ELIMINATING POVERTY -- (House of Representatives - January 23, 2007)
Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, last week, on the night of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I attended a truly amazing event in the West Side Community Center in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
The city of Asbury Park is in my congressional district, and has been plagued in recent months by gang violence. It is a phenomenon shared by many New Jersey municipalities, including my hometown of Long Branch nearby, which recently witnessed several gang murders.
Mr. Speaker, redevelopment has come to Asbury Park, all the outward signs are of a seaside resort that is coming back big time. So why, you might ask, the gang violence? Why the murders? One of which took place right in front of the West Side Community Center where the Dr. King celebration took place. The truth is that the plight of the have-nots, that other America, has gotten worse in the last few years.
The event was organized by the Reverend Kevin Nunn, leader of Spirit of Truth World Vision Outreach in Asbury Park. More than 15 local clergy testified to the difficulty of young people in getting an education, avoiding drugs, and preventing a return to prison because of lack of economic opportunities. The recreation programs which had been the backbone of the West Side Community Center are at risk because of lack of funding.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the most important theme I can convey about Monday night's event was the message of hope. Dr. King was invoked as the example of love, peace and harmony among those of all races and creeds, and he was a symbol that pervaded the audience as the speakers talked about the need to vote, to go to church and unite as a committee. Reverend Nunn and most of the clergy who spoke at this meeting are directly involved in bringing shelter to the homeless, food to the needy, and promoting economic opportunity.
The people present Monday night are proud Americans, but they need help. They are certainly not looking to government to solve all their problems, but they believe that government can make a difference, and it is up to us as their representatives to make the changes necessary so they can continue to have hope.
Mr. Speaker, Senator BOB MENENDEZ and I will soon introduce legislation to address the issue of gang violence. The bills will have three main goals. Our first goal is to provide after-school programs for students so they have a place to go instead of joining a gang. The type of recreation and mentor programs that were discussed in Asbury Park at the community meeting I attended could benefit from the grant set up by this legislation.
The second goal is to prevent recidivism, the idea that people who leave jail don't get caught up in a gang once again because they have no job, no family or home to return to after jail. The legislation expands adult and juvenile offender demonstration projects to help with post-release housing and promote programs that hire former prisoners.
And last, the administration addresses better police enforcement as well as gang suppression initiatives. At the Asbury Park meeting, the cries of ``Stop the Violence' came up repeatedly. The legislation will direct more resources to towns to create a new COPS grant program and put more police on the street. Penalties will increase for those convicted of gang crimes, and particularly those using firearms, and communities would be empowered to create their own task forces to implement antigang initiatives.
Now all of these ideas require more dollars, and on the day when President Bush is making his State of the Union address, I want to make one very serious point about Federal resources. We can't, as a nation, continue to escalate the war in Iraq with no positive consequences for America at a continued drain of hundreds of billions of dollars. President Bush needs to reverse course and redeploy our troops out of Iraq. The money and manpower are not only needed on the fight against terrorism elsewhere, for example, in Afghanistan, but also at home, to fight the criminals on our streets. The need is not only for more policemen, but for the housing, health care education and life support needs that will make it possible to get rid of the poverty that I saw on Martin Luther King Day in my community of Asbury Park.