Kerry maps anti-gang initiative

Presidential candidate outlines $400 million plan in Urban League speech

July 23, 2004|By BOSTON GLOBE

DETROIT - Sen. John Kerry drew on his years as a Massachusetts prosecutor yesterday to outline a $400 million plan for tackling gang violence, arguing that all Americans have "a responsibility" for relieving the hopelessness felt by many youthful offenders.

Seeking to win over as wide an audience as possible during a speech to the National Urban League's annual convention, Kerry mixed a zero-tolerance attitude toward street gangs and crime with softer sympathies for children and teenagers who grow up in unstructured or abusive homes.

"As my mother used to say, `An idle mind is the devil's workshop,'" Kerry said. "We're going to send a strong message to young people that violence must stop, and if it doesn't, police and prosecutors will hold you accountable - period.

"We're not doing anybody any favors, however, if we just let the current rise in gang violence continue and come down with a hard response," he continued. "So second, we also need to send young people a strong, clear message that there is another path, and if they're willing to take that path, then we're willing to be there with them with job training, with job opportunities, with drug treatment, with real opportunities for the future."

Kerry's $400 million anti-gang plan, which would be funded over 10 years, includes money for new police officers; job training for former gang members; after-school programs; drug treatment, mostly sponsored by drug courts; and job opportunities through programs such as YouthBuild, a federally supported initiative that draws dropouts, former gang members and others into construction projects.

Kerry often tells audiences about meeting gang members and teen criminals when he was a Middlesex County prosecutor in the late 1970s. He put an emotional cast on those memories yesterday.

"Not one of them didn't come out of a neglected or an abused or an abandoned situation," he said. "Many of them had no one to call dad. ... All of them felt that their lives were hopeless. I believe we have a responsibility for that. I believe that before we run around this country fighting so hard to provide yet another break for the people who are the most comfortable, we have an obligation to stop being a country that's content to spend $50,000 a year to house young people in prison for the rest of their life, rather than put $10,000 a year into Head Start, Early Start, Smart Start, early childhood education, and protect those children."

Later, during a brief news conference, one of his Democratic primary rivals, Rep. Denis Kucinich of Ohio, said he would support Kerry at the party's convention next week and in the campaign this fall - even though the two disagreed over Iraq, free trade and other issues last winter. "John Kerry can win because there's a place in the Democratic Party for everyone, including those who may have been thinking of supporting Ralph Nader," Kucinich said.

Neither he nor Kerry called on Nader to exit the race - despite concerns that the independent could draw votes from Democrats as he did in 2000 - but instead contended that the party was broad-minded enough to reflect Nader voters' views.

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