Barack Obama: how we can use this moment as "turning point for change"

The Editors
Photo credit: Mark Makela - Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

Barack Obama has advised how we can use the George Floyd protests to bring about structural change in relation to racism. In a now viral statement published via US website Medium and also across his own social media channels, the former US President said we must use this moment as "a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals".

His words follow the death of George Floyd, 46, who was murdered by a police officer in Minnesota on 25 May. The officer was filmed kneeling on Floyd's neck even after he pleaded he could no longer breathe, resulting in his death from asphyxia (lack of oxygen) due to a compression on his neck and also on his back. His murder has led to widespread protesting across the US over the past six days.

Obama praised the peaceful protesters, who "deserve our respect and support, not condemnation", but accused anyone who has resorted to violence of putting innocent lives at risks and "detracting from the larger cause".

"Let’s not excuse violence, or rationalise it, or participate in it," he said. "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."

He urged Americans to take part in voting on a local level, as well as nationally, as it's these elected officials who matter most in how the police act and how the justice system works on a smaller scale. Obama also highlighted how previous protests have galvanised policy changes.

"It’s mayors and county executives that appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police unions," wrote Obama. "It’s district attorneys and state’s attorneys that decide whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct. Those are all elected positions. In some places, police review boards with the power to monitor police conduct are elected as well."

If we want real change, he said, we must combine protest with politics: "We have to mobilise to raise awareness, and we have to organise and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform."

Obama acknowledged the hardships of the past few months, but concluded with signature optimism, noting how the activism of the young has left him feeling hopeful about the future.

"If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals," he said. "Let’s get to work."

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