President Clinton, at Howard County's Mayfield Woods Middle School yesterday, called on Congress to continue funds to stop the "dangerous rise in juvenile violence" and awarded almost $1 million to Baltimore for new police officers to fight gangs and drugs.
"I am so sick and tired of picking up the newspaper and reading stories about honor students standing at bus stops and being shot down," Mr. Clinton said.
"I'm sick and tired of reading stories of a 16-year-old boy shooting a 12-year-old boy because he thought he was treated with disrespect."
The $1 million grant to Baltimore was one of 10 announced by the Department of Justice to encourage police to find new ways to fight youth violence. It will pay for 24 more officers for enforcement and juvenile activities in Northwest and South Baltimore, city police said.
An enthusiastic crowd of more than 1,500 Howard County students, parents, educators and politicians on the school's front parking lot withstood a glaring sun to embrace the president's visit -- at times pushing and shoving to get a chance to shake Mr. Clinton's hand or take his picture.
Anticipation over the first presidential visit to Howard since 1978 had been building since last week, and even several county firefighters snapped photos while on duty.
"It's been a wonderful opportunity to show off our school and our entire school system," said Susan Cook, Howard County school board chairwoman. "This has really been an honor for all of us."
Amid tight security, the president came to the Elkridge middle school to kick off a national drug awareness campaign known as the Red Ribbon Celebration and to mark the one-year anniversary of his anti-crime bill. The bill banned assault weapons and provided billions of dollars to hire more police officers and build new prisons.
After his 19-minute speech, Mr. Clinton led Mayfield Woods' 750 students in the recitation of the National Family Partnership's drug-free pledge and joined students in signing a board with the same pledge. The board will be carried around the country to promote drug awareness, and the ceremony was filmed for a substance-abuse TV commercial to be aired nationally this fall.
The president told Mayfield Woods students that marijuana use is on the rise among U.S. teen-agers, adding: "It's wrong, it's illegal, it's dangerous, it's a horrible first step, and we have got to turn that around."
The Mayfield Woods student who received the most attention from the president was eighth-grader Terrell Brice, 13, chosen to introduce Mr. Clinton.
Terrell almost did not get that honor as White House officials earlier had expressed concern to the school that the president's program would be an all-male affair unless Terrell was replaced with a female student, Howard school officials said.
Terrell was allowed to participate when U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno decided to speak at the ceremony, and Terrell's calm composure and poignant thoughts about having seen how drugs can harm the lives of friends ended up stealing the show.
Mr. Clinton "asked me a couple of times if I was nervous, and he was very, very friendly," Terrell said afterward. "I was kind of nervous when I heard . . . my name, but once I got started speaking, I was OK."
In their speeches, Mr. Clinton and Ms. Reno stressed the success of last year's crime bill, which the president described as "one of the proudest accomplishments of my term." He said that it had resulted in 25,000 new police officers and a nationwide decline in violent crime.
Reno issues warning
Nevertheless, Ms. Reno warned that "we must be prepared for the next challenge that faces us -- the rising level of youth violence and youth victimization."
Proposed congressional cuts to such federal legislation as the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act will worsen that violence, Mr. Clinton said. Under these proposals, Maryland would lose $3.5 million, more than half the federal money it receives to pay for school drug prevention programs, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
"This is not about balancing the budget. I am for balancing the budget," Mr. Clinton said. "The purpose of balancing the budget is to lift the burden of debt on the young people in this audience, but we cannot do that if balancing the budget undermines our economy or the quality of life . . . by harming young people."
Among those joining Mr. Clinton at the school yesterday were White House drug control policy Director Lee P. Brown, Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.
After the ceremony, Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier pledged that city will use the new $1 million grant to fight rising juvenile crime in the Park Heights and Cherry Hill neighborhoods through stricter enforcement and more activities for juveniles.
In a private reception inside the school before his speech, Mr. Clinton met briefly with top Howard officials, exchanging pleasantries about the county's respected school system.
Howard school board member Linda Johnston -- a school health analyst for the U.S. Public Health Service -- said she thanked Mr. Clinton for coming, but urged him not to cut her federal agency and "to keep us in business."
Before flying back to Washington in a Marine helicopter, Mr. Clinton waded into a sea of parents and students to shake hands, delighting hundreds of children.
"He shook my hand! He shook my hand!" screamed seventh-grader Candice Washington, 12, to her friends. "I can't believe it!"
But not everyone was so thrilled by the president's presence, particularly after having to spend up to three hours sitting in the sun.
"I thought it was boring," complained eighth-grader Leif Romsass.