George Floyd: Former US President Barack Obama tells protesters they have to vote

Former US defence secretary Jim Mattis said he has been “angry and appalled” by president Donald Trump’s heavy-handed use of the military to quell protests near the White House.
George Floyd: Former US President Barack Obama tells protesters they have to vote
Demonstrators on the East side of the US Capitol in Washington protest the death of George Floyd yesterday. Pic: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Former US President Barack Obama has said there is no choice between protesting and voting - people need to do both.

Since the death of George Floyd, there has been a push on social media encouraging people to use their anger and disappointment in voting booths later this year.

The United States is due to go to the polls in November to elect a President, along with some mayors, senators and representatives.

Barack Obama said: "I've been hearing a little bit of chatter on the internet about voting versus protest, politics and participation versus civil disobedience and direct action.

"This is not an either/or, we both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable, but we also have to translate that into practical solutions."

The former US president also said he has found hope in the recent protests in the US with the number of young people who are involved.

Mr Obama said: "Part of what's made me so hopeful is the fact that so many young people have been galvanised and activated and motivated and mobilised because historically so much of the progress that we've made in our society has been because of young people.

"Dr King was a young man, Malcolm X was a young man, the leaders of the feminist movement were young people."

Elsewhere, former US defence secretary Jim Mattis said he has been “angry and appalled” by president Donald Trump’s heavy-handed use of the military to quell protests near the White House.

Mr Mattis, who retired from his post in December 2018 following disagreement with Mr Trump over Syria, also accused the president of setting up a “false conflict” between the military and civilian society.

“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” he said.

He was speaking after protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody and took issue with Mr Trump’s walk to a church on Monday after police forcibly cleared Lafayette Square of mostly peaceful protesters.

He said he never dreamed troops “would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens – much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

Mr Mattis, writing in the Atlantic, said: “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people – does not even pretend to try.

“Instead he tries to divide us.

“We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

Mr Trump responded on Twitter by calling Mr Mattis “the world’s most overrated General”, adding: “I didn’t like his ‘leadership’ style or much else about him, and many others agree, Glad he is gone!”

It comes as prosecutors have filed a tougher charge against the police officer at the centre of the George Floyd case and charged three other officers.

From left - Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
From left - Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.

The most serious charge was filed against Derek Chauvin, who was seen on video pressing his knee to Mr Floyd’s neck and now must defend himself against an accusation of second-degree murder.

The three other officers at the scene – Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao – were charged for the first time with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

All four were fired last week.

The new charges were sought by Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison, who called the protests unleashed by the death “dramatic and necessary” and said Mr Floyd “should be here and he is not”.

“His life had value, and we will seek justice,” said Mr Ellison, who cautioned that winning convictions would be hard and said that public pressure had no bearing on his decisions.

Hundreds of protesters were in New York City’s Washington Square Park when the charges were announced.

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Mr Floyd’s family, called it “a bittersweet moment” and “a significant step forward on the road to justice”.

Mr Crump said Mr Ellison had told the family he would continue his investigation into Mr Floyd’s death and upgrade the charge to first-degree murder if warranted.

Yesterday, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office released the full autopsy report on Mr Floyd, which noted he had previously tested positive for Covid-19, but was apparently asymptomatic.

The report was released with the family’s permission after summary findings on Monday that said had a heart attack while being restrained by officers.

Some of the rockiness of the days since African-American Mr Floyd’s death on May 25 dissipated on Tuesday night, with demonstrations continuing around the country, but without major reports of violence.

Curfews and efforts by protesters to contain earlier flare-ups of lawlessness were credited with preventing more widespread damage to businesses in New York and other cities overnight.

“Last night we took a step forward in moving out of this difficult period we’ve had the last few days and moving to a better time,” New York mayor Bill de Blasio said.

People attend a protest against police brutality on Boston Common yesterday. Pic: AP Photo/Steven Senne)
People attend a protest against police brutality on Boston Common yesterday. Pic: AP Photo/Steven Senne)

New York police said they arrested about 280 people on protest-related charges on Tuesday night, compared with 700 a day earlier.

Nationwide, the number arrested in connection to the unrest rose to more than 9,000.

At least 12 deaths have been reported, though the circumstances in many cases are still being sorted out.

Some tense incidents continued Tuesday night, but were far less prevalent than in preceding days.

Police and National Guard troops used tear gas, flash-bang grenades, nonlethal rounds and other means of dispersing crowds near a police precinct in Seattle, near Centennial Park in Atlanta and at demonstrations in Tampa and St Petersburg, Florida.

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