“Let’s not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it,” Obama said in a statement on Medium.
He continued, “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.”
Obama said that the “small minority of folks who’ve resorted to violence” are “putting innocent people at risk.”
“The small minority of folks who’ve resorted to violence in various forms, whether out of genuine anger or mere opportunism, are putting innocent people at risk, compounding the destruction of neighborhoods that are often already short on services and investment and detracting from the larger cause.”
While Obama denounced violent demonstrations, he praised the thousands of peaceful protesters as “courageous, responsible, and inspiring.”
He added, “They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation — something that police in cities like Camden and Flint have commendably understood.”
In several cities across the U.S., police officers were seen kneeling in solidarity with peaceful protesters, as IJR reported.
In addition to peacefully protesting, Obama urged people to vote and dismissed the notion that “only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time.”
“I couldn’t disagree more. The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice,” Obama said, adding, “But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.’
Obama went on to say that it is “important” to have national leaders who “recognize the ongoing, corrosive role that racism plays in our society.”
However, Obama also urged people not to ignore the role local officials play in society, “The elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.”
“So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.”
Additionally, Obama called for people to make specific demands for criminal justice reform, “The more specific we can make demands for criminal justice and police reform, the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause and then fall back into business as usual once protests have gone away.”
Finally, Obama offered hope that the energy and demand for reforms could lead to change, “If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.”
“Let’s get to work,” he finished.
Obama had previously called for Americans to “work together to create a ‘new normal,'” as IJR reported.
He added, “We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us.”