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  4. Secretary Mayorkas Delivers Remarks at 10th Annual African American Mayors Association Conference

Secretary Mayorkas Delivers Remarks at 10th Annual African American Mayors Association Conference

Release Date: April 26, 2024

Secretary Mayorkas delivered the following remarks in a keynote address at the 10th Annual African American Mayors Association Conference in Atlanta, GA.

Last March, a large and destructive tornado touched down in Rolling Fork, Mississippi – a town of just less than 2,000 people a few miles from the Louisiana border. Seventeen people were killed, more than 150 were injured, and whole blocks of the town were simply blown away – 300 homes were destroyed, and more than 500 people were displaced.

Three days after that terrible tragedy, I traveled to Rolling Fork to meet with survivors, and to ensure Mayor Eldridge Walker had the support he needed from the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA as he and his team led the town’s recovery and response work. In the days following that trip, DHS and our Administration partners helped ensure that the cost of debris removal and overtime for local first responders were covered by the federal government. We opened four Disaster Recovery Centers, and we deployed hundreds of Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams to cut through red tape and expeditiously got over $11 million in cash grants into the hands of survivors, helping them cover the cost of temporary housing, home repair, and the replacement of lost personal property.

In the 21 years since our Department’s founding, we have responded to hundreds of natural disasters like that tornado, in cities and towns of every size, in every corner of our country. To do so is one of our founding charges – indeed, when President Bush first addressed the nation to propose the creation of Homeland Security, he noted that among the new Department’s most prominent duties would be to “work with state and local authorities to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies.” Countless communities, including some of yours, know first-hand the breadth of resources and support our Department can bring during a moment of great need.

The same is true of our work as it relates to another of our Department’s founding charges, tasked in the aftermath of 9/11: preventing acts of terrorism and targeted violence.

Though the U.S. continues to be in a heightened threat environment, and our team remains devoted to countering the threat of foreign terrorism, today we also confront lone offenders – individuals and small groups already present in the United States and radicalized to violence based on ideologies of hate, personal grievances, anti-government sentiment, and false conspiracy theories. We now live in a world where anyone, in any town, anywhere, can be a target. Our support and our prevention resources, therefore, are available to, and utilized by, communities of every size, everywhere.

Following the horrific, racist murder of ten Black Americans at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo two years ago, our Department worked with the State of New York to help prevent another such act of targeted violence. We engaged with officials across the state, including some of you here today, to help individual communities access grant funding; develop and implement a Targeted Violence Prevention Strategy; and bring together intergovernmental teams of public health practitioners, social service providers, educators, and law enforcement professionals to better identify opportunities for intervention before tragedy could strike. This collaboration has yielded real results: hundreds of referrals have been made to behavioral threat assessment and management teams in counties across the state, at least two of which led to the discovery of drafted manifestos and stockpiled weapons.

I share these stories to make clear the power of, and critical need for, partnership between DHS and the nation’s cities in service of our common mission of ensuring the safety and security of our country. The importance of such partnership will only grow in the months and years ahead.

The threats now facing our country constitute far more than just the natural disasters and targeted violence we regularly work with all of you to help mitigate. Fentanyl and other deadly drugs, cyber threats to critical infrastructure, the increasing aggressiveness of adverse nation-states, climate change, the scourges of human trafficking and online child sexual exploitation, unprecedented global and Hemispheric migration, and much more – today, all can pose a significant challenge to any locality.

We know that no government can effectively confront these diverse and evolving challenges alone.

Yet we know, too, that when any of these challenges do arise, it is often the mayor who is turned to for answers, and when tragedy strikes, it is the mayor who is expected to pick up the pieces of a devastated, broken community.

That is why I wanted to be here in Atlanta this afternoon: to make clear to you, and to your communities, that the Department of Homeland Security – your Department of Homeland Security – is committed to assisting you before, during, and after any modern threat to our safety and security presents itself.

One need not look beyond the last few weeks to see proof of this.

When the Francis Scott Key Bridge tragically collapsed in Baltimore last month, our U.S. Coast Guard response assets, including rescue boats and helicopter crews, were on the scene within minutes of the collapse, leading search and rescue operations in those critical early hours alongside city, county, and state partners. Our marine investigators and pollution response experts moved quickly to contain potential environmental damage and gather evidence from the accident scene in the days following the collapse. Coast Guard crews joined the Unified Command and remain on the scene today, one month later, working closely with our administration counterparts, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, and Maryland Governor Wes Moore to restart the flow of commerce through the Port of Baltimore, stabilize the city’s economy, and safeguard our critical supply.

As online threats grow in complexity and diversity by the day, DHS last week – just last week – launched Know2Protect, our newest public awareness and education campaign, to bring communities together to stop one of the most heinous and most urgent emerging digital dangers facing our communities: online child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Last year, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received more than 36 million cyber tips, and the volume of incoming reports has increased more than 20 percent over the past three years. In too many places, the web is growing darker and darker, and its real-world effects can be starkly seen in numerous reports of young people who took their own lives after falling victim to sextortion attempts.

Know2Protect helps communities prevent these tragedies and safeguard against these threats by providing free resources, trainings, and tools that children, adults, schools, and community leaders can all use to learn how to recognize and report attempted exploitation and abuse, and how to get help when it is needed.

Education and awareness can make a difference: This past October, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agents conducted such a training at a school in Tennessee. Following the presentation, a young girl in attendance came up to the Special Agents, accompanied by her parents, and told them that an adult male had contacted her on social media, sent her sexually explicit imagery of himself, and persuaded her to produce and send her own. The child received victim assistance, and federal prosecution of the perpetrator is now being pursued.

That is the kind of life-saving outcome that our close, continued partnership has the power to deliver for communities across our country. It is what the American people expect and deserve from us, and it is why I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here and connect with all of you today.

I use that word, connect, intentionally. Effective partnership cannot be a one-way street. Our collective security is far better served when you – the nation’s mayors – those who know best what challenges your community is facing, and what is needed to mitigate those challenges – share your unique insight and experiences with those of us in Washington.

Early in my tenure as Secretary, I reviewed years of research showing that FEMA had, historically, if unintentionally, rejected disaster aid applications at a higher rate for minority and poor populations, particularly in the South. Local leaders helped us see where the disconnect lay: In communities where homes were commonly passed down from generation-to-generation, decades- or even centuries-old deeds were often misplaced, damaged, or even nonexistent, making it much more difficult for disaster survivors to produce the documentation we made necessary to qualify for FEMA home repair funds.

That local insight helped lead our Department, in 2021, to significantly expand the range of document options to prove homeownership – utility bills, or even an affidavit – an early step in our ongoing work to ensure our services, resources, and support are accessible to all, and no one is unjustly left behind.

Together, we helped more homeowners get the support they were entitled to.

Convenings like this, and the connections made here, are essential to building a better future. For 10 years, under the leadership of Mayor Patterson-Howard and many others, the African American Mayors Association has been essential to facilitating the partnerships and support our nation’s leaders depend on.

Thank you very much to all of you for being here; thank you for your leadership and stewardship; and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.

Thank you.


Last Updated: 04/29/2024
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