Former President Barack Obama shared his “despair” about police brutality and racial tensions gripping America, and said Wednesday that reform must start at the local level.
The nation’s first black president urged protesters from coast to coast angry over the death of George Floyd to show the same enthusiasm for voting that that they have for outraged activism.
“This is not an either/or,” Obama said during a virtual town hall. “This is a both/and. To bring about change we have to highlight a problem and make people uncomfortable. But we also have to translate that into practical solutions.”
Obama joined participants in a moment of silence for Floyd, who died last week after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for more than eight minutes during a Memorial Day arrest.
“We have seen in the last several weeks — last few months — the kinds of epic changes and events in our country that are as profound as anything I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Obama said.
“Let me begin by acknowledging that although all of us have been feeling pain and uncertainty and disruption, some of us have been feeling it more than others.”
The former president touched on a string of events highlighting racial disparities — including the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on minority communities, the shooting death of a black Georgia jogger, and the call to cops by a Central Park dog walker who said she felt “threatened” by a black man watching birds.
“To young people who have witnessed too much violence — too often that violence has come from people who are supposed to be protecting them,” Obama said.
“I want you to know you matter. I want you to know your lives matter. You should be able to learn, make mistakes and live a life of joy without wondering what’s going to happen when you go to the store, jog down the street or look at some birds in a park.”
Obama, at the Zoom forum hosted by My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a program established by the Obama Foundation, urged mayors and county executives across the country to review their use of force policies with community members and “commit to making reforms.”
Panelists on the forum, entitled “Reimagining Policing in the Wake of Continued Police Violence,” included Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, and Phillips Cunningham, a member of the Minneapolis City Council.
Obama said he was happy to see demonstrations where cops were kneeling or marching with protesters.
“I know you’re just as outraged about the tragedy in recent weeks as are the protesters,” Obama said. “You’re a vital part of the conversation. Change is going to require everybody’s participation.”
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