June 9- Barack Obama Speech
In this speech made on 7 June 2020, Barack Obama discusses the murder of George Floyd, police brutality, the ongoing protests and the power of the youth in today’s world. He helps to answer the question of how police can be held accountable to ensure that incidents, such as George Floyd’s death, don’t happen as often.
Barack Hussein Obama is an American politician and lawyer who became famous for being America’s first black head of state and serving two terms as president. He is well known for his powerful speeches and his role in further liberation for oppressed groups in America.
“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 because historically so much of the progress that we’ve made in our society has been because of young people.”
“…Change is going to require everybody’s participation.” (7:23)
“And so as activists and everyday citizens raise their voices, we need to be clear about where change is going to happen and how we can bring about that change.” (9:06)
“We both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable, but we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that can be implemented and we can monitor and make sure that we’re following up on it.” (10:10)
“There is a change in mindset that’s taken place, a greater recognition that we can do better.” (14:02)
Barack Obama’s Speech (2020)
Transcribed by Amy Chambers for the African Climate Alliance
Barack Obama: Afternoon everybody. All the participants, all the panelists, you know, let me start by just acknowledging that we have seen in the last several weeks last few months um the kinds of epic changes and events in our country that uh are as profound as anything that I’ve seen in my lifetime and I’m now a lot older than planned, I’ll be fifty nine soon and and let me begin by acknowledging that although all of us have been feeling piano uncertainty and disruption some folks have been feeling it more than others. Most of all, uh, the pain that’s been experienced by the families of George and Broanna and Ahmad and Tony and Shawn and too many others to mention, those that we thought about during that moment of silence. And to those families who’ve been directly affected by tragedy please know that Micelle and I and the nation grieve with you, hold you in our prayers, we’re committed to the fight of creating a more just nation in the memory of your sons and daughters. And we can’t forget that even as we’re confronting the particular acts of violence that led to those losses our nation and the world is still in the midst of a global pandemic that’s exposed the vulnerabilities of our healthcare system but also the disparate treatment and as a consequence the disparate impact that exists in our healthcare system, the unequal investment, the biases that have led to a disproportionate number of infections and losses of life in communities of colour.
So in a lot of ways what has happened over the last several weeks is challenges and structural problems here in the United States have been thrown into high relief. There are the outcomes not just of the immediate moments in time but are the result of a long history of slavery and Jim Crow and red lining and institutionalised racism that too often had been the plague, the original sin of our society and 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. 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 because historically so much of the progress that we’ve made in our society has been because of young people. Dr King was a young man when he got involved. Cesar Chavez was a young man. Malcolm X was a young man. The leaders of the feminist movement were young people, leaders of union movements were young people, leaders of environmental movement in this country and the movement to make sure that the LGBT community finally had a voice and was represented, were young people. And so when sometimes I feel despair I just see what;’s happening with young people all across the country and the talent and the voice and the sophistication that they’re displaying and it makes me feel optimistic. It makes me feel as if this country’s going to get better.
Now I want to speak directly to the young men and women of colour in this country who as … so eloquently described have witnessed too much violence and too much death and too often some of that violence has come from folks who were supposed to be serving and protecting you. I want you to know that you matter, that your lives matter, that your dreams matter. And when I go home and 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 and you should be able to learn and make mistakes and live a life of joy without having to worry about what 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 a park. And so I hope that you also feel hopeful even as you may feel angry, as you have the power to make things better and you have helped to make the entire country feel as if this is something that’s got to change. You’ve communicated a sense of urgency that is as powerful and as transformative as anything that I’ve seen in recent years.
I want to acknowledge the folks in law enforcement that share the goals of reimagining police, because there are folks out there who took the oath to serve your communities in your countries. You have a tough job and I know you’re just as outraged about the tragedies in recent weeks as aware many of the protesters, and so we’re grateful for the vast majority of you who protect and serve. I’ve been heartened to see those in law enforcement who recognized- “let me march along with these protesters. Let me stand side by side and recognize that I want to be part of the solution,”- and who’ve shown restraint and volunteered and engaged and listened, because you’re a vital part of the conversation and change is going to require everybody’s participation.
