Former President Barack Obama gave his first on-camera comments about George Floyd‘s killing, during an online town hall on June 3. Obama, 58, praised the protesters taking to the streets in all 50 states in search of justice following Floyd’s death, and urged them to keep going and fight the good fight. And he reminded protesters that there’s another important way to impact civil change in the United States: voting. “I have heard that there is a little bit of chatter on the internet about voting versus about protesting. Politics versus civil disobedience and action,” Obama said in the virtual address. But this is not an either/or thing; it’s a both/and thing.”
“To bring about change you have to first highlight a problem and make people uncomfortable with protest, then you translate the problems into practical solutions and laws that can be implemented. At some point, attention moves away. At some point, protests start to dwindle in size. And it’s very important for us to take the momentum that has been created as a society, as a country, and say ‘let’s use this to finally have an impact,'” he added.
Obama spent June 2 advising Americans to vote in the primaries in DC, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Dakota. He shared a video of Terrence Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, on Twitter, in which the grieving man tells a crowd at the site of his death, “Let’s do this another. Let’s stop thinking our voice don’t matter and vote. Not just for the president… educate yourself and know who you’re voting for. And that’s how we’re going to hit ’em.”
Obama also spoke directly to the families of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery during his speech, telling them that he and former First Lady Michelle Obama are with them. “Let me start by just acknowledging that 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. To the families affected by violence: Please know that Michelle and I, and the nation, grieve with you, hold you in our prayers. We’re committed to the fight of creating a more just nation in the memory of your sons and daughters.”
Obama also addressed the violence protesters have faced while confronting police during demonstrations. They have been teargassed and shot with rubber bullets — sometimes even for peacefully demonstrating outside the White House while Donald Trump has a photo-op to attend. The former president never mentioned his successor by name, but spoke about local leaders doing their part in addressing corruption in law enforcement. Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for nine minutes as he repeatedly told him he couldn’t breathe.
WATCH: President Obama urges every mayor in the country to review their use of force policies with members of their community and commit to planned reforms. pic.twitter.com/aVgtn7TddN
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) June 3, 2020
After protests erupted in all 50 states, Chauvin was fired, arrested, and charged with second degree murder, third degree murder, and manslaughter. The three other cops that were with him and either helped him pin Floyd down, or watched and did nothing, were arrested and charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. “I am urging every mayor in this country to review your use of force policies with members of your communities and commit to report on planned reforms,” Obama said.
President Trump has been cited for “inciting violence” and “glorifying violence” on Snapchat and Twitter for incidiary remarks he’s made about the protesters. That includes saying that “thugs” and looters should be shot, threatening to use the US military against its own people by invoking the Insurrection Act, and much more, unfortunately.
Obama ended on a positive note, the antithesis from what’s coming out of the Oval Office: “I want to speak directly to the young men and women of color in this country who have witnessed too much violence and too much death. I want you to know that you matter. I want you to know that your lives matter. That your dreams matter.”