news

"This shouldn't be normal in 2020": Obama's poignant response to George Floyd's death.

The eyes of the world are on the city of Minneapolis today. This little pocket of midwest America is burning, fuelled by a rage that has roared across the country following the death of a local man named George Floyd.

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, spent his last lucid moments facedown in a Minneapolis street on Monday, with the knee of a white police officer pressing firmly down on his neck.

Bystander footage captured Floyd pleading for air, repeating over and over, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe”, before falling unconscious.

He was pronounced dead in hospital a short time later.

george floyd
George. Image: Twitter.

Protests and riots swelled amid the mourning, as a community at breaking point lashed out at the injustice its black citizens continue to experience at the hands of authorities. Buildings were set alight, rocks and bricks thrown at police cars, as outnumbered officers retreated to their precincts.

President Donald Trump threatened to send in the national guard if the "thugs" continued to riot: "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," he tweeted on Friday.

ADVERTISEMENT

Today, his predecessor spoke up. While Trump appealed to the worst in his countrymen, Barack Obama appealed to the best.

This is his statement:

***

I want to share parts of the conversations I’ve had with friends over the past couple days about the footage of George Floyd dying face down on the street under the knee of a police officer in Minnesota.

The first is an email from a middle-aged African American businessman.

“Dude I gotta tell you the George Floyd incident in Minnesota hurt. I cried when I saw that video. It broke me down. The ‘knee on the neck’ is a metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring the cries for help. People don’t care. Truly tragic.”

Another friend of mine used the powerful song that went viral from 12-year-old Keedron Bryant to describe the frustrations he was feeling.

The circumstances of my friend and Keedron may be different, but their anguish is the same. It’s shared by me and millions of others.

Rioters burn buildings in Minneapolis. Image: Getty.

It’s natural to wish for life “to just get back to normal” as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly “normal” – whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.

This shouldn’t be “normal” in 2020 America. It can’t be “normal.” If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better.

It will fall mainly on the officials of Minnesota to ensure that the circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s death are investigated thoroughly and that justice is ultimately done. But it falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station – including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day – to work together to create a “new normal” in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.

***

The police officer at the centre of Floyd's death — Derek Chauvin — is currently in custody, charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Feature image: Getty/Twitter.

00:00 / ???