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Kerry takes gang plan to Urban League

John Kerry says as president he would direct a zero-tolerance policy against gang violence and spend more on programs aimed at steering urban youth away from crime.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democrat John Kerry said Thursday that as president he would establish a zero-tolerance policy for gang violence and spend more on programs aimed at steering urban youth from crime.

“We’re going to send a strong message to young people — the violence must stop, and if it doesn’t, police and prosecutors will hold you accountable, period,” Kerry told members of the Urban League at their convention.

The organization was meeting in Detroit, a Democratic stronghold in a key presidential battleground state. President Bush planned to address the group on Friday.

Kerry was speaking shortly after the Sept. 11 commission released its highly anticipated final report into the nearly three-year-old terrorist attacks. Kerry was briefed on the findings by the leaders of the commission, Thomas Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, via cell phone as he rode to the Urban League speech, said campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter.

Kerry also was receiving the formal endorsement Thursday from Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who has remained in the presidential race despite Kerry’s obvious lock on the party’s nomination.

Kerry’s increased investment in fighting gangs, a new facet of the urban agenda he outlined for the Urban League, would be relatively small at $400 million over 10 years.

Kerry, who is counting on black turnout in his plan to oust Bush, was making his second speech to a civil rights group in less than a week. Last Thursday he spoke to the NAACP, which Bush has declined to address since taking office.

Kerry cited federal statistics that showed gang-related murders rose 40 percent between 2000 and 2002. Kerry criticized the president for proposing cuts to a Clinton-era community police program that could prevent gang violence, but the Bush administration has said the program did not conclusively reduce crime.

Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said spending for law enforcement has risen dramatically under Bush. “Gang violence is a problem in the United States and John Kerry could have given a thoughtful speech and talked about the problem is a thoughtful way. ... He’s simply interested in launching political attacks.”

Kerry’s campaign said his gang plan would bring together federal and state law enforcement with community and religious organizations. Police would not only arrest and punish violent criminals, but also target fellow gang members who commit crimes like drug dealing, gun possession and parole violations.

The Kerry campaign said similar programs in cities like Indianapolis, Rochester, N.Y., and Stockton, Calif., have been successful at making the whole gang accountable for violent members. Meanwhile, Kerry plans to give young people alternatives to a life of crime through drug treatment, help with education and other programs for at-risk youth.

The $400 million Kerry is proposing would be split roughly evenly between funding law enforcement and the alternative programs. Kerry’s campaign said he would pay for the gang program out of a $90 billion fund created by trimming other federal spending, such as cuts to federal contractors and the federal travel budget.