WASHINGTON DC (CW44 News at 10) – As the nation attempts to heal from recent racial injustices, all four living former U.S. Presidents publicly condemn recent racial events.
Rosalynn and I are pained by the tragic racial injustices and consequent backlash across our nation in recent weeks. Our hearts are with the victims’ families and all who feel hopeless in the face of pervasive racial discrimination and outright cruelty. We all must shine a spotlight on the immorality of racial discrimination. But violence, whether spontaneous or consciously incited, is not a solution.
As a white male of the South, I know all too well the impact of segregation and injustice to African Americans. As a politician, I felt a responsibility to bring equity to my state and our country. In my 1971 inaugural address as Georgia’s governor, I said: “The time for racial discrimination is over.” With great sorrow and disappointment, I repeat those words today, nearly five decades later. Dehumanizing people debases us all; humanity is beautifully and almost infinitely diverse. The bonds of our common humanity must overcome the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices.
Since leaving the White House in 1981, Rosalynn and I have strived to advance human rights in countries around the world. In this quest, we have seen that silence can be as deadly as violence. People of power, privilege, and moral conscience must stand up and say “no more” to a racially discriminatory police and justice system, immoral economic disparities between whites and blacks, and government actions that undermine our unified democracy. We are responsible for creating a world of peace and equality for ourselves and future generations.
We need a government as good as its people, and we are better than this.
In the days since George Floyd’s death, it is impossible not to feel grief for his family—and anger, revulsion, and frustration that his death is the latest in a long line of tragedy and injustice, and a painful reminder that a person’s race still determines how they will be treated in nearly every aspect of American life.
No one deserves to die the way George Floyd did. And the truth is, if you’re white in America, the chances are you won’t. That truth is what underlies the pain and the anger that so many are feeling and expressing—that the path of an entire life can be measured and devalued by the color of one’s skin. Fifty-seven years ago, Dr. King dreamed of a day when his “four little children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Today, that dream seems even more out of reach, and we’ll never reach it if we keep treating people of color with the unspoken assumption that they’re less human.
We need to see each other as equally deserving of life, liberty, respect, dignity, and the presumption of innocence. We need to ask ourselves and each other hard questions, and listen carefully to the answers.
Here’s where I’d start.
If George Floyd had been white, handcuffed, and lying on the ground, would he be alive today?
Why does this keep happening?
What can we do to ensure that every community has the police department it needs and deserves?
What can I do?
We can’t honestly answer these questions in the divide and conquer, us vs. them, shift the blame and shirk the responsibility world we’re living in. People with power should go first—answer the questions, expand who’s “us” and shrink who’s “them,” accept some blame, and assume more responsibility. But the rest of us have to answer these questions too.
It’s the least we can do for George Floyd’s family, and the families of all other Americans who have been judged by the color of their skin rather than by the content of their character. The future of the country depends on it.
Laura and I are anguished by the brutal suffocation of George Floyd and disturbed by the injustice and fear that suffocate our country. Yet we have resisted the urge to speak out, because this is not the time for us to lecture. It is time for us to listen. It is time for America to examine our tragic failures – and as we do, we will also see some of our redeeming strengths.
It remains a shocking failure that many African Americans, especially young African American men, are harassed and threatened in their own country. It is a strength when protesters, protected by responsible law enforcement, march for a better future. This tragedy — in a long series of similar tragedies — raises a long overdue question: How do we end systemic racism in our society? The only way to see ourselves in a true light is to listen to the voices of so many who are hurting and grieving. Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America — or how it becomes a better place.
America’s greatest challenge has long been to unite people of very different backgrounds into a single nation of justice and opportunity. The doctrine and habits of racial superiority, which once nearly split our country, still threaten our Union. The answers to American problems are found by living up to American ideals — to the fundamental truth that all human beings are created equal and endowed by God with certain rights. We have often underestimated how radical that quest really is, and how our cherished principles challenge systems of intended or assumed injustice. The heroes of America — from Frederick Douglass, to Harriet Tubman, to Abraham Lincoln, to Martin Luther King, Jr. — are heroes of unity. Their calling has never been for the fainthearted. They often revealed the nation’s disturbing bigotry and exploitation — stains on our character sometimes difficult for the American majority to examine. We can only see the reality of America’s need by seeing it through the eyes of the threatened, oppressed, and disenfranchised.
That is exactly where we now stand. Many doubt the justice of our country, and with good reason. Black people see the repeated violation of their rights without an urgent and adequate response from American institutions. We know that lasting justice will only come by peaceful means. Looting is not liberation, and destruction is not progress. But we also know that lasting peace in our communities requires truly equal justice. The rule of law ultimately depends on the fairness and legitimacy of the legal system. And achieving justice for all is the duty of all.
This will require a consistent, courageous, and creative effort. We serve our neighbors best when we try to understand their experience. We love our neighbors as ourselves when we treat them as equals, in both protection and compassion. There is a better way — the way of empathy, and shared commitment, and bold action, and a peace rooted in justice. I am confident that together, Americans will choose the better way.
When the COVID-19 pandemic ricocheted around the world, it upended our societies and brought our lives to a standstill. But today in the US, we wake up in a country where it is clear not everything has stood still. Racism has not stood still. Bigotry has not stood still. The fatal disparity that people of color face—whether at the hands of law enforcement or the whims of our health care system—has not stood still.
On Friday, President Obama shared this video from 12-year-old Keedron Bryant, putting into song the anguish and heartbreak millions share after the senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many more.
We wanted to share this video with you today, as well as the President’s own words about the tragic events of the past several weeks.
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I want to share parts of the conversations I’ve had with friends over the past couple days about the footage of George Floyd dying face down on the street under the knee of a police officer in Minnesota. The first is an email from a middle-aged African American businessman. “Dude I gotta tell you the George Floyd incident in Minnesota hurt. I cried when I saw that video. It broke me down. The ‘knee on the neck’ is a metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring the cries for help. People don’t care. Truly tragic.” Another friend of mine used the powerful song that went viral from 12-year-old Keedron Bryant to describe the frustrations he was feeling. The circumstances of my friend and Keedron may be different, but their anguish is the same. It’s shared by me and millions of others. It’s natural to wish for life “to just get back to normal” as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly “normal” – whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park. This shouldn’t be “normal” in 2020 America. It can’t be “normal.” If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better. It will fall mainly on the officials of Minnesota to ensure that the circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s death are investigated thoroughly and that justice is ultimately done. But it falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station – including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day – to work together to create a “new normal” in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.
Six years ago, President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper so that every boy and young man of color in America would know that their dreams mattered—that Keedron’s dreams would matter—as much as any other child’s. Today, that urgent work continues through the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and through the work of several of our leaders who are fighting systemic racism throughout the world.
While now is a time for grief and anger, it is also a time for action and resolve.
This is no time to stand still.
—The Obama Foundation