Barack Obama 'optimistic' US will get better amid protests

3 June 2020, 22:25 | Updated: 3 June 2020, 22:59

Barack Obama was speaking following the death of George Floyd
Barack Obama was speaking following the death of George Floyd. Picture: YouTube
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Former US President Barack Obama has said he is "optimistic" the USA will "get better" amid historic protests following the death of George Floyd.

The 44th President of the US was discussing the tragic events of recent weeks with local and national leaders in the police reform movement in a virtual town hall meeting.

Mr Obama commented on the death of George Floyd - who was killed after former police officer Derek Chauvin was filmed kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes on 25 May - the history of police violence in the country and the required steps towards transforming the system "that has led to the loss of too many lives."

He said: "We have seen in the last several weeks, the 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.

"And let me begin by acknowledging that although all of us have been feeling pain, uncertainty and disruption, some folks have been feeling it more than others."

He continued: "To those families that have been directly affected by tragedy, please know that Michelle and I, and the nation, grieve with you, hold you in our prayers and we are committed to the fight of making a more just nation in memory of your sons and daughters.

"We can't forget that even as we're confronting the particular acts of violence that led to those losses, our nation and the world is still in the midst of a global pandemic that's exposed the vulnerabilities of our healthcare system, but also the disparate treatment and as a consequence the disparate impact that exists within our healthcare system, the unequal investment and the biases that have led to a disproportionate number of infections and loss of life in communities of colour."

Mr Obama added: "As tragic as these past few weeks have been, as difficult and scary and uncertain as they've been, they've also been an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened... they offer an opportunity for us to all work together to tackle them, to take them on, to change America and make it live up to its highest ideals."

He also addressed young black Americans, saying: "I want you to know that you matter. I want you to know that your lives matter. That your dreams matter."

18-year-old Playon Patrick was one of the first to speak during the virtual town hall
18-year-old Playon Patrick was one of the first to speak during the virtual town hall. Picture: YouTube

Mr Floyd's death has sparked protests and riots in the US, as well as spreading across the globe to London, Paris and many other countries.

It comes after Senator Amy Klobuchar confirmed on Wednesday that Chauvin would have his third-degree murder charge elevated to a second-degree charge.

The three other officers who were present at Mr Floyd's death are also to be charged separately with aiding and abetting murder.

President Obama was joined by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, President of Color of Change Rashad Robinson, Minneapolis City Council Representative Phillipe Cunningham, and MBK Columbus Youth Leader Playon Patrick in a conversation moderated by Campaign Zero co-founder Brittany Packnett Cunningham.

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I want 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.⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣ The first is an email from a middle-aged African American businessman.⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣ “Dude I gotta tell you the George Floyd incident in Minnesota hurt. 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. People don’t care. Truly tragic.”⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣ 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. It’s shared by me and millions of others.⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣ It’s natural to wish for life “to just get back to normal” as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly “normal” – whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣ This 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.⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣ It will fall mainly on the officials of Minnesota to ensure that the circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s death are investigated thoroughly and that justice is ultimately done. But 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.

A post shared by Barack Obama (@barackobama) on

In an article published on the former US leader's website, a preview of the discussion read: "Over 1,000 people are killed by police every year in America, and Black people are three times more likely to be killed than White people.

"We can take steps and make reforms to combat police violence and systemic racism within law enforcement."

The post says that Mr Obama "pushed many of these reforms during his time in office" but added that "far more progress remains to be made."

In an Instagram post five days ago, the former President said Mr Floyd's death "shouldn’t be 'normal' in 2020 America."

"If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better," he wrote.

"It will fall mainly on the officials of Minnesota to ensure that the circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s death are investigated thoroughly and that justice is ultimately done.

"But 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."

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