Barack Obama Holds a Town Hall to Address George Floyd’s Killing and America’s History of Racist Policing

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Former President Barack Obama held a livestreamed Town Hall on Wednesday to address widespread civil unrest in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man from Minneapolis.

Starting shortly 5 p.m. EDT, and running about 20 minutes, Obama’s address was part a Town Hall hosted by My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a program launched by the Obama Foundation in 2014 after the police killing of Trayvon Martin, and included a panel with activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham, Minneapolis City Council Representative Phillipe Cunningham, Columbus youth leader Playton Patrick, former Attorney General Eric Holder and Color of Change president Rashad Robinson.

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s incendiary statement on Tuesday, in which he threatened to deploy the U.S. military against protestors, and then outraged many with his staged photo-op at an Episcopal church across from the White House, the stakes were high for Obama to provide a measure of leadership in his first live statement since Floyd’s death.

“Let me start by just acknowledging that we have seen—in the last several weeks, the last few months—the kinds of epic changes and events in our country that are as profound as anything I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said Obama, adding, “To those families who have been directly affected by tragedy, please know that Michelle and I grieve with you, hold you in our prayers, and are committed to the fight of creating a more just nation in memory of your sons and daughters.”

Obama directly addressed COVID-19 early in his statement, noting that the pandemic “has exposed the vulnerabilities of our health care system, but also the disparate treatment and as a consequence the disparate impact that exist in our health care system—the unequal investment, the biases that have led to a disproportionate number of infections and loss of life in communities of color.”

“I want to speak directly to the young men and women of color in this country, who…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,” said Obama, adding, “You’ve communicated a sense of urgency that is as power and as transformative as anything that I’ve seen in recent years.”

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