Obama Says Protests Could Be ‘Real Turning Point’ for Nation

Barack Obama (Credit: Shutterstock)

Former President Barack Obama said Monday protests sweeping the nation after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis could help bring about “real change,” but he noted a “small minority” have looted and burned buildings putting lives at risk.

In a lengthy Medium post, Obama said the protests are a result of a “decades-long failure” to reform police departments.

“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. “The overwhelming majority of participants have been peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring. They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation.”

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But he said agitators are “putting innocent people at risk” and hurting their own communities.

“I saw an elderly black woman being interviewed today in tears because the only grocery store in her neighborhood had been trashed. If history is any guide, that store may take years to come back,” Obama wrote. “So 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.”

The nation’s first African American president added that the protests must be followed by political action, saying protesters shouldn’t just take to the streets, they need to vote.

“When we think about politics, a lot of us focus only on the presidency and the federal government. And yes, we should be fighting to make sure that we have a president, a Congress, a U.S. Justice Department, and a federal judiciary that actually recognize the ongoing, corrosive role that racism plays in our society and want to do something about it,” he wrote. “But the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.”

Obama pointed out that mayors and county executives appoint police chiefs, while district attorneys and state’s attorneys “decide whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct.”

The nation’s 44th president said his foundation has created a website with more information and tools for taking action. He ended by saying he’s hopeful the demonstrations can lead to change across the country.

“I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting — that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life,” he wrote. “But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful.”