Obama to George Floyd protesters: Channel 'justifiable anger' into action

Former President Barack Obama on Monday addressed the nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, praising the “overwhelming majority” of peaceful demonstrators, condemning the violence brought on by a “small minority” and calling on a “new generation of activists” to “bring about real change.”

“The waves of protests across the country represent a genuine and legitimate frustration over a decades-long failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system in the United States,” Obama wrote in an essay published on Medium.com. “The overwhelming majority of participants have been peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring. They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation.”

The former president then lauded police in Camden, N.J., and Flint, Mich., for publicly supporting peaceful protests before he criticized demonstrators who have been acting violently.

“On the other hand, the small minority of folks who’ve resorted to violence in various forms, whether out of genuine anger or mere opportunism, are putting innocent people at risk, compounding the destruction of neighborhoods that are often already short on services and investment and detracting from the larger cause,” Obama wrote. “Let’s not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it. 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 dismissed suggestions by some activists that “only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time.”

“I couldn’t disagree more,” he explained. “The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; 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, 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.”

“The choice isn’t between protest and politics,” Obama continued. “We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.”

A woman places flowers at a memorial mural for George Floyd in Minneapolis Sunday. (John Minchillo/AP)
A woman places flowers at a memorial mural for George Floyd in Minneapolis on Sunday. (John Minchillo/AP)

He added: “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.”

His statement came after a weekend when protests raged in virtually every major American city, with many turning destructive and violent. The National Guard has been deployed in 15 states as well as Washington, D.C., where protesters clashed with police outside the White House.

On Friday, Obama released a statement condemning the death of Floyd, a black man who died after being pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer.

“This shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America. It can’t be normal,” Obama said. “If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better.”

In both statements, Obama did not mention President Trump.

Trump has yet to formally address the nation about the roiling discord, instead tweeting various complaints about the media’s coverage of the protests and blaming the violence on far-left activists such as antifa.

On Friday night, Secret Service agents rushed Trump to a White House bunker designed for use in emergencies like terrorist attacks as hundreds of protesters fought with police about 100 yards from the executive mansion.

Cover thumbnail photo: Michael Sohn/AP

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