Former President Barack Obama said Monday that the sometimes violent protests sweeping across the United States are an opportunity to make “real change” so as long as they are peaceful.
“If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves,” he wrote before adding that the “point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable.”
Over the past several days, across numerous cities, photos and videos showed rioting, looting, arson, and clashes with police. However, many protesters took to the street to demonstrate peacefully over the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis, sparking demonstrations in the city before spreading to others.
“Let’s not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it,” Obama, also a former Chicago-area community organizer and a U.S. senator, wrote on Medium.
He added, “The bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.”
And in another statement, Obama called on officials in Minneapolis to bring justice in Floyd’s death. A video that went viral on social media showed an officer, later identified as Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he said he couldn’t breathe.
Chauvin was fired, arrested and charged with third-degree murder last week, but that did little to quell the unrest and violence.
Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing Floyd’s family, told CBS News on Sunday that the charges should be upgraded to first-degree murder, saying that he “had intent, based on not the one minute, two minute, but over eight minutes, almost nine minutes he kept his knee in a man’s neck that was begging and pleading for breath.”
In some cities, the violence has continued despite curfews in big cities across the country and the deployment of thousands of National Guard soldiers over the past week.
On Sunday, protesters hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at police in Philadelphia, set a fire near the White House, and were met with tear gas and pepper spray in Austin, Texas, and other cities. Seven Boston police officers were hospitalized.
Police officers and National Guard soldiers enforcing a curfew in Louisville, Kentucky, killed a man early Monday when they returned fire after someone in a large group shot at them first, police said. In Indianapolis, two people were reported dead in bursts of downtown violence over the weekend, adding to deaths recorded in Detroit and Minneapolis.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.