Now when I was in office, as was mentioned, I created a task force on 21st century police policing in the wake of the tragic calling of Michael Brown. That task force which included law enforcement and community leaders and activists was charged to develop a very specific set of recommendations to strengthen public trust and foster better working relationships between law enforcement and the communities that they’re supposed to protect, even as they’re continuing to promote effective crime reduction. And that report showcased a range of solutions and strategies that were proven and that were based on data and research to improve community policing and collect better data and reporting and identify and do something about implicit bias and how the police were trained and reforms to use the force. The police deploy in ways that increase safety rather than precipitate tragedy and that report demonstrated something that’s critical for us today… most of the reforms that are needed to prevent the type of violence and injustices that we’ve seen take place at the local level. Their reform has to take place in more 19 thousand American municipalities, more the 18 thousand local enforcement jurisdictions. And so as activists and everyday citizens raise their voices, we need to be clear about where change is going to happen and how we can bring about that change.
It is mayors and county executives that appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police unions, and that determines police practices in local communities. It’s district attorneys and state’s attorneys that decide typically whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct. And those are all elected positions and in some places they’re police community review boards with the pirate monitor of police conduct, those may be elected as well. But the bottom line is I’ve been hearing a little bit of chatter in the internet about voting versus protest, politics & participation versus civil disobedience in direct action. This is not an either-or, this is a both, aimed to bring about real change. We both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable, but we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that can be implemented and we can monitor and make sure that we’re following up on it.
So, very quickly, let me just close with a couple of specific things. What can we do?
Number one: we know that there are specific evidence based reforms that if we put in place today would build trust, save lives, would not show an increase in crime… those are included in the policing task force report- you can find it on Obama.org.
Number two: a lot of mayors and local elected officials read and supported the task force report, but then there wasn’t enough follow. So today I am urging every major in this country to review your use of force policies with members of your community and commit to report on planned reforms. What are the specific steps that you can take and I should add, by the way, that the original task force report was done several years ago- since that time we’ve actually collected data in part because we implemented some of these reform ideas. So we now have more information and more data as to what works! And there are organizations like Campaign Zero and Colour of Change and others that are out there highlighting the- what the data shows. What works, what doesn’t in terms of reducing incidents of police misconduct and violence. Let’s go ahead and start implementing those! We need mayor’s, county executives, others who are in positions of power to say this is a priority. This is a specific response.
Number three: Every city in this country should be a my brother’s keeper community, because we have 250 cities, county’s, tribal nations, who are working to reduce the barriers and expand communities for boys and young men of cloud through programs and policy reforms and public-private partnerships. So go to our website, get working with that because it can make a difference.
And let me just close by saying this: I’ve heard some people say that you have a pandemic, then you have these protests. This reminds people of the 60s and the chaos and discord and distrust throughout the country. I have to tell you, when I was very young, when you had riots and protests and assassinations and discord back in the 60s, I know enough about that history to say there is something different here. You look at these protests, a far more representative cross-section of America- out on the streets peacefully protesting and who felt moved to do something because of the injustices that they had seen. That didn’t exist back in the 1960s, that kind of broad coalition. The fact that recent surveys showed that despite some protests having then been marred by the actions of some, a tiny minority that engaged in violence. That despite, you know as usual, that got a lot of attention- a lot of focus, despite all that a majority of Americans still think those protests were justified. That wouldn’t have existed thirty, forty years ago.
There is a change in mindset that’s taken place, a greater recognition that we can do better. And that is not as a consequence of speeches by politicians, that’s not the result of, you know, spotlights in news articles, that’s a direct result of the activities and organization and mobilization and engagement of so many young people across the country who put themselves out on the line to make a difference. So I just have to say thank you to them for helping to bring about this moment and just make sure that we now follow through, because at some point, you know, attention moves away. At some point protests start to dwindle in size and it’s very important for us to take the momentum that has been created as a society, as a country and say let’s use this to finally have an impact all right?
Thank you everybody! Proud of you guys and I know that we’re gonna be hearing from a bunch of people who have been on the frontlines on this and know a lot more than I do about it.
Proud of it.