Former President Barack Obama published an essay in which he reflected on his thoughts and hopes for “real change” amid the nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd during an encounter with Minneapolis police.
Titled “How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change,” the June 1 post on Medium from Obama focused on how to translate the anger and frustration felt during this moment into good.
“First, the waves of protests across the country represent a genuine and legitimate frustration over a decades-long failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system in the United States,” Obama wrote in his letter. “The overwhelming majority of participants have been peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring. They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation — something that police in cities like Camden and Flint have commendably understood.”
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Obama would describe later in the essay how the “small minority” of individuals who have turned toward violence in the protests are “compounding the destruction of neighborhoods that are often already short on services and investment and detracting from the larger cause.”
“If history is any guide, that store may take years to come back. So 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.”
Obama would go on to note that while it is important to have leaders at the national level who understand the “corrosive role that racism” plays in our society, but that the “elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.”
The former president closed his essay by noting the role that both protest and politics play in bringing about real change, saying, “the more specific we can make demands for criminal justice and police reform, the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause and then fall back into business as usual once protests have gone away.”
The essay has received more than 40,000 claps on Medium, with commenters praising the former commander-in-chief for his thoughts.
“President Barack Obama’s calm voice of reason has been missed and is very appreciated at this time of crisis,” wrote one commenter.
“I appreciate these actionable insights. Thanks for this, Mr. President,” wrote another.
Prior to his essay, on May 29, Obama published a tweet in which he advocated for justice for Floyd and the need for Americans to create a “new normal".
Floyd, who was black, died while being arrested by Minneapolis police for suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill on May 25. Cellphone video showed that a white officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes while Floyd, who was handcuffed, pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving.
Chauvin now faces murder and manslaughter charges. The three other officers who took part in the arrest were fired but haven't been charged.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, protests have erupted in Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles and many other U.S. cities, ranging from peaceful to violent, with multiple reported instances of looting and vandalism. Some state leaders have implemented curfews in efforts to help keep residents safe, and National Guard troops have been deployed to major U.S. cities in efforts to maintain stability.
President Donald Trump on Monday derided many governors as “weak” and demanded tougher crackdowns on burning and stealing among some demonstrations in the aftermath of another night of violent protests in dozens of American cities.
Trump spoke to governors on a video teleconference that also included law enforcement and national security officials, telling the state leaders they “have to get much tougher."
“Most of you are weak,” Trump said. “You have to arrest people.”
The protests come at a time when people across the United States and the rest of the world are already feeling the tension of the current COVID-19 pandemic, with some health experts worrying that the protests would result in a spike in cases.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.