"We have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly 'normal,' " Obama wrote on Friday

By Adam Carlson
May 29, 2020 01:25 PM
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Former President Barack Obama (left) and George Floyd
Jamie McCarthy/Getty; Facebook

Former President Barack Obama said Friday that he, like "millions of others," was in "anguish" over the death of George Floyd — an unarmed black man seen pleading for air while being arrested on Monday as an officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck.

Floyd, despite saying that "I can’t breathe," died later that night.

Video from the arrest shows him going unconscious with officer Derek Chauvin's knee still holding him down as bystanders urge the police to give him aid.

Chauvin and three others officers involved were quickly fired and various investigations are ongoing. Floyd's family has called for the officers to be charged with murder. According to multiple news outlets, Chauvin was taken into custody on Friday.

In a statement posted to Facebook on Friday, Obama, 58, wrote that he wanted "to share parts of the conversations I’ve had with friends over the past couple days about the footage of George Floyd dying face down on the street under the knee of a police officer in Minnesota."

One man, a "middle-aged African American businessman," had emailed the former president that "I cried when I saw that video. It broke me down. The ‘knee on the neck’ is a metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring the cries for help."

Referencing a viral video of a young gospel singer, Obama wrote,  "Another friend of mine used the powerful song that went viral from 12-year-old Keedron Bryant to describe the frustrations he was feeling."

"The circumstances of my friend and Keedron may be different, but their anguish is the same," Obama wrote. "It’s shared by me and millions of others."

Floyd's death while being arrested — the latest high-profile encounter between law enforcement and unarmed people of color that turned deadly, after Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice and many others — has touched off convulsive protests in Minneapolis and elsewhere in the country, some of which have been violent.

A police precinct was set on fire Thursday night.

President Donald Trump had called video of Floyd in distress "a very shocking sight," but late Thursday he tweeted that some of the violent protestors were "thugs" and seemed to suggest he would have the military shoot looters in Minnesota. (Twitter hid the post from view for "glorifying violence.")

Obama, the nation's first black president, did not specifically comment on the protests on Friday.

He wrote, however, that Floyd's death again highlighted something ugly and inescapable about life for people of color in the U.S.

"It’s natural to wish for life 'to just get back to normal' as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us," he wrote. "But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly 'normal.' "

"This shouldn’t be 'normal' in 2020 America. It can’t be 'normal,' " he wrote. "If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better."

The outcome of Floyd's case, he continued, "will fall mainly on the officials of Minnesota to ensure ... that justice is ultimately done."

"But," he wrote, "it falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station — including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day — to work together to create a 'new normal' in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts."