Former President Barack Obama doesn’t frequently make statements about the state of American politics, so when he does, you know things are serious. After a weekend marked by nationwide uprisings by Black Lives Matter protesters in the wake of the police killing George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the first Black president in United States history penned an essay about how to bring real change.
“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,” he wrote, praising activists for being “peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring. They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation.”
He also addressed the way that many of the protests have escalated to violence — in Minneapolis, one journalist lost her left eye after police shot at her with rubber bullets. “Let’s not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it,” Obama wrote. “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.”
The former president also used the post to highlight the power of voting, in both local and national elections. (There’s a good chance your state delayed elections to this month or July due to the coronavirus pandemic, so make sure you’re registered!)
“The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable,” he wrote. “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. But 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.” He stressed knowing who is running for what office at the state and local level, in addition to the top-ballot positions.
He added, “If we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. 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.”
This is the second time Obama has addressed the nationwide uprisings and the demands for accountability for the white police officers who killed Floyd. Before the weekend, he issued a statement on Floyd’s killing, saying that such police brutality “shouldn’t be ‘normal in 2020 America. It can’t be ‘normal.’ If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better.”
Former First Lady Michelle Obama also issued a statement on Floyd’s death, saying she was “exhausted by a heartbreak that never seems to stop.” They were joined by dozens of celebrities in speaking out against just one of the latest examples of Black people being killed by the police. Many of them also expressed support for Black Lives Matter and condemned systemic, anti-Black racism.