Former President Barack Obama, in a virtual town hall hosted by his foundation Wednesday, called on demonstrators to channel their anger over George Floyd‘s death into an opportunity to make leaders “uncomfortable” and pressure them into making real policy changes.
The town hall was hosted by the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, which supports young men of color. During the event, Obama said he rejected a debate that emerged in “a little bit of chatter on the internet” about “voting versus protests, politics and participation versus civil disobedience and direct action.”
“This is not an either-or. This is a both,” he said. “And to bring about real change, we both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable, but we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that could be implemented and monitored and make sure we’re following up on.”
Former President Barack Obama speaks June 3, 2020, during virtual town hall event with young people to discuss policing and the civil unrest that has followed the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. (My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and The Obama Foundation via AP)
Obama also urged “every mayor in the country to review your use of force policies” with their communities and “commit to report on planned reforms” before prioritizing their implementation. During a virtual roundtable discussion, he compared current protests to the unrest of the 1960s and said polls show a majority of Americans support the current demonstrations taking place nationwide, despite some “having been marred by the actions of a tiny minority that engaged in violence.”
Last week, Obama said the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis police custody May 25 after a white officer kneeled on his neck for more than 8 minutes, “shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America.” He laid out plans for change in a post on Medium and countered the argument made by some protesters that demonstrations will facilitate more societal change than voting.
“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,” he wrote. “I couldn’t disagree more.”
While the former president said that the current protests stem from a “legitimate frustration over a decades-long failure to reform police practices,” he condemned the vandalism, looting and violence that has, in part, overshadowed the more peaceful aspects of the protests in many cities.