ATTORNEY GENERAL SESSIONS DELIVERS REMARKS TO THE 2017 GANGS ACROSS THE CAROLINAS TRAINING SYMPOSIUM
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you Mark for that kind introduction, for your leadership as President of the North Carolina Gang Investigators Association, and especially for your decades of service in law enforcement. I also want to thank acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Hairston and Special Agent in Charge C.J. Hyman of the ATF for being here. The Department of Justice is proud of your work.
And to all of you—to the state, federal, and local law enforcement officers from all across North Carolina who are here today—thank you for your service to your communities and this country. I want you to know that President Trump understands the importance of law and order in America, and strongly affirms and supports your work. Whether you’re from the Piedmont, from the coast, or whether you’re from Wilcox County, Alabama—no matter what your jurisdiction is—we are all united in our mission of reducing crime and bringing criminals to justice. We are all in this together.
And we all face the threat of violent gangs. This is not just a big city problem. I heard recently about Hamlet, North Carolina, where this year’s annual Independence Day celebration was canceled suddenly because of threats of gang violence. This is in a town of about 7,000 people. I certainly respect the decision of the city leaders, but it is infuriating and wrong to me that they had to make it. This is America. We will not be held hostage in our homes by gangsters.
I want to thank you for holding these annual meetings for 16 years now. You and I both know that so much of law enforcement is collaboration, relationships, and trust. These gatherings foster that critical trifecta. I firmly believe that all of you are the best resource that we have. More than 85 percent of law enforcement officers in this country are at the state or local level. Some of you are on patrol in the neighborhoods where you grew up. And by getting together to share intelligence and best practices, you’re better equipped to deal with the threat of criminal gangs.
Gangs seek to profit off of the victimization of others through drug trafficking, extortion, murdering rivals, robbing innocent bystanders, and trafficking vulnerable juveniles for sex. They are outlaws. Officers in this room have lived this reality. You know about Josie Lindsay, a 73-year old grandmother from High Point, North Carolina, who was gunned down in her own house, an innocent bystander who is now the latest tragic victim of gang cross fire. Because of some despicable gang member, her 18 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren will never get to feel her embrace or hear her voice again. I am obviously preaching to the choir, You’ve been to the crime scenes. You’ve seen the terrible aftermath of gang warfare and drug crimes. You know what is at stake.
And you also know that this threat has only been growing. According to the FBI’s most recent National Gang Report, approximately half of the gang investigators they surveyed said that gang membership and gang activity were increasing. Approximately one third of jurisdictions reported an increase in threats to law enforcement. In recent years, North Carolina has been one of the many parts of this country that has experienced increasing violent crime and homicide. Nationally, the murder rate surged by nearly 11 percent just in one year—the biggest increase since 1968. The homicide rate is up in 27 out of the 35 biggest cities in the United States. And as the homicide rate has gone up, the fatal overdose rate has gone up even faster. More Americans are dying of drug overdoses today than ever before. Based on preliminary data, nearly 60,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses last year. That’s about the population of Chapel Hill. That will be the highest drug death toll and the fastest increase in that death toll in American history. In North Carolina, annual drug overdose deaths have tripled since 1999.
Most of the heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine in this country that is killing our fellow Americans was brought across our porous Southern border by powerful Mexican drug cartels—by transnational criminal organizations. But as the gang threat has grown, so have our efforts to fight back. The Department of Justice is using every lawful resource that we have. But our best resource in this fight is you. And we need you. Gangs are more effective than other criminals because they work together. We’re a lot more effective when we work together, too. And we are working together. I’m proud of the work that our law enforcement officers do all over this country, and I’m especially proud of the results that some of you have accomplished recently. In April, two Bloods gang members in Charlotte were sentenced for executing two witnesses in a robbery case. Thanks to the FBI, Charlotte police, the York County sheriff’s office and our assistant U.S. Attorneys, these dangerous murderers now will spend the rest of their lives behind bars—where they can no longer inflict carnage in our communities.
