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Barack Obama urges young Americans to push for change in wake of George Floyd's death

Young people in the United States must capitalize on the momentum they have created through protests in the wake of George Floyd's death before the attention moves away, former president Barack Obama said in a virtual town hall Wednesday.

Former U.S. president participates in panel on law enforcement issues

On Wednesday, former u.S. president Barack Obama, shown here in a file image from 2018, participated in a virtual town hall on police violence. About 400,000 people tuned in live for his remarks. (Jason DeCrow/The Associated Press)

In his first live remarks on the unrest gripping dozens of U.S. cities, former president Barack Obama on Wednesday urged every American mayor to review their police department's use-of-force policies in consultation with their communities.

The country's first black president also struck a note of optimism, even as he acknowledged the despair and anger powering the protests since George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died as a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck nine days ago in Minneapolis, Minn.

"In some ways, as tragic as these last few weeks have been, as difficult and scary and uncertain as they've been, they've also been an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to some of these underlying trends," Obama, a Democrat, said via livestream from his home in Washington.

"And they offer an opportunity for us to all work together to tackle them, to take them on, to change America and make it live up to its highest ideals."

He also directly addressed young Americans of colour, telling them, "I want you to know that you matter. I want you to know that your lives matter, that your dreams matter."

WATCH | Obama discusses how to bring about change:

Former U.S. president Barack Obama addressed a virtual town hall on law enforcement issues Wednesday and called for young people to translate their powerful feelings into positive change. 0:25

Obama's speech offered a contrast in tone to the way his successor, Republican President Donald Trump, has responded to the protests, some of which have devolved into violence. Trump has threatened to deploy the U.S. military to quell demonstrations and told governors to get "tougher."

The virtual town hall comes on the same day Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison increased the charge against fired officer Derek Chauvin to second-degree murder in Floyd's death and announced charges against the other three officers who were present.

Carter, Bush also issue remarks

On Tuesday and Wednesday, former presidents George W. Bush, a Republican, and Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, issued statements that also adopted a more measured tone than Trump has.

Obama did not mention Trump on Wednesday, though he has criticized the president's actions more frequently in recent weeks.

Wednesday's address was part of a discussion hosted by My Brother's Keeper, a program Obama founded in 2014 in the wake of the police shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., to address racial inequities. The panel included former attorney general Eric Holder and other black leaders.

Obama, who saw a similar outpouring while in office after a spate of police killings of black men, questioned the notion that one must choose between "voting versus protests" or "participation versus civil disobedience."

"This is not an either-or," he said. "This is a both-and."

He also implicitly rejected those, like Trump, who have focused criticism on the demonstrators.

"For those who have been talking about protests, just remember: This country was founded on protests," he said. "It is called the American Revolution."

Obama is taking on an increasingly public role as the nation confronts a confluence of historic crises that has exposed deep racial and socioeconomic inequalities in America and reshaped the November election.

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