Barack Obama spoke publicly for the first time Friday about George Floyd, saying that he shares the "anguish" of millions at witnessing a black man "dying face down on the street under the knee of a police officer in Minnesota."
“We have to remember that for millions of Americans," wrote Obama, "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.”
Obama referenced several news stories from the past few months including the fact that black Americans are overwhelmingly dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than nonblack Americans.
The former president also alluded to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed by white men while on a jog in Georgia earlier this year, and to the white woman who called police after an encounter with a black man birdwatching in New York's Central Park on Monday.
"This shouldn't be 'normal' in 2020 America," wrote Obama. "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 do better."
Obama shared part of an email from a friend, who he said was 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’ metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring the cries for help. People don’t care. Truly tragic.”
The former president also referenced the viral video by Keedron Bryant, a 12-year-old singer who posted an original song on Instagram.
In it, Bryant sings:
I’m a young black man / Doing all that I can / To stand
But when I look around / And see what’s being done to my kind / Every day / I’m being hunted as prey / My people don’t want no trouble / We’ve had enough struggle
I just want to live / God protect me / I just want to live / I just want to live
Obama called on Minnesota officials, law enforcement, and average citizens to fight "the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment."
“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," wrote Obama.
"But it falls on all of us," he continued, "regardless of our race of 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.”
Police brutality and the killing of black people was a continuing issue during Obama's presidency, which saw the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, that lasted for months. The protests followed the death of Michael Brown, a black teenager shot and killed by a white police officer.