On Monday, Floyd — a 46-year-old unarmed African American man — died in police custody after a Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officer, Derek Chauvin — who is white — knelt on Floyd’s neck for at least seven minutes. The death has sparked deadly riots in Minneapolis and other cities around the country, and has once again shone a light on the issue of racism in policing, and of unarmed Black men dying in police custody.
On Friday, Obama took to Twitter to discuss the issue. Since the social media platform limits users to 280 characters per post, the 44th president was unable to fully express his sentiment in a tweeted narrative, and instead posted an image of his missive.
In it, Obama frames that narrative by referencing conversations he’s had with friends over the past few days. First, he referenced an email he said he received from an unidentified African American businessman.
“The ‘knee on neck’ is a metaphor for how the system cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring their cries for help,” said Obama, quoting his friend.
He then referenced a video that has gone viral recently: 12-year-old Keedron Bryant singing a song, “I Just Wanna Live.”
“The circumstances of my friend and Keedron may be different, but their anguish is the same. It’s share by me and millions of others” he wrote.
He went on to put the aftermath of Floyd’s death in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has shut down businesses, devastated the economy, and forced millions of Americans to alter their daily lives, saying that it’s “natural” to want to get back to normal.
“But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal,’” he wrote, referencing two other recent cases of African Americans being treated differently on the basis of race. Without naming names, he appeared to reference Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while jogging, and Christian Cooper, who had the police called on him for asking a woman to put her dog on a leash.
Obama concluded by noting that Minnesota officials must investigate Floyd’s death, and that he hopes that justice will be done.
“But it falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station… to work together to create a ‘new normal’ in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or hearts.”