LOS ANGELES - Former President George W. Bush weighed in on the death of George Floyd with a lengthy statement issued on Tuesday, saying he and former first lady Laura Bush “are anguished by the brutal suffocation” of Floyd, who died during an encounter with Minneapolis police May 25.
“We have resisted the urge to speak out, because this is not the time for us to lecture," Bush wrote. “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.”
His comments come as protests against police brutality continue to rage across the country ever since Floyd, who was black, died May 25 after a white police officer pressed his knee on his neck for more than eight minutes, until he stopped breathing.
“It remains a shocking failure that many African Americans, especially young African American men, are harassed and threatened in their own country,” Bush wrote. “It is a strength when protesters, protected by responsible law enforcement, march for a better future.”
Bush called the treatment of many African Americans in the U.S., and specifically the death of Floyd, a “tragedy — in a long series of similar tragedies.”
Bush’s sentiment echoed that of former President Barack Obama, who said, “It can’t be ‘normal’ if we want our children to grow up in a nation what lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better.”
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Obama added that while so many wish for a return to “normal” in the face of a pandemic and economic crisis, the treatment of millions of Americans on account of their race is an issue that is “tragically, painfully, maddeningly normal” and unacceptable.
Bush called on Americans to “listen to the voices of so many who are hurting and grieving,” as a step in the right direction toward ending the systemic racism he said threatens the country.
“The doctrine and habits of racial superiority, which once nearly split our country, still threaten our Union,” he said.
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In contrast to the statements of Bush and Obama, President Donald Trump has received criticism for his response to the protests, ratcheting up pressure on state authorities to quell some of the protests that have turned violent with force, in one instance demanding New York call up the National Guard to stop the “lowlifes and losers.”
The president has threatened that if states do not take tough enough action, he will deploy active-duty military across the country as a force to “dominate” and restore law and order.
Moments before Trump addressed the nation from the White House Rose Garden on Monday at 6:30 p.m., officers aggressively forced protesters back, firing tear gas and deploying flash bangs into the crowd to disperse them from the park for seemingly no reason.
With smoke still wafting and isolated tussles continuing in the crowd, Trump emerged in the Rose Garden for a dramatic split-screen of his own creation.
“I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters," he declared, before demanding that governors across the nation deploy the National Guard "in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets." And he warned that, if they refused, he would deploy the United States military “and quickly solve the problem for them.”
Then, before departing, Trump announced he wasn't done for the evening, and would be "going to pay my respects to a very very special place.”
Moments later, the White House press pool was quickly summoned for a surprise movement. And soon after, Trump strolled out of the White House gates — something he had never done before — and walked across the park that had just been cleared to accommodate his movements.
Trump walked slowly, followed by an entourage of his most senior aides, security and reporters. The faint residue of pepper spray hung in the air, stinging eyes and prompting coughing.
Sections of the park and surrounding sidewalks were strewn with garbage, including plastic water bottles and other debris. Some sections had been scrawled with graffiti.
Trump crossed H Street and walked toward St. John’s Church, the landmark pale yellow building where every president, including Trump, has prayed. It had been damaged Sunday night in a protest fire.
Trump, standing alone in front of cameras, then raised a black-covered Bible for reporters to see.
“We have a great country,” Trump said. “Greatest country in the world.”
He didn’t talk about Floyd, the church or the damage it had suffered, or the peaceful protesters police had cleared. He said nothing about the coronavirus pandemic, the parallel crisis that has continued to ravage the nation as Trump campaigns for a second presidential term. And then he invited his attorney general, national security adviser, chief of staff, press secretary and defense secretary — all white — to join him for another round of photos before he walked back across the park to the White House.
At one point, he stopped and pumped his fist in the air at National Guard members in the distance.
“We’re going to keep it nice and safe," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.