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Obama on U.S. protests: 'Let's not excuse violence ... or participate in it'

"This moment can be a real turning point in our nation's long journey to live up to our highest ideals," the former president wrote in a Medium post Monday.

By
Don Jacobson
Former President Barack Obama on Monday hailed peaceful demonstrations and said those protesting with violence are putting innocent people at risk. File Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/UPI
Former President Barack Obama on Monday hailed peaceful demonstrations and said those protesting with violence are "putting innocent people at risk." File Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/UPI | License Photo

June 1 (UPI) -- Former President Barack Obama on Monday urged those protesting the death of George Floyd across the United States to reject violence and focus their anger on making lasting changes politically.

Obama, who began his political career as a community organizer in Chicago, wrote in a blog post on his Medium page that seismic rage at Floyd's death has brought about a rare opportunity for meaningful change.

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Change will come, he said, only if those spurred to activism renounce the looting and vandalism that has led to thousands of arrests nationwide, dozens of injures, some deaths and widespread property damage.

"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," Obama wrote in his post, titled, "How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change."

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"The waves of protests across the country represent a genuine and legitimate frustration over a decades-long failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system in the United States," he added. "The overwhelming majority of participants have been peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring. They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation -- something that police in cities like Camden and Flint have commendably understood."

Obama's plea came after a sixth straight night of mass demonstrations nationwide following Floyd's death on May 25.

Obama wrote that a "small minority" of protesters who have resorted to violence are "putting innocent people at risk, compounding the destruction of neighborhoods that are often already short on services and investment and detracting from the larger cause.

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"I saw an elderly black woman being interviewed today in tears because the only grocery store in her neighborhood had been trashed," he wrote.

"If history is any guide, that store may take years to come back. So let's not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it. 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."

The 44th American president disputed the oft-repeated notion that violence is the only method to bring about real, meaningful change, and that politics are ineffective.

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"I couldn't disagree more," he answered. "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 urged activists to use this occasion to get involved in politics, especially at the local level.

"It's district attorneys and state's attorneys that decide whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct," he wrote.

Obama linked to a toolkit he created as president and provided a link to a page on the Obama Foundation website "to aggregate and direct you to useful resources and organizations who've been fighting the good fight at the local and national levels for years."

"I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting," he added. "But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful.

"This moment can be a real turning point in our nation's long journey to live up to our highest ideals. Let's get to work."

Protesters demand justice in police killing of George Floyd

Demonstrators hold a sign in Los Angeles on June 14 for Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was shot by police in her home while she was sleeping. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

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