During a virtual town hall event on Wednesday afternoon, former President Barack Obama discussed the need for police reform in the U.S., and support for protests across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd last week.
Floyd was killed by police officers, one of whom pressed his knee onto his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd repeatedly gasped “I can’t breathe.” An independent autopsy of his death, requested by his family members, found that Floyd was killed by “asphyxiation from sustained pressure.”
Obama addressed in generalities his support for reforms to policing, and the protests that have risen up in dozens of cities across the country.
“To bring about real change, we both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable,” Obama said during the town hall, which was organized by the Obama Foundation. “But we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that can be implemented.”
The former president focused part of his speech toward “the young men and women of color in this country.”
“I want you to know that you matter. I want you to know that your lives matter. That your dreams matter,” Obama said.
The former president also said that the possibility for social change was a “direct result of the activities and organizing and mobilization and engagement of so many young people across the country who put themselves out on the line to make a difference.”
While serving as president, following the death of Michael Brown and the uprising that ensued in Ferguson, Missouri, the Obama administration produced a series of recommendations for reforming police departments in cities across the U.S. The report called for, among other changes, independent investigators to handle inquiries when a law enforcement officer kills a civilian, and for an end to policies that reward police when they arrest or convict citizens.
Many were critical of the report, however, for not doing enough to address the root problems of racial prejudice in policing, and for being too procedural without concern for different outcomes in the end.
Dana Vivian White, a program officer with the LGBTQ+ organization True Colors United, noted that the former president’s words and calls for change were not as profound as the country needed them to be.
The police cannot be improved or reformed in the United States. They function as intended and need to be abolished. We need a new vision of safety and justice, which is not what Obama believes. Black people, all people, have the human right to resist a State that is murdering us.
— Dana White (@DanaVivianWhite) June 3, 2020
“The police cannot be improved or reformed in the United States. They function as intended and need to be abolished,” White wrote on his Twitter account. “We need a new vision of safety and justice, which is not what Obama believes. Black people, all people, have the human right to resist a State that is murdering us.”