In a post published at Medium, former President Barack Obama offered some advice and guidance for the protestors calling for justice for George Floyd and an end to police brutality. “It’s going to be up to a new generation of activists to shape strategies that best fit the times. But I believe there are some basic lessons to draw from past efforts that are worth remembering.” Obama begins, acknowledging that the “overwhelming majority of participants have been peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring” but cautioned protestors to not get swept up in the violence of the small minority who are causing property damage and looting.
As millions of people across the country take to the streets and raise their voices in response to the killing of George Floyd and the ongoing problem of unequal justice, I’ve heard many ask how we can sustain momentum to bring about real change.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) June 1, 2020
“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 also called for protestors to channel their energy and passion into the political process, recognizing that historically the political system is responsive to marginalized communities following civil disobedience but stressing that “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.”
While it’s easy to dismiss Obama’s remarks as a veiled Biden endorsement ad geared toward increasing voter turnout, much of President Obama’s advice revolves around people participating on the local level, writing “It’s mayors and county executives that appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police unions. It’s district attorneys and state’s attorneys that decide whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct. Those are all selected positions.”
In closing, Obama offered a few words of hope that address a particularly tumultuous year in American history,
“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. But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful. 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.”
Read President Obama’s full message here.