Former Presidents Bush, Carter, Obama, Clinton’s Statements on George Floyd’s Death
In the days following George Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis police, every former living president spoke out against racism in this country. Their messages differ, but each draws attention to police brutality and the current movement
Read their statements below:
Barack Obama calls for change.
As millions of people across the country take to the streets and raise their voices in response to the murder of George Floyd and the current problem of unequal justice, many have asked how we can keep the momentum going. bring real change.
Ultimately, it will be up to a new generation of activists to develop strategies that best fit the times. But I believe there are some basic lessons to be learned from past efforts that are worth remembering.
First, the waves of protests across the country represent genuine legitimate frustration with the decades-long failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system in the United States. The overwhelming majority of participants were peaceful, courageous, responsible and inspiring. They deserve our respect and support, not a conviction – something that the police in cities like Camden and Flint praised.
On the other hand, the small minority of people who have used violence in various forms, whether out of anger or out of opportunism, endanger innocent people, compounding the destruction of neighborhoods that are often already short of services and investment and harming the broader cause. I saw an elderly black woman interviewed today in tears because the only grocery store in her neighborhood had been ransacked. If history is a guide, this store can take years to come back. So let’s not condone violence, don’t rationalize it, or participate in it. If we want our criminal justice system and American society as a whole to operate on a higher code of ethics, we must model that code ourselves.
Second, I have heard some suggest that the recurring problem of racial bias in our criminal justice system proves that only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participating in electoral politics is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. The purpose of the protest is to raise public awareness, to highlight injustice and to make powers uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it has often been only in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations must be translated into specific institutional laws and practices – and in a democracy, this only happens when we elect officials who respond to our demands.
In addition, it is important for us to understand which orders of government have the greatest impact on our criminal justice system and our police practices. When we think of politics, many of us focus only on the presidency and the federal government. And yes, we have to fight to make sure we have a President, a Congress, a US Department of Justice and a federal justice system that genuinely recognizes and wants to do something about the continued corrosive role of racism in our society. But the elected officials who matter most in reforming the police and the criminal justice system work at the national and local levels.
Mayors and county chiefs appoint most of the police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with the police unions. It’s up to district and state prosecutors to decide whether or not to investigate and, ultimately, to charge those implicated in a police misconduct. These are all elected positions. In some places, police review boards empowered to monitor the conduct of the police are also elected. Unfortunately, the turnout in these local elections is generally pitifully low, especially among young people – which makes no sense given the direct impact these offices have on social justice issues, not to mention the fact that who wins and who loses these seats is often determined by a few thousand or even a few hundred votes.
So the bottom line is this: if we want to make real change, then the choice is not between protest and politics. We have to do both. We must mobilize to raise awareness, and we need to organize and vote to make sure we elect the candidates who will act on the reform.
Finally, the more we can demand criminal justice and police reform, the more difficult it will be for elected officials to just say a few words to the cause and then resume business as usual once the protests are gone. The content of this reform program will differ depending on the community. A big city may need a set of reforms; one rural community may need another. Some agencies will require wholesale rehabilitation; others are expected to make minor improvements. Each law enforcement agency should have clear policies, including an independent agency that investigates allegations of misconduct. Adapting reforms for each community will require activists and local organizations to do their research and educate fellow citizens in their community on the strategies that work best.
But as a starting point, here is a report and a toolkit developed by the Leaders’ Conference on Civil and Human Rights and based on the work of the 21st Century Police Task Force that I formed when i was at the White House. And if you’re interested in taking action, we’ve also created a dedicated Obama Foundation site to group and direct you to helpful resources and organizations that have been fighting the good fight locally and nationally for years.
I recognize that the past few months have been harsh and discouraging – that the fear, grief, uncertainty and hardships of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape much of life. American. But looking at the increased activism of young people in recent weeks, of each race and each station, gives me hope. If in the future we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained and effective action, then this moment may be a turning point in our nation’s long journey towards the realization of our highest ideals.
Let’s get to work.
