Just hours after the announcement of new charges against the four officers involved in the killing of George Floyd, former President Barack Obama praised the work of young people in the recent days of protest and sought mayoral commitments for safer policing strategies.
“Part of what’s made me so hopeful is that so many young people have been galvanized and activated and mobilized,” Obama said, on a June 3 virtual town hall. So much of the progress on civil rights, he noted, has been propelled by youth and young adults.
“When I feel despair, I see what’s happening with young people all across the country … it makes me feel optimistic, it makes me feel this country is going to get better.”
The former president directly addressed youth of color, who he said “have witnessed too much violence,” too often from law enforcement.
“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 birds in the park,” Obama said.
Obama called on mayors and county executives to take a pledge to review use of force policies and “commit to report on planned reforms,” noting that his administration’s 21st Century Policing Task Force had identified evidence-based strategies for reducing inappropriate use of force. The My Brother’s Keeper Alliance intends to publish the names of all the leaders who take that pledge on its website.
Just hours before the former president spoke, with peaceful protests ongoing across the country, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) announced new charges against the officers involved in the May killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Ellison said at a press conference today that he had upped the charge for police officer Derek Chauvin to second degree murder and was also charging three other officers with aiding and abetting murder.
All four officers have already been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department. Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Floyd’s family, said in a statement that the new charges are a “significant step forward on the road toward justice.”
The former president spoke at a town hall hosted by the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, which began as a federal initiative after the 2014 killing of teenager Trayvon Martin. The session also included a group discussion led by activist Brittney Packnett Cunningham that featured Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder, Minneapolis City Council member Phillipe Cunningham and Rashad Robinson, president of the nonprofit Color of Change.
Cunningham said that in Minneapolis, “the arguments for incremental change” on policing were waning, and that “it is time for a new system of public safety in our city.”
He said the approach that his city and others should take is to imagine “what it would look like to not have police … and work backwards from there.”
Obama was introduced by youth leader and poet Playon Patrick, who delivered an electric and emotionally charged performance of his work, “2020 Quarantine Killings.”
“There are small crosses placed in the grass where families can’t afford to bury loved ones,” Patrick said. “It reminds us that we are anything else. We call those corners playgrounds. We call those corners the killing fields. We call our bodies bullets even if we were never aimed in the right direction.”
John Kelly can be reached at [email protected].