Remarks at a White House Ceremony Observing Crime Victims Week

April 18, 1983

The Attorney General. Mr. President, last year you appointed a commission on the victims of crime, called the Task Force on the Victims of Crime, to study the problems of victims and to make recommendations to vindicate the rights of victims. That task force completed its work, made 68 recommendations, and those recommendations are now being studied by those of us at the Justice Department and others who are concerned with this problem -- victims being the forgotten people in the criminal justice system.

The Chairman of that commission -- that task force was Mrs. Lois Herrington, a distinguished lawyer from California, who is the acting head of our Office of Justice Assistance, Research and Statistics. And I would like to introduce her to you now. Lois.

Mrs. Herrington. Thank you very much, Mr. Attorney General. Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, it's an honor and a pleasure to be here with you this afternoon.

Mr. President, when you established this task force, you led the Nation into a new era in the treatment of victims of crime. Never before has any President recognized the plight of those forgotten by the criminal justice system. It is my privilege to introduce to you five citizens who have given invaluable assistance to your task force. They represent hundreds of others who came forward, some at great personal sacrifice, to inform us all of the depth of this problem.

Mrs. Evelyn Blackwell is a widow from Washington, D.C. She has given us a special sense of the problems crime imposes on senior citizens, and she is a model for how those courageous citizens can fight back.

Since 1975 her home has been broken into five times and her limited income has prevented her from replacing most of those things taken from her. Gradually, she came to fear that no place, including her home, was safe. But because of her spirit and a refusal to give up, Mrs. Blackwell has been working to combat crime in her neighborhood, especially crimes against the elderly. In addition, she and a staff of 40 volunteers accompany elderly victims to court to ease the burden of this process on them.

Her creative and productive response to her own misfortunes serves as an inspiration to all who are working to improve the lot of victims in this country.

Mr. President, may I present Mrs. Evelyn Blackwell.

Mr. Elvus Regalia is a California pharmacist who was driven out of business by crime. Mr. Regalia owned and operated his own pharmacy for some 24 years, during which time he was burglarized six times and robbed on three separate occasions.

During one robbery, he and two others were held hostage at gunpoint. Mr. Regalia always cooperated with authorities, even though numerous court appearances required that he repeatedly close his business. Eventually, the financial drain on his business, coupled with increasing fear, forced Mr. Regalia to sell the business he and his family had worked to build.

He now works as a pharmacist in San Quentin Prison. And he testified that although he rubs elbows with murderers and convicts now, he feels safer than the neighborhood pharmacist who serves the public.

Mr. President, I would like you to meet Mr. Elvus Regalia.

Mrs. Geraldine Strong is a victim of crime whose injuries were magnified by the callous way she was treated in the legal system. Mrs. Strong was at work one morning at a Maryland public library when an assailant with a long criminal history kidnaped her at gunpoint, held her captive for 3 hours while he raped, robbed, and repeatedly threatened to kill her if she ever testified against him.

Though Mrs. Strong's attacker was arrested at the scene of the crime, it took the system a year to bring him to trial. Mrs. Strong told your task force that, ``my disillusionment with the judicial system is many times more painful than the attacks on me.''

But she has not succumbed to her disillusionment. She has volunteered to help train law enforcement professionals to improve their sensitivity and service to victims of crime.

Mr. President, I would like you to meet Mrs. Geraldine Strong.

All too often the pain and suffering that victims of crime experience continues long after the passage of the criminal event itself. Last year, three men entered the St. Louis home of Harold and Lily Tuthill and savagely beat them both.

In addition to taking money, these criminals stole the mementos of their lifetime together. Efficient police work led to the quick apprehension of the criminals. But the Tuthills have spent long periods in hospitals recovering from their physical and psychological injuries. The continuing fear that resulted from the attack forced them to move from their home of 40 years. Their lives will never truly be the same.

Mr. President, I would like you to meet Mr. Harold Tuthill.

Mrs. Betty Jane Spencer is a brave and dedicated woman. In February 1977, four men with shotguns entered the Spencer home in rural Indiana, robbed the family, murdered Mrs. Spencer's four sons, and shot her three times.

When apprehended, the killers admitted they had picked a house at random to kill everyone in it ``for the fun of it.'' The ringleader of the group was on parole, and he and another killer were also free on bail, awaiting trial for other crimes.

Mrs. Spencer went to work to improve the system of justice in her State. As a result of her efforts and of citizens like her, more than 20 laws have been changed to better protect and assist victims of crime in Indiana. She has been a true champion of the cause of crime victims, and I'm very proud to introduce her to you.

Mr. President, I would like you to meet Betty Jane Spencer.

The President. Attorney General Smith, Mrs. Herrington, and ladies and gentlemen:

Standing here in the Rose Garden listening to these dreadful stories of senseless brutality seems almost unreal. But for far too many of our citizens, the threat of violent crime is, as we've heard, all too real.

I would like to thank all of you -- Mrs. Blackwell, Mrs. Strong, Mrs. Spencer, Mr. Regalia, and Mr. Tuthill -- as well as all the citizens who have come forward to help us come to grips with this very serious problem. You've acted in the highest tradition of our country. By your courage and selflessness, you've done your nation a great service.

I think the time has come when we, as a free people, should face up to some hard decisions about crime. The crime epidemic threat has spread throughout our country, and it's no uncontrollable disease, much less an irreversible tide. Nor is it some inevitable sociological phenomenon, traceable to urbanization or modern society. It is, instead, and in large measure, a cumulative result of too much emphasis on the protection of the rights of the accused and too little concern for our government's responsibility to protect the lives, homes, and rights of our law-abiding citizens.

We should be proud that our criminal justice system protects the constitutional rights of the accused. But over the past few years, that system has allowed the safeguards protecting the rights of the innocent to be torn away. This has so complicated the system, clogged our courts, and reduced the chances of conviction -- as well as the level of punishment once a criminal is convicted -- that the criminal element now calculates that crime really does pay.

The suffering of these victims we've met today and the millions of others, as well, is testimony to the inequity and the inadequacy of today's system. Our Task Force on Victims of Crime called the neglect and mistreatment of crime victims a national disgrace. I heartily agree. What we have to do now is move forward to correct this disgrace and, at the same time, to clear away the roadblocks that prevent the authorities from doing their job. But we need your help. Prompt enactment of our anticrime package, particularly the bail reform and sentencing provisions, is needed to protect victims from criminals. The voice of the people must be heard in the Congress.

It will take time and hard work to undo the distortions of our criminal justice system that brought on this wave of crime. But under Attorney General Smith and his leadership, we're moving on these tough questions.

Finally, while Washington is a vital part of tackling the problem, it will also take the coordinated efforts of people in State and local government and in every walk of life to get this situation under control. Without action at the State and local level, our Federal efforts can achieve little.

Ultimately, if we're to succeed, each of us, as citizens, must do his or her part not only through contacting elected officials, though that always helps, but also by watching out for our friends, our families, and our communities. Crime prevention is no longer just a job for the police. Every level of government and Americans everywhere must take an active part. Many neighborhoods have a crime watch program. I would hope that more and more of our citizens take the time and effort to get involved.

So, thank you all for what you're doing. And, together, I'm confident that we can begin to make America safe again. Thank you.

Mrs. Herrington. Mr. President, I know that I speak on behalf of these courageous Americans and citizens around this nation that thank you for your dedication and your concern.

Note: The ceremony began at 1:45 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. Lois H. Herrington was Chairman of the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime, which submitted its final report to the President on January 27.