With protests against police brutality raging on across the US, it was only a matter of time before former President Barack Obama spoke up.
Last month during the virtual speech he gave to graduates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Obama referenced the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man who was shot to death by a former police officer and his son while out on a jog.
Today, he has spoken out about the case of George Floyd, and the subsequent unrest which has spread across America – and the world.
Writing in a blog post on Medium, Obama urged people to have hope in the possibility of change, saying it's really up to future generations of activists to keep the momentum going, but that there are a few lessons to be learnt from past efforts.
He goes on to praise the peaceful protesters and condemn the violence, but tells us we mustn't succumb to the thinking that protest is the only way to effect change.
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.
In other words: VOTE.
And not just in presidential elections. While these are of course crucial, Obama believes that "the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels."
It’s mayors and county executives that appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police unions. It’s district attorneys and state’s attorneys that decide whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct. Those are all elected positions.
Obama goes on to point out that voter turnout in these types of elections is "pitifully low, especially among young people ", but says that these positions have a "direct impact on social justice issues".
If you were hoping for some direct Trump shade, you're out of luck, although he did write what could be interpreted as a fair dig at the president, saying:
These past few months have been hard and dispiriting – that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life.
But in classic Obama form, he ends on a positive and inspiring note, writing that "watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful".
Remember when presidents were level-headed, compassionate, rational and competent?