Former President George W. Bush released a statement Tuesday about the police killing of George Floyd but emphasized it wasn’t his place to say how the country should handle its systemic racism problem.
Instead, he said, it was time for Americans to recognize “the repeated violation” of the rights of Black Americans who didn’t get “an urgent and adequate response from American institutions” in a statement posted on the George W. Bush Presidential Center website.
“Laura and I are anguished by the brutal suffocation of George Floyd and disturbed by the injustice and fear that suffocate our country. Yet we have resisted the urge to speak out, because this is not the time for us to lecture. It is time for us to listen.
“It is time for America to examine our tragic failures ― and as we do, we will also see some of our redeeming strengths.”
The 43rd president noted that “it remains a shocking failure that many African Americans, especially young African American men, are harassed and threatened in their own country.”
Bush is the third president — after Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — to speak out about Floyd, 46, a Black man who died last week after a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed on the ground. Video of the arrest, over a suspected counterfeit $20 bill, shows Floyd repeatedly telling officers he couldn’t breathe. His death has ignited protests and unrest across the nation over racial injustice and police brutality.
Bush, in his statement, added that peaceful protests, when protected by responsible law enforcement, “make for a better future.”
But then Bush, who The New York Times noted never made any public statements against police brutality during his two terms in office, then said that Floyd’s death ― one of “a long series of similar tragedies” — raises the long-overdue question of how does America end its systemic racism:
“The only way to see ourselves in a true light is to listen to the voices of so many who are hurting and grieving. Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America — or how it becomes a better place.”
Bush acknowledged the country’s greatest challenge “has long been to unite people of very different backgrounds into a single nation of justice and opportunity.”
He added: “The doctrine and habits of racial superiority, which once nearly split our country, still threaten our Union” and admitted that “we have often underestimated how radical that quest really is, and how our cherished principles challenge systems of intended or assumed injustice.”
The former president then cited American heroes like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. as “heroes of unity” while conceding their actions “often revealed the nation’s disturbing bigotry and exploitation — stains on our character sometimes difficult for the American majority to examine.”
Still, he said, “we can only see the reality of America’s need by seeing it through the eyes of the threatened, oppressed, and disenfranchised.”
Although Bush never called out President Donald Trump’s fiery rhetoric, he did concede that “many doubt the justice of our country, and with good reason.
“Black people see the repeated violation of their rights without an urgent and adequate response from American institutions.”
Bush said that “lasting justice will only come by peaceful means,” adding that “looting is not liberation, and destruction is not progress.”
Lasting peace, he said, can come only from truly equal justice.
“The rule of law ultimately depends on the fairness and legitimacy of the legal system. And achieving justice for all is the duty of all.”
Bush said for that to happen will ”require a consistent, courageous, and creative effort” and that Americans need to understand the experiences of their neighbors and “treat them as equals, in both protection and compassion.”
He said if Americans apply empathy, shared commitment, bold action “and a peace rooted in justice, I am confident that together, Americans will choose the better way.”
In 2015, Politico gave Bush a “C minus” on race issues, giving him high marks for administration diversity and international outreach but an F for domestic outreach, a D for jobs and unemployment and a C minus for “apology and reparations to the Black community.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that George W. Bush was the second president to speak out about Floyd’s death. He is the third.
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