Obama addresses nation, asks all mayors to review use of force

Former President Barack Obama spoke in a virtual town hall event with young people to discuss policing and the civil unrest that has followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Watch his address below:

He called for turning the protests over Floyd’s death into policy change to ensure safer policing and increased trust between communities and law enforcement.

He urged “every mayor in the country to review your use of force policies” with their communities and “commit to report on planned reforms” before prioritizing their implementation.

Specifically, he urged the mayors to sign a pledge to reform police forces:

  1. Review police use of force policies.
  2. Engage communities by including a diverse range of input, experiences, and stories in the review.
  3. Report the findings of the review to the community and seek feedback.
  4. Reform the community's police use of force policies.

Obama rejected a debate he said he’d seen come up in “a little bit of chatter on the internet” about “voting versus protests, politics and participation versus civil disobedience and direct action.”

“This is not an either-or. This is a both and to bring about real change,” he said. “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 could be implemented and monitored and make sure we’re following up on.”

During the round table, Obama drew parallels between the unrest sweeping American currently and protest movements of the 1960s. But he said polls show a majority of Americans supporting today’s protesters and forming a “broad coalition” in a way much of the country didn’t back then — despite some of the recent protests “having been marred by the actions of a tiny minority that engaged in violence.”

Still, he warned, “at some point, attention moves away” and “protests dwindle in size” so “it’s important to take that moment that’s been created as a society, as a country, and say let’s use this to finally have an impact.”

This was his first-on-camera appearance discussing the issue after he penned an essay for Medium.

In the essay, Obama calls on “a new generation of activists to shape strategies that best fit the times. But I believe there are some basic lessons to draw from past efforts that are worth remembering.”

He also says, writing directly about the current unrest, that protests are not enough, that those who want change have to make the change by voting.

"The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it's often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands," Obama wrote.

You can read the entire post here.

Wednesday's address is part of Obama's "My Brother's Keeper Alliance."

Police reform activists and former Attorney General Eric Holder will also join him.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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