Barack Obama Sends Message of Hope in Town Hall: "You Have the Power to Make Things Better"

Amid ongoing nationwide protests, the former president urges lawmakers to "review their use of force policies" and commit to reform.

Amid ongoing nationwide protests, former President Barack Obama offered words of encouragement to those fighting for change. 

The former president spoke to the nation through a virtual town hall hosted by the Obama Foundation's My Brother's Keeper Alliance on Wednesday titled "Reimagining Policing in the Wake of Continued Police Violence." The discussion centered on the tragic events of recent weeks, racial bias in the criminal justice system, and specific action steps needed to bring about meaningful change.

"We have seen in the last several weeks, last fews months, the kind of epic changes and events in our country that are as profound as I've seen in my lifetime," Obama said. Though acknowledging the "pain, uncertainty, disruption" that people are feeling in the wake of recent tragedies, Obama expressed his condolences to the family of George Floyd and the "disproportionate loss of life in communities of color."

"We grieve with you," he said on behalf of himself and his family. He went on to say that as tragic, difficult, scary and uncertain these times are, this moment has proven to be "an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to some of these underlying trends."

"They offer an opportunity to us to all work together to tackle them," he continued during the virtual town hall, noting that America has a long history of institutionalized racism that too often has been the "plague and original sin of our society."

He added that seeing young people speak up makes him believe that "this country is going to get better" adding that "part of what's made me so hopeful is so many young people have been galvanized and activated and motivated" to make change. 

Speaking to young men and women of color, specifically, those who have witnessed violence, Obama offered words of encouragement. "I want you to know that you matter. Your lives matter. Your dreams matter." 

Obama said that he is "heartened" to see those in law enforcement who recognize that they want to be part of the solution. "Change is going to require everybody's participation," he said.

He later urged lawmakers to "review use of force policies" and commit to reform. "We need to be clear about where change is going to happen." Obama went on to explain that he's been hearing chatter about "voting versus protests" and "politics versus civil disobedience," but he said that this is not an either-or scenario. "We have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that can be implemented." 

The former president offered solutions that can be used, such as looking at specific evidence-based reforms that can be put in place to save lives and urging every mayor to review their use of force policies with members of the community. 

Obama was joined by Eric H. Holder Jr., former attorney general; Rashad Robinson, executive director, Color of Change; Brittany Packnett Cunningham, co-founder, Campaign Zero, and former member of President Obama's 21st Century Policing Task Force; Phillipe Cunningham, Minneapolis City Council member, Ward 4; and Playon Patrick, youth leader, My Brother’s Keeper, Columbus, Ohio.

The virtual town hall came amid ongoing nationwide protests, which began last week in Minneapolis following George Floyd's death after a police officer pressed a knee on his neck until he stopped breathing. Some violence has followed protests, leaving parts of cities with broken windows, burned-out buildings and ransacked stores. 

In response, Los Angeles County first enacted a countywide curfew Sunday. As looting and violence increased over the weekend, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti enlisted help from the National Guard. Gov. Gavin Newsom also declared a state of emergency, resulting in about 1,000 National Guard personnel being deployed over the weekend.