Powerful Statements from Leading U.S. Officials on Racism and Police Brutality

Notable U.S. leaders have stepped in to express solidarity with the protestors and recognize the nation’s collective pain. (@joy_diehl / Twitter)

For the past 11 days, protests have surged throughout the country, sparked largely by the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. 

The crime: Floyd allegedly tried to buy cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. As a result, officers pinned Floyd to the ground for 8 minutes and 46 seconds—causing him to suffocate under the pressure, which led to his death.  

The U.S.—currently fighting two pandemics: coronavirus and racism—is in desperate need of healing and leadership. Yet the current president, a role sometimes referred to as “mourner in chief,” refuses to lead our nation’s mourning.

Luckily, other notable U.S. leaders have stepped in to express solidarity with the protestors and recognize the nation’s collective pain.

Here are a few whose words may offer some wisdom and leadership in these trying times.


Senator Elizabeth Warren

Former President Barack Obama

Rep. Val Demings, Former Orlando Police Chief

“As a nation, we must conduct a serious review of hiring standards and practices, diversity, training, use-of-force policies, pay and benefits (remember, you get what you pay for), early warning programs, and recruit training programs. Remember, officers who train police recruits are setting the standard for what is acceptable and unacceptable on the street.

“As law enforcement officers, we took an oath to protect and serve. And those who forgot—or who never understood that oath in the first place— must go. That includes those who would stand by as they witness misconduct by a fellow officer.”


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Dr. Kristyn Brandi, Board Chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health

“The killing of Black Americans through police brutality is a public health crisis. In addition to senselessly lost lives, these killings create substantial trauma for the victims’ families and for the communities they leave behind; trauma that lasts for generations.

“As stewards of public health, we have an obligation to call out racist institutions as a means to advocate for better health and the survival of our fellow citizens. While I hope we can get to a point where thriving is possible in Black communities, we first must work towards making sure that our Black citizens are able to survive institutions that should protect all Americans.

“Part of this anti-racism work includes acknowledging how the healthcare system is an institution that has perpetuated racism for centuries. My work as a physician is influenced just as much by my experiences as a Latinx queer woman as it is from my medical training steeped in this racist history.

“The health care system has perpetuated so much discrimination and suffering towards communities of color. We as physicians, especially given our mostly white demographics, need to own this and actively work towards a better solution.

“There has been much talk about how the COVID-19 pandemic highlights how structural and institutional racism impacts peoples’ health. While it seems like two disasters are happening at once, in actuality both are linked in how Black communities are being treated as less than the rest of us. Racism kills patients, not just through police brutality, but also when physicians do not listen and engage our communities equitably.

“We must do better—this is something our community can actively work on here and now.”

Erika Shields, Atlanta Police Chief

“Whether it’s by police or other individuals, the reality is we’ve diminished the value of their life.  It’s a recurring narrative. We keep having this over and over.

“The key is training and weeding out bad cops, especially when you see a pattern of bad behavior. I think it’s getting engaged with people and getting feedback in real time … Body-worn cameras have been tremendous, because they have shown us how a person is behaving when other people aren’t around. It has taken the grey area out when we’re dealing with complaints.” 

Leslie Remond, President of Minneapolis NAACP

“The cruel display of the state-sanctioned murder that took place in Minneapolis is yet another repugnant show of violence by the police. The actions of the officers involved are inexcusable and warrant swift consequences. Their actions represent a dangerous precedent set forth by the racist, xenophobic, and prejudicial sentiment in our society against Black people.

“We witnessed a violation of our human rights, and we must hold all involved criminally accountable for the death of Mr. Floyd.”

Gavin Newsom, Governor of California

“The Black community is not responsible for what is happening in this country right now. We are.  Let’s just call that out. Our institutions are accountable.

“We have a unique responsibility to the Black community in this country, and we’ve been paying lip service about that for generations.  To those of you out there protesting, I want you to know you matter—I care—we care.  I want you to know I have a unique responsibility to prove that to you.”

Levar Stoney, Mayor of Richmond, Virginia

“The murder of George Floyd pains me deeply. It’s a pain long felt by people who look like me, a pain ingrained in the bones of Black Americans. 

“My heart breaks for the Floyd family and the Minneapolis community, but this is bigger than one city. This is a burden we all bear.

“Yes, we must interrogate and condemn the America that treats Black lives as expendable, whether at the hands of the police or the coronavirus. But it’s not enough to believe this is all about changing hearts and minds.

“America was built on the backs of slaves, and our city is still plagued by the inequities that rose from this shameful foundation. Healing this country will require systems-level change to abolish the injustices that continue to oppress and pin down Black Americans until they can’t breathe.

“It is the responsibility of us all—no matter our race or station—to question and transform institutions predicated on racism, and to do so with love in our hearts and the names of our lost brothers and sisters on our lips.”

Darell Steinberg, Mayor of Sacramento, California

“To all Sacramentans outraged by the needless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as your mayor, I share your outrage. The way he died, while pleading for his life, is sickening and tells a story too often experienced by African-Americans throughout our nation’s history.

“We have made real progress in Sacramento borne from our own painful experience. From police officer to community leader to caring resident, let us protest this injustice peacefully and let us continue to change, to heal, and to seek justice for Mr. Floyd, his family and his community.”

William C. Jordan, NAACP President, Minnesota/Dakotas Area State Conference

“How arrogant [Chauvin] was with his hand in his pocket. He acted like nothing was going on, like this was business as usual while he was choking the life out of a human being. That image is something that’s hard to get off of your mind. 

“It may take the riots. It may take the protests for people to understand the amount of fear and the amount of grief people go through.  The white privilege, it doesn’t make sense to them and you have to get people to be able to see from a different standpoint, a different point of view. But until these issues affect people from the majority community as much as it affects the minority community, it’s going to be hard to really fix these things.”

Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of NAACP

“The words, ‘I can’t breathe!’ echo louder and louder as we think back to 2014 when New York police officers killed Eric Garner in the same manner. Yet, here we are waking up to the untimely murder of George Floyd by police officers.

“The outrage we feel and the justice we demand will reverberate throughout Minneapolis and the country as a whole. We are done dying. This moment calls for us to unify, uplift the family, and pursue justice.”

Open letter Penned by LGBTQ+ Organizations and Human Rights Campaign

“We … recognize we cannot remain neutral, nor will awareness substitute for action. The LGBTQ community knows about the work of resisting police brutality and violence. We celebrate June as Pride Month, because it commemorates, in part, our resisting police harassment and brutality at Stonewall in New York City, and earlier in California, when such violence was common and expected. We remember it as a breakthrough moment when we refused to accept humiliation and fear as the price of living fully, freely, and authentically. 

“We understand what it means to rise up and push back against a culture that tells us we are less than, that our lives don’t matter. Today, we join together again to say #BlackLivesMatter and commit ourselves to the action those words require.”


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About

Michael Herrera is a contributor at Ms. Magazine. He studied at California State University, Northridge and has a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism as well as a minor in creative writing.