Former President Barack Obama held a town hall Wednesday on policing and civil rights.
The event comes amid widespread protests following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died last week after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Watch the event live here:
“In a lot of ways, what has happened over the last several weeks is challenges and structural problems here in the United States have been thrown into high relief,” Obama said, in “outcomes not just of the immediate moments in time, but they’re the result of a long history of slavery and Jim Crow and redlining and institutionalized racism that too often have been the plague, the original sin of our society.”
But, the former president added, “When sometimes I feel despair, I just see what’s happening with young people all across the country, and the talent and the voice and the sophistication they are displaying. And it makes me feel optimistic. It makes me feel as if this country is going to get better.”
Peaceful demonstrations have taken place in more than 300 cities in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, though some have spiraled into chaos and deadly violence as law-enforcement officials use heavy-handed crowd-control tactics.
Some protests involved smaller groups looting businesses and, in a few cases, setting fire to buildings and cars.
Obama said Wednesday that as “difficult and scary and uncertain” as the protests have been, “they’ve also been an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to some of these underlying trends, and they offer an opportunity for us all to work together to tackle them on, to take them on, to change them, and make America live up to its highest ideals.”
He then reiterated his support for young people who have been “galvanized and activated and motivated and mobilized, because historically, so much of the progress that we’ve made in our society has been because of young people.”
Obama also directly addressed “the young men and women of color in this country,” who “have witnessed too much violence, and too much death.”
“I want you to know that you matter, I want you to know that your lives matter, that your dreams matter, and when I go home to look at the faces of my daughters, Sasha and Malia, and I look at my nephews and nieces, I see limitless potential that deserves to flourish and thrive,” Obama said.
“And so I hope that you also feel hopeful, even as you may feel angry, because you have the power to make things better, and you have helped to make the entire country feel as if this is something that’s gotta change. You’ve communicated a sense of urgency that is as powerful as anything that I’ve seen in recent years.”
President Donald Trump and multiple Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, have cracked down on the protests and blamed antifa — a loosely organized group of far-left activists — for violence linked to the demonstrations.
Trump announced on Twitter on Sunday that “the United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.”
Attorney General William Barr released a statement afterward echoing the president’s sentiments, saying, “The violence instigated and carried out by antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly.”
But according to The Nation, which cited an internal FBI situation report, the bureau’s Washington, DC, field office “has no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement/presence” in the violence that took place that day.
The FBI report listed a series of violent acts including instances of bricks being thrown at police officers and a backpack that contained explosives. But based on “CHS [Confidential Human Source] canvassing, open source/social media partner engagement, and liaison,” the bureau had no evidence that those acts were directly linked to antifa, The Nation said.
But the FBI’s report did warn that people associated with a far-right social-media group had “called for far-right provocateurs to attack federal agents” and “use automatic weapons against protesters.”
Politico also reported on Monday that a Department of Homeland Security intelligence note warned law-enforcement officials that a white supremacist channel on the encrypted messaging app Telegram encouraged its followers to incite violence to start a race war during the protests.
Citing the FBI, it said that two days after Floyd’s death, the channel “incited followers to engage in violence and start the ‘boogaloo’ — a term used by some violent extremists to refer to the start of a second Civil War — by shooting in a crowd.”
One of the messages in the channel called for potential shooters to “frame the crowd around you” for the violence, the note said, according to Politico.
On May 29, the note said, “suspected anarchist extremists and militia extremists allegedly planned to storm and burn the Minnesota State Capitol.”