Barack Obama’s powerful words about the next steps to take after the protests are what everyone needed

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  • 'Let’s get to work!'

    Anti-racism protests have broken out across the world, calling for justice for George Floyd.

    George, an unarmed black man, died whilst being arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on 25 May.

    In viral video footage taken by a bystander, a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, can be seen kneeling on the 46-year-old’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, whilst pinning him to the ground. ‘I can’t breathe…please stop,’ were his last words but the police officer continued to choke him until he lost consciousness. He died in hospital an hour later.

    George Floyd’s brutal killing has brought to light a much deeper issue about the deeply engrained systemic racism felt across the world, with people standing up across the globe to say enough is enough.

    Former President Barack Obama spoke out this week, addressing the worldwide protests in an open essay on Medium.

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

    Going on to address the violence that has been sparked however, he urged people not to ‘excuse violence, or rationalise it, or participate in it,’ adding: ‘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.

    ‘I’ve heard some suggest that the recurrent problem of racial bias in our criminal justice system proves that only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalised communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.’

    He continued: ‘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 recognises the ongoing, corrosive role that racism plays in our society and want to do something about it. But the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.

    ‘If we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. 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.

    He concluded: ‘I recognise 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. But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful. 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.

    ‘Let’s get to work.’

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