Today, June 1st, former President Barack Obama released a statement about George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police officer Derek Chavin and the nationwide protests that are currently taking place as a result. He wrote about specific steps for all of us to effect change and resources we can use to help.
“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, many people have reached out asking how we can sustain momentum to bring about real change,” Obama began in a post via the Medium platform. “Ultimately, 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.”
He stated that the widespread protest of unjust police brutality against Black Americans is “a decades-long failure to reform police practices” and the U.S. criminal justice system. However, he urged protesters to remain peaceful and non-violent, no matter how angry they are.
“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 wrote.
He also stressed the importance of using your vote to enact change on top of protest. “The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable,” Obama wrote, adding, “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,” he continued, “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.”
Education on which branches of government can improve the criminal justice system is key to making change happen, Obama said. Yes, it’s important to focus on the federal level of government. However, “the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal just system work at the state and local levels,” he wrote, meaning this reform has to start at the ground level, with the voters themselves.
“If we want to bring about real change,” Obama continues, “then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both.“
Obama concluded his statement with a call to action for those who are upset with the current status quo in the U.S. to get specific about what we want regarding criminal justice and police from our elected officials. The more specific we get, “the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause and then fall back into business as usual once protests have gone away,” he wrote.
The former president then listed resources we can use to stay informed and educated on how each of us can play a part in this fight—the New Era of Public Safety report and toolkit as well as the Obama Foundation Anguish and Action resource portal.
“I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting…” Obama wrote. “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.”
As Obama signed off, “Let’s get to work.” Check out Obama’s full statement here, and feel free to browse the resources he provided to start working toward a better America.