On Wednesday, former US President Barack Obama urged every American mayor to review and reform the use-of-force policies of their police department in consultation with their communities. 

The first black president of the country also struck a note of optimism, even as he acknowledged the desperation and anger in police custody since the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, nine days ago.

“In some ways, as tragic as these last few weeks have been, as difficult and scary and uncertain as they’ve been, they’ve also been an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to some of these underlying trends,” Obama said via livestream from his Washington, DC, home.

“And they offer an opportunity for us to all work together to tackle them, to take them on, to change America and make it live up to its highest ideals.”

He also directly addressed young Americans of colour, telling them, “I want you to know that you matter, I want you to know that your lives matter, that your dreams matter.”

The speech by Obama offered a distinct contrast in tone to the way in which his successor , President Donald Trump, responded to the protests, some of which became violence. Trump has threatened to use the U.S. military to quench protests and has told governors to “tougher.” 

Obama did not mention Trump on Wednesday, although in recent weeks he has criticised the actions of the president more frequently. 

Wednesday ‘s speech was part of a conversation organised by My Brother’s Keeper, an Obama initiative created in 2014 in the aftermath of police shooting the death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, discussing deep-seated racial inequities. Former attorney general Eric Holder and other black leaders participated in the panel. 

Obama, who witnessed a similar outpouring of grief and frustration while in office following a spate of police murders of unarmed black men, rejected the idea that one should choose between voting versus protests” or “politics and participation versus civil disobedience.”

“This is not an either-or,” he said. “This is a both-and.” 

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