and you refused to look the other way. And you have my thanks and the gratitude of an admiring nation.
In the Norman Rockwell painting that I mentioned earlier, the man with the blueprints is looking sharply to one side. They say a young boy saw the picture in a book and asked his father, ``Dad, Kansas City is in the center of America. Which way is the man facing -- west or east?'' The father's answer was pure Midwest: ``Well, son, it sort of depends on which way you hold the book.'' [Laughter]
Of course, the truth is, it doesn't matter how you hold that picture. Because no matter how you look at it, the Kansas City spirit, the real Kansas City spirit, always faces the same way -- forward to a brighter tomorrow, forward to the future ahead.
Thank you for an inspiring day. Thank you for this warm greeting on this January day. God bless you all as we begin a new year. God bless Kansas City, and especially, God bless the United States of America. Thank you all very, very much.
Note: The President spoke at 1:40 p.m. in the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium Music Hall. In his remarks, he referred to Larry Joiner, Kansas City chief of police; Ray Price, president of the board of police commissioners; and Stacey Daniels, Mark Mitchell, Cliff Sargeon, Ronald Finley, Victor Syng, Majeeda Baheyadeen, and Aasim Baheyadeen, members of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime Steering Committee.