Thank you, Mayor [Bill] de Blasio, for those kind words; for your dedication to promoting equality and expanding opportunity; and for your service to the people of this great city – the city I call home. I would also like to recognize High Commissioner for Human Rights [Prince Zeid Ra’ad] Al Hussein and the UN-Habitat program for their inspiring work and bold leadership as we work to create a future of sustainable peace, development and opportunity. And I’d like to thank all of the mayors and other municipal leaders who are helping to ensure safe and prosperous futures for our communities and our world by serving on the Steering Committee of the Strong Cities Network. It’s a pleasure to join such a distinguished group of world leaders on this historic occasion and it’s a privilege to represent the Obama Administration and the United States as we inaugurate this innovative, collaborative and critically important global effort.
We gather today at a crucial moment of challenge and opportunity for the security of our nations and the well-being of humankind. Fourteen years ago, not far from where we stand today, terrorists carried out a vicious assault on democratic values and inclusive societies everywhere. Their brutal attack claimed the lives of thousands of innocent victims – including citizens from 90 nations. And in the years since that morning when terror rained from the sky, we have continued to see violent extremists emerge from within our own communities – from terrorists inspired by groups like ISIL to fanatics motivated by hatred against religious or ethnic factions. Some aspire to travel overseas to train or to fight. Others plot attacks on targets within their homelands. But all are antithetical to the shared vision and common cause that joins us here today in this renowned international forum: commitment to collaboration; dedication to peace; and devotion to the cause of justice within our nations and throughout the world.
It is clear that the challenge of building resilience against violent extremism – a challenge that spans vast oceans and borders while impacting our most tightly-knit cities and towns – requires a response that is both wide-ranging and highly focused. National governments have a crucial role to play in ensuring the safety and security of the nations they serve – and here in the United States, it is our highest priority. Neither the Justice Department I lead nor the administration in which I serve will ever back down from our commitment and our responsibility to safeguard our citizens and defend our homeland. But as a lifelong prosecutor and as a former United States Attorney here in New York, I have also seen firsthand how local authorities can serve as the front lines of our defense against violent extremism. As residents and experts in their communities, local leaders are often best positioned to pinpoint sources of unrest and discord; best equipped to identify signs of potential danger; and best able to recognize and accommodate community cultures, traditions, sensitivities and customs. By creating a series of partnerships that draws on the knowledge and expertise of our local officials, we can create a more effective response to this virulent threat.
The government of the United States is fully invested in this collaborative approach and we have seen the value of empowering local communities by promoting initiatives they design and lead themselves. Through our Model Regions program, federal officials have partnered with a wide array of local stakeholders – including government and public safety officers, social service providers, educators, businesses and nonprofits – to build and implement community resilience frameworks tailored to the unique needs of residents. In Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota, for example, government officials, private partners and civic leaders have come together to create a mentorship program for Somali youth; to build an “opportunity hub” that provides educational resources and job training; and to contribute to a program called Youthprise that is forging connections between community organizations, investors and young people. At the same time, officials in the Greater Boston region are exploring the connection between criminal justice and public health by partnering with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services to tap their experience with violence prevention and intervention. And in the Denver area, the United States Attorney’s Office has led a multifaceted community engagement and education effort involving all levels of government. These initiatives and others like them were the subject of a convening just two weeks ago, organized by our Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, in conjunction with the Police Executive Research Forum, which brought together law enforcement executives and community partners from over a dozen cities to plan ways to translate these cutting-edge programs into new regions.
These efforts have shown us the power of harnessing local expertise and leveraging local leadership to create targeted and effective approaches to eradicating violent extremism in any community. We have learned that open dialogue and consistent engagement with a wide range of constituents is essential to crafting strategies and forging partnerships that will address the full scope of the threats we face. We have seen that communities must be empowered to take these steps themselves so that the prevention approaches they design are crafted for their unique situations. And we have observed the need for a mechanism that will expand the most effective efforts to reach more people around the globe – a way to highlight the best local ideas so that they can be adapted for use in other communities.
Until now, we have lacked that mechanism. We haven’t had the benefit of sustained or coordinated cooperation among the growing number of cities and municipalities that are confronting this ongoing challenge. Communities have too often been left isolated and alone. But through the Strong Cities Network that we have unveiled today, we are making the first systematic effort in history to bring together cities around the world to share experiences, to pool resources and to forge partnerships in order to build local cohesion and resilience on a global scale. Today we tell every city, every town and every community that has lost the flower of its youth to a sea of hatred – you are not alone. We stand together and we stand with you.
This is a truly groundbreaking endeavor. By connecting municipal leaders, facilitating information-sharing and providing training and other assistance where appropriate, the Strong Cities Network will help to fashion a global response to a global issue, without losing sight of its inherently local roots. It will offer city leaders a way to learn from one another about successful initiatives and productive programs. It will provide a platform for discussing community policing and prevention strategies that safeguard the individual rights of citizens. And it will support the practical delivery of community resilience programs in cities that are taking a new look at this evolving issue.
I want you to know that the Obama Administration is deeply committed to ensuring that the Strong Cities Network is as strong, vibrant and resilient as the cities it unites – because we know this model works. Here in the United States, we have joined with local partners to bring down far-flung human trafficking rings, to strengthen trust in law enforcement, to thwart cybersecurity threats and to combat official and international corruption. Our experience tells us that partnering with city-level officials and the communities they represent extends the reach and deepens the perspective of national governments and international alliances. And connecting those localities to one another – as the Strong Cities Network is doing – is not only a powerful way to lift up our communities worldwide. It also sends a message about who we are and what we aspire to be – as an alliance of nations and as a global community. When the representatives of the Strong Cities Network join together for their first Annual Summit in Paris in Spring 2016, they will be making a strong and clear statement to their citizens and to the world: we stand united against violence, united against fear and united in the pursuit of a better and brighter future.
This work will not be easy. There will be difficult days for us all. But the spirit of collaboration I see before me today – the devotion to partnership and mutual support – gives me confidence in our effort and hope for the journey ahead. Thank you, once again, for your outstanding service. Thank you for your visionary leadership on a project without precedent. And thank you for your commitment to the mission of our time.
At this time, I would like to turn things over to Sasha Havlicek, the Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.