Former President Barack Obama today delivered a message of sympathy and a call to action regarding police violence against Black Americans.
He did so in opening an online town hall hosted by the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance titled “Reimagining Policing in the Wake of Continued Police Violence.”
He invoked the names of African-Americans who have recently died at the hands of police, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and transgender man Tony McDade, as well as Ahmaud Arbery; three white civilians have been charged with murder in Arbery’s death.
He acknowledged the “pain, uncertainty, disruption” that these deaths have caused to these people’s families and others, and he offered his sympathy. He also noted that communities of color have suffered disproportionate losses in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
He went on to note, however, that there are signs of hope in the mobilization of young people to address systemic racism. “We have seen in the last several weeks, last few months, the kind of epic changes and events in our country that are as profound as I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Obama said.
The events “offer an opportunity to us to all work together to tackle” the problems caused by the legacy of slavery, “Jim Crow” segregation laws, and other manifestations of racism, the nation’s “original sin,” he said.
He said he was particularly encouraged by the fact that there is a broad coalition of people involve in anti-racism protests, far more so than in the 1960s, and by the mobilization of young people. All movements for social change have been spurred by young people, he said; Martin Luther King, Jr. and others were young when they began their work for civil rights, and other movements, such as organized labor, feminism, and LGBTQ+ rights, have involved young Americans.
“This country is going to get better” because of the work of young people who are now “galvanized and activated and motivated,” Obama said.
He also specifically addressed young people of color, especially those who have seen violence up close. “I want you to know that you matter. Your lives matter. Your dreams matter,” he said.
He went on to say that protesting versus involvement in electoral politics isn’t and either/or proposition. The passion behind protests, he said, must be translated into “practical solutions and laws that can be implemented.” He urged mayors and lawmakers around the nation to look at ways to reform policing in their communities.
Others to be participating in the town hall today include former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change; Brittany Packnett Cunningham, cofounder of Campaign Zero and former member of President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force; Phillipe Cunningham, a Minneapolis City Council member and a Black trans man; and Playon Patrick, youth leader for My Brother’s Keeper in Columbus, Ohio. It is streaming at Obama.org and numerous other websites. It’s also viewable below; Obama begins speaking at about the 7:30 mark.