Former President Barack Obama addressed the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests Wednesday, urging protesters and activists to "push for change." This comes in opposition to President Donald Trump, who has publicly threatened to deploy military force to quash nationwide protests against racial injustice.
Obama told young black people "your lives matter" as he said he remained "optimistic" about the future while speaking at an event held by the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation, called "Reimagining Policing in the Wake of Continued Police Violence."
“So much of the progress that we've made in our society has been because of young people.”—@BarackObamaJune 4, 2020
This was the former president's first public appearance since George Floyd, a 46-year-old black Minnesota resident, died in police custody after a white police officer was videotaped kneeling on his neck. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has since been fired and arrested, along with three other officers that were on the scene, but the nationwide protests sparked by his death are now in their 10th straight day as activists demand an end to police brutality and racism.
"I want you to know that you matter, I want you to know that your lives matter, that your dreams matter, and when I go home and I look at the faces of my daughters, Sasha and Malia, and I look at my nephews and nieces, I see limitless potential that deserves to flourish and thrive," Obama told the young people watching the virtual event. "And you should be able to learn and make mistakes and live a life of joy without having to worry about what’s going to happen when you walk to the store, or go for a jog, or are driving down the street, or looking at some bird in a park."
Obama added that he hopes the youth can feel "hopeful" alongside their anger because of the potential they have to make things better, "and you have helped to make the entire country feel as if this is something that’s gotta change." He explained, "You’ve communicated a sense of urgency that is as powerful and as transformative as anything that I’ve seen in recent years."
The former president also thanked police officers who have shown solidarity with protesters and who "share the goals of reimagining policing," all while urging police reforms including a ban on shooting at moving vehicles and forms of restraint utilized in police departments nationwide. "As tragic as these past few weeks have been, as difficult and scary and uncertain as they’ve been, they’ve also been an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to some of these underlying trends and they offer an opportunity for us to all work together,” he said.
Obama said that when he feels "despair," he looks upon young Americans, whose "talent," "voice" and "sophistication" makes him feel optimism for the future: "It makes me feel as if this country’s going to get better." Purging the country of racism and discrimination requires highlighting the problem and making "people in power uncomfortable," he concluded. "But we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws."