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Barack Obama calls for end to bigotry that ‘infects our institutions and our hearts’

Barack Obama in 2019
Barack Obama in 2019Michael Sohn/Associated Press

In a statement Friday, Barack Obama called for an end to racial bigotry and unequal treatment in law enforcement and other American institutions, describing the “anguish” he felt over the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minnesota police.

In the statement, Obama shared sentiments he’d heard from friends as they processed the graphic bystander video of Floyd’s death, describing it as “anguish.”

Obama shared one e-mail in particular, from a businessman friend who told Obama that the video “broke” him.

“The ‘knee on the neck’ is a metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring the cries for help. People don’t care," the man wrote, according to Obama.


“It’s natural to wish for life ‘to just get back to normal’ as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal’ – whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park,” Obama said in the statement.

He said serving justice in Floyd’s case would be up to Minnesota officials, but called on “all of us”― including those in law enforcement ― to end a “legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment" in American institutions. Early Friday afternoon, Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer fired in the wake of Floyd’s death, was taken into custody.

In his post on Facebook, Obama also shared a video of Keedron Bryant, a 12-year-old gospel artist who wrote an original song about how he was feeling. Instagram video of his performance, which has since gone viral, included the caption: “Just singing what’s on my heart.”

The song included the lyric: “I just want to live.”


Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.