Obama also recently joined former US Attorney General Eric Holder, President of Color of Change Rashad Robinson, Minneapolis City Council representative Phillipe Cunningham, and MBK youth chief Columbus Playon Patrick, in a conversation moderated by the co-founder of Campaign Zero, Brittany Packnett Cunningham on Youtube. Watch it above.
George W. Bush Calls on America to “Examine Our Tragic Failures”
Laura and I are distressed by the brutal suffocation of George Floyd and troubled by the injustice and fear that suffocate our country. However, we resisted the urge to express ourselves, 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 forces.
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 force when the demonstrators, protected by responsible police forces, march for a better future. This tragedy – in a long series of similar tragedies – raises a long-awaited question: how can we end systemic racism in our society? The only way to see ourselves in a real light is to listen to the voices of so many injured and grieving people. Those who have decided to silence these voices do not understand the meaning of America – or how it is becoming a better place.
America’s greatest challenge has long been to bring together people from very different backgrounds into one nation of justice and opportunity. The doctrines and habits of racial superiority, which once almost divided our country, still threaten our Union. The answers to American problems lie at the height of American ideals – to the basic truth that all human beings are created equal and endowed with certain rights by God. We have often underestimated the radicality of this quest and the way in which our cherished principles challenge systems of intentional or presumed injustice. The heroes of America – from Frederick Douglass, to Harriet Tubman, to Abraham Lincoln, to Martin Luther King, Jr. – are heroes of unity. Their vocation was never for the most timid. They have often exposed the nation’s disturbing bigotry and exploitation – stains on our character that are sometimes difficult for the American majority to examine. We can only see the reality of America’s needs by seeing it through the eyes of those threatened, oppressed and disenfranchised.
This is exactly where we are now. Many doubt the justice of our country, and for good reason. Blacks see 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. Plunder 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 everyone’s duty.
Bill Clinton says, “No one deserves to die like George Floyd did.”
In the days following George Floyd’s death, it is impossible not to feel heartache for his family – and anger, repulsion and frustration that his death was the last in a long series of tragedies and injustices, and a painful reminder that a person’s race continues to determine how they will be treated in almost every aspect of American life.
No one deserves to die like George Floyd did. And the truth is, if you’re white in America, chances are you won’t. This truth is the basis of the pain and anger that so many people feel and express – that the path of a lifetime 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, this dream seems even more out of reach, and we will never reach it if we continue to treat people of color with the tacit assumption that they are less human.
We must consider each other as also deserving of life, liberty, respect, dignity and the presumption of innocence. We need to ask and ask each other difficult questions and listen carefully to the answers.
Here’s where I would start.
If George Floyd had been white, handcuffed and lying on the floor, would he be alive today?
Why does this keep happening?
What can we do to ensure that each community has the police services it needs and deserves?
What can I do?
We cannot honestly answer these questions in the division of sharing and conquering, us against them, reversing the blame and dodging the world of responsibility in which we live. Those in power should come first – answer questions, expand who is “we” narrow down who is “them”, accept certain blames and take on more responsibility. But we must also answer these questions.
It’s the least we can do for the family of George Floyd and the families of all the other Americans who have been judged on the color of their skin rather than the content of their character. The country’s future depends on it.
Jimmy Carter: “We are better than that.”
Rosalynn and I are saddened by the tragic racial injustices and the resulting backlash in our country in recent weeks. Our hearts are with the families of the victims and all those who feel hopeless in the face of pervasive racial discrimination and outright cruelty. We must all shine the spotlight on the immorality of racial discrimination. But violence, whether spontaneous or consciously provoked, is not the solution.
As a white man from the South, I know only too well the impact of segregation and injustice on African Americans. As a politician, I felt responsible for bringing equity to my state and to our country. In my inaugural speech in 1971 as governor of Georgia, I said, “The time for racial discrimination is over.” With great sorrow and disappointment, I repeat these words today, almost five decades later. Dehumanizing people demeans us all; humanity is beautifully and almost infinitely diverse. The bonds of our common humanity must overcome the division of our fears and our prejudices.
Since leaving the White House in 1981, Rosalynn and I have worked 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 conscience must stand up and say “no more” to a racially discriminatory police and justice system, to the immoral economic disparities between black and white and to 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 that.
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