WASHINGTON: Former US President Barack Obama addressed Friday the death of a 46-year-old black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pinned his neck to the ground for minutes-on-end.
Obama noted that many in America already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout are desperately seeking a return to “normal,” but stressed that for millions of Americans “being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal.'”
“This shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America. It can’t be normal,” Obama, the US’s first black president, said in a lengthy statement. “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,” he added.
Floyd died Monday, setting off days of protests in Minneapolis and cities across the US over police brutality and legal accountability. Some demonstrations have devolved into violence, and the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct was set ablaze late Thursday night in one such incident.
Obama’s comments stand in stark contrast to those of President Donald Trump who hours earlier tweeted “These THUGS are dishonouring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” then appearing to threaten military action if violence continues.
“Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he said in a message Twitter slapped with a warning it glorifies violence.
Video of Floyd’s arrest captured by a bystander and posted on Facebook appeared to show the victim pinned to the ground, repeatedly pleading “I can’t breathe” for nearly four minutes as an officer holds his neck to the ground with his knee. He appeared to be in handcuffs in the video footage.
Floyd, 46, appeared to lose consciousness as the officer maintained his position on the victim.
His pulse was checked about three minutes after he stopped gasping for air, but it is unclear from the video what the assessment was at that point. He was then loaded on to a stretcher and moved into an ambulance.
Four officers have been fired over Floyd’s death, which sparked mass protests and an outcry against police brutality.
Floyd’s family said they want the officers to be charged with murder.
His death has strong parallels to that of Eric Garner, who died during a fatal 2014 arrest in New York, repeatedly pleading with officers, “I can’t breathe.”
The phrase became a rallying point for protesters demonstrating against the killings of unarmed black men and women by police. It has continued to resonate nearly six years later.