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4 Jul 2020 14:29
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  •   Home > News > International

    Former president Barack Obama says US protests after George Floyd death can 'change America'

    In his first remarks since the death of George Floyd in police custody, Mr Obama says the protests offer an opportunity for people to be "awakened" to underlying trends, and to work together to tackle them.

    Former US president Barack Obama says the nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd in police custody have provided the opportunity for people to be "awakened" and "change America".

    In his first remarks since Mr Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25, Mr Obama said the US had been experiencing a "tragic", "difficult" and "uncertain" time as police and protesters clashed in cities across the United States.

    But the country's first black president said he was hopeful about what could be achieved out of the demonstrations.

    "In some ways, 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," Mr Obama said.

    "And they offer an opportunity for us to all work together to tackle them, to take them on. To change America and make it live up to its highest ideals.

    "And part of what's made me so hopeful is the fact that so many young people have been galvanised and activated and motivated and mobilised."

    Mr Obama's speech offered a contrast in tone to the way his successor, Republican President Donald Trump, has responded to the protests, some of which have devolved into violence.

    Mr Trump has threatened to deploy the US military to quell demonstrations and told governors to get "tougher".

    This week, former presidents George W Bush, a Republican, and Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, issued statements that also adopted a more measured tone than Mr Trump has.

    Mr Obama said this mobilisation of young people was sparking a change in mindset across the country.

    "That's a direct result of the activities and organising and mobilisation and engagement of so many young people across the country, who put themselves out on the line to make a difference," he said.

    "And so I just have to say thank you to them for helping to bring about this moment."

    He also addressed a message directly to young people of colour, saying that they "matter".

    "I want you to know that you matter, I want you to know that your lives matter, that your dreams matter," Mr Obama said.

    'This country was founded on protests'

    Mr Obama was in office in 2014 and 2015 when US cities experienced riots and protests due to black deaths in custody.

    His comments came in a virtual roundtable meeting with a program called My Brother's Keeper, which he founded in response to the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014, to reduce racial inequalities.

    The former president also urged mayors across the country to work with their communities to review the police use-of-force policies and questioned the notion that one must choose between "voting versus protests" or "participation versus civil disobedience".

    "This is not an either-or," he said. "This is a both-and."

    Mr Obama also implicitly rejected those, like Mr Trump, who have focused criticism on the demonstrators.

    "For those who have been talking about protests, just remember: This country was founded on protests," he said.

    "It is called the American Revolution."



    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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