Former President Barack Obama addressed the killing of George Floyd and the protests over police brutality that have swept across the U.S. on camera on Wednesday, saying that the demonstrations were an opportunity to “change America and make it live up to its highest ideals.”
Floyd’s killing, along with the recent violent deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, are putting pressure on governments to implement meaningful reforms, Obama said. He suggested that cities and communities should review their “use-of-force policies.”
“We are committed to the fight of creating a more just nation in the memory of your sons and daughters,” Obama said, in a direct message to the families of Floyd, Taylor and Arbery.
Floyd was killed on May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Taylor was killed shot and killed by Louisville Metro Police in March when officers executed a search warrant at her home. Arbery was shot while jogging outside Brunswick, Georgia, on Feb. 23 by two white men.
“As tragic as these past few weeks have been,” Obama said. “As difficult and scary and uncertain as they’ve been, they’ve also been an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened.”
Obama also said that the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted communities of color, have exposed inequities in the healthcare system. He noted that the recent weeks — ones characterized by pandemic, police violence, and mass demonstrations — represent “the kind of epic changes and events in our country that are as profound as anything I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
Obama’s remarks came as part of a virtual discussion, that featured activists and government leaders. The panel included Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, President of Color of Change Rashad Robinson, Minneapolis City Council Representative Phillipe Cunningham, and MBK Columbus Youth Leader Playon Patrick. The event’s organizers began the discussion by noting that more than 1,000 people were killed by police last year, with Black people accounting for 24% of those killed, despite comprising 13% of the population.
Obama said he was particularly pleased that the demonstrations around the country have attracted so many young Americans and noted that young Black Americans have faced obstacles and dangers that other citizens do not.
“You’ve witnessed too much violence, too much death, and too often some of that violence has come from folks who have been supposed to be serving and protecting,” said Obama, adding, “I want you to know that you matter, that your lives matter, that your dreams matter.”
Obama noted that the protests over Floyd’s death have drawn comparisons with the social uprisings of the 1960s. He said he believed that this social cause had more broad-based support than those earlier movements.
“I know enough about that history to say: There is something different here,” Obama said. “You look at those protest and that was a far more representative cross section of America out on the streets, peacefully protesting, who felt moved to do something because of the injustices that they have seen. That didn’t exist back in the 1960s, that kind of broad collation.”
On Tuesday, Obama penned an essay addressing Floyd’s killing, in which he urged readers to get involved in the political process.
“The bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics,” Obama wrote. “We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.”