As Prepared For Delivery:
Good afternoon, and thank you to Mayor Fischer and the U.S. Conference of Mayors for this invitation to speak today. It’s a privilege to be here with all of you, the mayors of America. I want to take this opportunity to thank each of you for your leadership during an incredibly difficult year. Our cities have been tried and tested, and nowhere has been spared the pain and loss of this health, economic, and equity crisis. But because of the hard decisions you have made, and the extraordinary resilience of everyday Americans, cities across the country are coming back to life. Just as you were on the front lines fighting the pandemic, you are now on the front lines leading our nation’s recovery.
Cities and towns are at the center of so many important issues that the Biden Administration is focused on as we build back better. The themes of today’s summit—public safety and equity—are closely linked in the work my team at the Domestic Policy Council is driving forward. Today, I want to reaffirm our commitment to those issues, but most importantly I hope to learn how we can be the best partner for your efforts to support safe and equitable communities.
President Biden has put equity at the heart of his Administration’s agenda. On Day One, he signed an executive order laying out an ambitious and historic whole-of-government approach to advancing racial and economic equity. Every federal agency, program, and policy has a role to play, and we are applying that lens to our work to reduce gun violence.
President Biden sees gun violence as an epidemic—a public health crisis—in this country. 40,000 lives lost a year. Every day, over 300 people are shot. And like so many other crises, Black and brown communities have carried the heaviest share of the burden. These shootings are disproportionally concentrated in neighborhoods harmed by past and present discrimination, segregation, redlining, disinvestment, mass incarceration, and concentrated poverty.
As you know well, this community trauma and loss of life has devasting consequences for families and cascading human, social, and economic costs. Research shows that exposure to firearm violence—including as a victim or witness—makes it twice as likely that a young person will commit violence. It also leads to diminished property values, decreased commercial activity, and broad economic harm to entire neighborhoods. It is estimated that gun violence costs America $280 billion every year.
The pandemic, economic distress, the proliferation of guns, and what in too many cities is an erosion of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, have combined to contribute to a stark rise in violence. In 2020, homicides rose 30% and gun assaults rose 8%. This issue takes on even greater urgency as we approach the summer, historically a time of increased gun violence. We are now at an inflection point, where this challenge demands that we all take immediate and meaningful action.
The good news is that there are community-based strategies proven to save lives. Community violence intervention programs—which provide financial assistance, job training, behavioral therapy, peer support and mentorship, and conflict mediation—work because they target those most likely to commit or be victims of violence and leverage trusted messengers to reach them. These efforts have been badly underfunded in the past, but the Biden Administration is committed to changing that as well as changing how we spend our resources. We need to invest in small businesses, procure from diverse suppliers, and lift up those employers who hire from disadvantaged communities.
President Biden has called for $5.2 billion in new funding for community violence interventions through the American Jobs Plan and his discretionary budget request. Congress must prioritize this funding so your cities have the resources they need to save lives.
But this year, you don’t have to wait for Congress, because the Administration is taking action now to enable mayors to access funding for violence prevention immediately. First, we’re making changes to 26 different federal grant programs to support investments in community violence interventions. Several of these programs are accepting applications as we speak. Second, and this is crucial, the Administration has made clear that the American Rescue Plan’s $350 billion in flexible aid to state and local governments and $122 billion in aid for K-12 schools can be used to help prevent community violence. These funds can support summer jobs programs, job training, summer learning, camps, recreation and enrichment programs, mental health programs and efforts to address substance use disorders. These resources can also fund violence interrupters, hospital-based intervention programs, and other strategies to stop violence, keep young people out of trouble, and save lives this summer. To date, $70 billion in state and local aid and $81 billion in school funding has already gone out the door—and more is on the way. This is money that can be immediately deployed. Let’s keep our communities safe.
As mayors, I urge you to take advantage of these resources to invest in community safety and violence prevention in your cities today. This is a top priority for President Biden, and the money is there. And for those of you already planning to use American Rescue Plan funds to support violence intervention, I’m asking you to bring others along. Every one of you can be an advocate for these programs. Every one of you can help reduce violence right now.
Community violence interventions are critical for our young people and communities of color most impacted by the gun violence epidemic. But we can and must do more. That is why President Biden directed the Department of Justice to develop model red flag legislation, produce an annual report on gun trafficking, and issue new rules to stop the proliferation of ghost guns and better regulate stabilizing braces that make firearms more lethal. President Biden has repeatedly urged Congress to close dangerous background check loopholes, ban assault weapons, ban high-capacity magazines, and repeal the legal immunity written into law for gun manufacturers. These are common-sense reforms supported by Democrats, Republicans, and Independents that will save thousands of lives. This is not a partisan issue, this is a public health issue. And it is long past time for action.
Finally, we want to hear from you. What is working to stop violence and protect people in your cities? What more can we do at the federal level to support your efforts and partner with those working in communities across America? We cannot expand economic opportunity without building stable neighborhoods. We cannot tolerate a country where a child’s zip code determines whether she will grow up safely and healthy. Our cities have overcome so much to battle the pandemic and breathe new life into our nation’s economy. With your leadership, we can tackle the gun violence epidemic and return our streets and neighborhoods to the children, families, and small businesses that call them home.
I’m eager to hear from Mayors Garcetti, Bowser, and Fischer, and to partner with all of you in this important mission. Thank you.