George Floyd’s death as a result of criminal misconduct by four former officers from the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), struck a nerve in the public and in former President Barack Obama, who gave his first statement on-camera regarding Floyd’s May 25 death and the nationwide protests that followed, during an online town hall that aired on June 3. President Obama also published an op-ed on Medium on June 1.
“In the last several weeks, the kinds of epic changes and events in our country are as profound as anything that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Obama said during the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance-hosted event. “In a lot of ways, what has happened in the last several weeks is that challenges and structural problems here in the United States have been thrown into high relief. They are the outcomes not just of the immediate moment in time, but as the result of a long history of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining and institutionalized racism.”
Speaking to mayors across the nation, Obama called on them to review use-of-force policies with community members and to aggressively pursue a plan of police reform. “Chokeholds and strangleholds, that’s not what we do,” Obama said.
Atlanta’s Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms accepted the charge, via Twitter, writing, “I will issue an Executive Order establishing a Commission of stakeholders and organizers to examine our use of force policies and call upon them to make recommendations accordingly.”
Atlanta accepts the challenge @BarackObama. I will issue an Executive Order establishing a Commission of stakeholders and organizers to examine our use of force policies and call upon them to make recommendations accordingly. Thank you for your leadership. @MBK_Alliance— Keisha Lance Bottoms (@KeishaBottoms) June 3, 2020
On supporting protests:
“Part of what’s made me so hopeful is the fact that so many young people have been galvanized and activated and motivated and mobilized because historically so much of the progress that we’ve made in our society has been because of young people. Dr. King was a young man when he got involved. Cesar Chavez was a young man. Malcolm X was a young man. The leaders of the feminist movement were young people. Leaders of union movements were young people. The leaders of the environmental movement in this country and the movement to make sure that the LGBT community finally had a voice and was represented were young people. When sometimes I feel despair, I just see what’s happening with young people all across the country and the talent and the voice and the sophistication that they’re displaying, and it makes me feel optimistic. It makes me feel as if this country is going to get better.”
Voting vs. protesting:
“The bottom line is, I’ve been hearing a little bit of chatter in the internet about voting versus protest, politics and participation versus civil disobedience and direct action. This is not an either/or this is a both/and. To bring about real change, we both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable, but we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that can be implemented and we can monitor and make sure we’re following up on.”
Keeping the pressure on:
“I just have to say thank you to them and for helping to bring about this moment and just make sure that we now follow through, because at some point attention moves away, at some point protests start to dwindle in size. It’s very important for us to take the momentum that has been created as a society, as a country, and say let’s use this to finally have an impact.”