Former President Barack Obama is speaking out following a weekend of protests across America in the wake of George Floyd‘s death. Floyd died last week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after a police officer held him down with his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than seven minutes as the father repeatedly told the officer he couldn’t breathe.
In an essay for Medium titled “How to Make This Moment the Turning Point for Real Change,” the 44th president of the United States spoke out about ways that the public outcry could be used for progress in America.
“I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting — that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life,” Obama wrote. “But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful. If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.”
The father of two noted that change will be “up to a new generation” while adding that history can provide “basic lessons” that are “worth remembering.”
He began by noting that the “overwhelming majority” of those participating in Black Lives Matter protests “have been peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring,” adding, “They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation — something that police in cities like Camden and Flint have commendably understood.”
Obama went on to acknowledge the “small minority” that turned to violence and destruction, saying, “Let’s not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it. If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves.”
The former commander in chief added that he “couldn’t disagree more” with people who think that protest is the only way to enact change and that government elections are “a waste of time.”
He added that though a lot of emphasis is put on presidential elections, they aren’t always the ones that can make the biggest difference on a local level.
“The elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels,” he continued. “Unfortunately, voter turnout in these local races is usually pitifully low, especially among young people — which makes no sense given the direct impact these offices have on social justice issues, not to mention the fact that who wins and who loses those seats is often determined by just a few thousand, or even a few hundred, votes.”
He added that moving forward, those protesting should have specific demands for criminal justice and police reform, noting, “Every law enforcement agency should have clear policies, including an independent body that conducts investigations of alleged misconduct.”
Obama concluded his post by simply adding, “Let’s get to work.”
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