Former President Barack Obama put out a statement on George Floyd, a black man who died after being pinned down by police in Minneapolis.
“This shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America,” he wrote. “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 be better.”
Obama said this in reference to the point that many people in America would like life to go back to “normal” in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. But, he wrote, “being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal'” for millions of Americans.
This difference, he wrote, comes “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 the park.” Those last two points seemingly reference Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was shot and killed by two white men while on a jog in Georgia in February, and an incident in New York City’s Central Park this week in which a white woman called the police on a black man who asked her to leash her dog.
Former first lady Michelle Obama also later shared a strings of tweets about Floyd’s death, writing in part, “Like so many of you, I’m pained by these recent tragedies. And I’m exhausted by a heartbreak that never seems to stop. Right now it’s George, Breonna, and Ahmaud. Before that it was Eric, Sandra, and Michael. It just goes on, and on, and on.”
“Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it,” she added.
The initial tweet also included a painting of Floyd with the words “Justice 4 George.”
Floyd died after being apprehended by police Monday. A video that went viral shows an officer, identified as Derek Chauvin, pinning his knee to Floyd’s neck as he is on the ground, saying, “I can’t breathe.”
Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder on Friday afternoon. All four officers involved have been fired, and investigations are ongoing.
Floyd’s death in police custody has led to outrage across the nation and protests in many cities, including in Minneapolis, where violence has broken out over several nights this week.
In the statement that he posted to social media Friday, the former president also referenced conversations he has “had with friends over the past couple days about the footage of George Floyd dying face down on the street under the knee of a police officer in Minnesota.”
These conversations included an email from “a middle-aged African American businessman” who wrote, “‘the knee on the neck’ is a metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring the cries for help.”
He also referenced a video of 12-year-old Keedron Bryant singing a gospel song with lyrics written by his mother about being a young black man in America, and wrote that Keedron and Obama’s friend share the same “anguish,” as do Obama himself and “millions of others.”
Ultimately, Obama wrote, it is up to officials in Minnesota to thoroughly investigate and seek justice for Floyd’s death. But, he wrote, it is up to everyone “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.”
President Donald Trump said Thursday that he has not spoken to Floyd’s family, but that he feels “very, very badly” and that what he saw in the video of Floyd’s death “was not good, very bad.” Attorney General Bill Barr and Trump are monitoring a Department of Justice investigation, according to officials.
On Friday morning, the president tweeted about the protests in Minneapolis, saying that “thugs are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd” and, referencing the military, that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” This tweet was flagged by the social media platform as “glorifying violence.”