Former President Barack Obama said Monday the overwhelming majority of protests nationwide against police brutality have been “peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring.”
“They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation,” Mr. Obama wrote in an essay on Medium.com.
He said a “small minority” of protesters engaging in violence, “whether out of genuine anger or mere opportunism … are detracting from the larger cause.”
“Let’s not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it,” Mr. Obama said. “If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves.”
The former president also said protesters who want to change the criminal-justice system should direct their efforts at the state and local levels. But he said young voters often ignore local elections where they could make a difference.
“It’s mayors and county executives that appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police unions,” he said. “It’s district attorneys and state’s attorneys that decide whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct. Unfortunately, voter turnout in these local races is usually pitifully low, especially among young people — which makes no sense given the direct impact these offices have on social justice issues, not to mention the fact that who wins and who loses those seats is often determined by just a few thousand, or even a few hundred, votes.”
The Obama administration was accused of failing to address killings of law-enforcement officers amid the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which itself was a response to killings of minorities by police.
Mr. Obama created a task force on 21st Century policing in 2014, which developed recommendations for police reforms that were adopted by a small percentage of departments.
After demonstrators clashed with police and looted stores for a sixth straight night on Sunday, Mr. Obama said it’s often civil disobedience that forces authorities to pay attention to “marginalized communities.”