Former President Barack Obama addressed George Floyd protesters on Monday, calling on those challenging racial inequality and police brutality to channel their anger into constructive action.
In an op-ed published Monday on Medium, the 44th president noted that the protests — which have occurred in multiple cities across the country over the past several days, at times devolving into violence — represent “momentum” that could bring about lasting 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,” he wrote.
He also noted that the protesters who have acted in violence — burning and looting, clashing with police, and clashing with other protesters — detract from the message the peaceful protesters are trying to convey.
“I saw an elderly black woman being interviewed today in tears because the only grocery store in her neighborhood had been trashed,” he continued.
He went on to note that some people believe the only way to affect change when it comes to racial bias in the criminal justice system is to protest and that voting is a waste of time.
“I couldn’t disagree more,” he wrote, pointing out that the best way to get legislative change enacted is to elect lawmakers who will push for the changes the people want.
He explained to his readers that, during times of crisis such as this, it’s human nature to focus on the highest levels of government; specifically, the presidency and the federal government. While ideally the president and the Justice Department would be advocates for racial equality in policing, the elected officials who have the most direct impact on policing are state and local lawmakers. For example, he noted that mayors and county executives appoint police chiefs and negotiate police unions’ contracts, and that it’s local prosecutors who make the decisions on whether or not to charge individuals involved in police misconduct.
Lastly, he noted that vague calls for criminal justice and police reform often fall on deaf ears and that the reforms needed in one city may not be the same reforms needed in another city.
To those ends, he pointed to a document developed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights while he was in office. The toolkit, as he called it, outlines ways in which policing can be reformed. Those ways include changes in training and in how arrests and searches are carried out, among other things. The full toolkit can be found on the Obama Foundation website.
“If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action. Let’s get to work,” he concluded.