One month later, more than 600 law enforcement officers came together to arrest more than 70 alleged members of the Bloods. Together, these defendants have been charged with a whole host of crimes including murder and attempted murder, narcotics trafficking, weapons charges, bank fraud, and wire fraud. These charges are the next step in neutralizing the threat posed by the Bloods to North Carolina. And this is an outstanding example of cooperation between law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels. Whether it is MS-13, the Bloods, or Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs, gangs are targeting our youth and law-abiding citizens. But I have news them: WE ARE TARGETING YOU.
President Trump is serious about supporting our state and local law enforcement. That is why he sent my Department three executive orders when I took office. One directs us to be supportive of law enforcement. A second declared that our mission is to reduce crime. And the third requires us to dismantle transnational criminal organizations. These are our goals and we are getting after them. Carrying out the President’s first executive order—to support law enforcement—helps us carry out the second—reducing crime. The Department is working at your side to crack down on gun crimes and drugs. In March, I ordered our prosecutors to prioritize violent crime and firearms offenses, and in that short time we’ve seen a 23 percent increase in the number of federal gun prosecutions.
Further, since the beginning of this year, the Department of Justice has secured more than 1,200 convictions against gang members.Our fight against MS-13 has been emblematic of this greater effort. With more than 40,000 members worldwide—including 10,000 in the United States—MS-13 threatens the lives and wellbeing of every American. MS-13 members brutally rape, rob, extort, and murder. MS-13 has executed and permanently disfigured innocent bystanders to their crimes. They have attacked innocent people with chains, bats, and machetes. They destroy the lives of the innocent middle schoolers they recruit for membership, the young girls they entrap, gang rape, and sell for sex, and the drug addicts they exploit for profit. Guided by their motto: “Kill, Rape, and Control,” they leave misery, devastation, and death in their wake. But at the U.S. Department of Justice, we have motto too: justice for victims and consequences for criminals. This is our motto and that is our mission.
Even though MS-13 is based in El Salvador, its tentacles reach across Central America, Europe, and through 40 U.S. States, to within yards of the U.S. Capitol. I wish I could say that North Carolina has not been affected by MS-13. But they’re here and the threat is serious. Some of you may remember that back in November, two MS-13 members in Charlotte were sentenced to life in prison for murder. They murdered someone because he wore red, the color of a rival gang. This is how easy it is to be killed by a gang: wear the wrong clothing or the wrong haircut or walk in the wrong neighborhood. A third MS-13 member was sentenced to 70 months in prison for attempted murder and 29 other MS-13 gang members were previously sentenced in connection with this case.
Several weeks ago I visited El Salvador to meet with their Attorney General, Douglas Menendez. We discussed our efforts to cut off MS-13 at its roots, and we put our plans into action. Within a span of just 48 hours, approximately 700 gang members were charged in El Salvador. Hopefully that is 700 gang members that will never reach America and replenish the cliques that we are dismantling and whose members we are incarcerating.
We will not let up, you will not let up. We will combat this threat, take the fight to them, and devastate these criminal enterprises. We will refuse to cede one block, one street corner, one inch to these gangs. They must never assert their sovereignty over American soil. It will not be easy, but I have complete faith in our prosecutors and our law enforcement at every level. This is the work waiting for us when we leave this conference. As you go back to your patrols or back to your desks, I want you to remember this: every day at the Department of Justice, we recognize the vital work that you do. We honor your mission and we will always have your back.
It has been clear to me that no matter what happens, it is a privilege like no other to serve in law enforcement and to wake up each morning to fight for the rule of law. That is what you do. It is hard work and I know that it is often thankless. But the right to be safe in your community is the right on which all the others are based—and it is a right that the American people would not have without law enforcement.
I want to thank you all for making a commitment to this difficult, but noble work. God bless you all. I look forward to working with each of you to make our country safer. Thank you.