‘We need a government as good as its people’: Jimmy Carter calls for racial justice in aftermath of Floyd killing

Black Lives Matter

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter speaks at a news conference at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Chris Rank | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Former President Jimmy Carter on Wednesday addressed the death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, expressing sympathy for the Floyd family and condemning racial discrimination.

But he said of the protests raging across the nation in the aftermath of that killing, that “violence, whether spontaneous or consciously incited, is not a solution.”

“Our hearts are with the victims’ families and all who feel hopeless in the face of pervasive racial discrimination and outright cruelty,” Carter said in a statement on behalf of himself and his wife Rosalynn. “We all must shine a spotlight on the immorality of racial discrimination.”

“We need a government as good as its people, and we are better than this,” the Carters said.

The couple’s statement comes as protests nationwide continue into their ninth day, with organizers and demonstrators calling for police accountability. Major cities, including New York, have begun enforcing curfews and beefing up law enforcement resources after days of action marked by violence and looting.

Floyd died as a white officer, Derek Chauvin, held him down by pressing a knee into his neck. In a video of his arrest in Minneapolis, Floyd is heard repeatedly telling Chauvin and other cops, “I can’t breathe.”

Carter is the latest former president to address Floyd’s death. 

George W. Bush on Tuesday expressed a similar sentiment, saying, “Looting is not liberation, and destruction is not progress.” Former President Barack Obama on Friday tweeted that racial inequality and “shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America.” 

President Donald Trump has also expressed sympathy for Floyd’s family while threatening multiple times to send the National Guard to quell the protests. Trump said in a tweet that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” echoing a phrase used by a Miami police chief in the 1960s, widely interpreted as a violent threat against protesters. 

All of the former officers involved with Floyd’s death have now been charged in the case. 

Read Carter’s full statement:

Rosalynn and I are pained by the tragic racial injustices and consequent backlash across our nation in recent weeks. Our hearts are with the victims’ families and all who feel hopeless in the face of pervasive racial discrimination and outright cruelty. We all must shine a spotlight on the immorality of racial discrimination. But violence, whether spontaneous or consciously incited, is not a solution.

As a white male of the South, I know all too well the impact of segregation and injustice to African Americans. As a politician, I felt a responsibility to bring equity to my state and our country. In my 1974 inaugural address as Georgia’s governor, I said: “The time for racial discrimination is over.” With great sorrow and disappointment, I repeat those words today, nearly five decades later. Dehumanizing people debases us all; humanity is beautifully and almost infinitely diverse. The bonds of our common humanity must overcome the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices. 

Since leaving the White House in 1981, Rosalynn and I have strived to advance human rights in countries around the world. In this quest, we have seen that silence can be as deadly as violence. People of power, privilege, and moral conscience must stand up and say “no more” to a racially discriminatory police and justice system, immoral economic disparities between whites and blacks, and government actions that undermine our unified democracy. We are responsible for creating a world of peace and equality for ourselves and future generations. 

We need a government as good as its people, and we are better than this.

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