Barack Obama addressed the George Floyd protests happening across the country, condemning acts of violence and encouraging protestors to turn to political action
Advertisement

Barack Obama offered up a "toolkit" for people looking to make concrete changes within the United States policing system, as protests continue in response to George Floyd's killing by a white police officer in Minneapolis last Monday.

The former president, 58, wrote in a new Medium essay that the nationwide protests "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 condemned "the small minority of folks who’ve resorted to violence in various forms, whether out of genuine anger or mere opportunism."

Nationwide protests began last week after Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old black man, died in an encounter with Minneapolis police that was caught on camera and resulted in widespread outrage across the country. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was fired and arrested on third-degree murder charges. The three other officers involved with Floyd's death were also fired. Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told CNN he believes the three officers with Chauvin were "complicit" in Floyd's death.

Former President Obama Accepts The Paul H. Douglas Award For Ethics In Government At The University Of Illinois
President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Illinois in 2018.
| Credit: Scott Olson/Getty

Protests in response to Floyd's killing occurred in dozens of American cities in recent days, resulting in some deaths as well as widely shared videos and images of citizens and police clashing on streets across the country. Many videos shared across social media showed police using aggressive force against people at protests sites, including using vehicles and riot gear against unprotected individuals.

Police Precinct Set on Fire in Minneapolis amid George Floyd Protests
Protestors rally outside the Minneapolis 3rd police precinct on Thursday
| Credit: Steel Brooks/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

President Donald Trump, 73, appeared to encourage law enforcement's use of aggression in a series of tweets over the weekend. Trump went as far as suggesting the use of the military to "shoot" American citizens in one widely condemned tweet.

"When we think about politics, a lot of us focus only on the presidency and the federal government," Obama wrote Monday. "And yes, we should be fighting to make sure that we have a president, a Congress, a U.S. Justice Department, and a federal judiciary that actually recognize the ongoing, corrosive role that racism plays in our society and want to do something about it. But the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels."

Obama, who has endorsed Joe Biden for president, validated those involved in peaceful protests following Floyd's death while encouraging activists to 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," he wrote.

George Floyd Protests
Protestors demonstrate outside of a burning fast food restaurant, in Minneapolis on May 29, 2020. Protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody on May 24, have continued across the country.
| Credit: John Minchillo/AP/Shutterstock

Obama also urged activists to turn their efforts into political action, calling on Americans to vote in local and national elections.

"I've heard some suggest that the recurrent problem of racial bias in our criminal justice system proves that only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more," the father of two wrote. "The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities."

Eventually, "aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands," the former president wrote.

"So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both," Obama continued. "We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform."

Protesters kneel in front of New York City
Protests in New York City on May 31, 2020.
| Credit: John Moore/Getty Images

He directed advocates to a "report and toolkit" from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The 153-page features a seven-step guide Obama says people can follow to learn about "making change" in community policing.

Obama, the country's first black president, directed readers to an Obama Foundation resource page with links on how those protesting for police reform can take direct action.

"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," he also wrote in his essay. "But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful."

Without making direct reference to President Trump's leadership, Obama concluded: "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. Let's get to work."