President Obama Calls for Progress on Police Reform in First Live Address After George Floyd’s Murder

Tyler Hersko

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“Although all of us have been feeling pain, uncertainty, disruption, some folks have been feeling it more than others,” President Barack Obama said in his town hall address Wednesday afternoon.

Obama joined several local and national leaders in the police reform movement via a live Zoom conference to discuss the ongoing nationwide protests regarding last week’s killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer in Minnesota. Obama empathized with the families of several black Americans who were killed by police officers in recent weeks and said that he was committed to combatting institutional racism in the United States.

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“Most of all, the pain that’s been experienced by the families of George, Brianna, Ahmad, Tony, and Sean, and too many others to mention. To those families who have been directly affected by tragedy, please know that Michelle and I — and the nation — grieve with you and hold you in our prayers. We are committed to the fight of creating a more just nation in the memories of your sons and daughters.”

Obama’s broadcast had a constructive and inclusive tone and included several calls for action. The president addressed the values of protesting and voting and argued that it was important for citizens to practice both to create true change.

“This is not an either or. This is a both 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 can be implemented,” Obama said.

Obama also noted in his speech that structural change often occurs on a local level. He urged mayors, city councils, and police oversight bodies to sign a pledge to review their community’s use of police force, engage their communities’ diverse voices, report findings to their communities and seek feedback. He also called for police reform by asking individual communities to reform their use-of-force policies.

Though the live town hall centered on a tragic topic, Obama stressed that watching the protests unfold over the last week has given him hope about the country’s future.

“Part of what made me so hopeful is that so many young people have been galvanized and activated and motivated and mobilized because historically, so much of the progress we’ve made in our society has been due to young people,” Obama said. “Dr. King was a young man when he got involved. Cesear Chavez was a young man. Malcom X was a young man. The leaders of the feminist movement were young people. Leaders of union movements were young people. Leaders of the environmental movement in this country and the movement to make sure that the LGBTQ community finally had a voice and was represented were young people. When sometimes I feel despair, I just see what’s happening with young people all across the country and the talent, the voice, and the sophistication they are displaying, and it makes me feel optimistic. It makes me feel as if this country is going to get better.”

Watch the full town hall below, via the Obama Foundation:

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