George W. Bush on Floyd protests: 'Achieving justice for all is the duty of all'

Former President George W. Bush on Tuesday called for Americans to examine the nation's "tragic failures" and collectively push for equal justice amid massive protests across the country over the death of George Floyd during the course of his arrest by Minneapolis police. 

Bush said in his first statement on the death of Floyd, an African American man who died last week, that he and his wife, Laura, had initially resisted the urge to speak out because "this is not the time for us to lecture" but the "time for us to listen." 

"The only way to see ourselves in a true light is to listen to the voices of so many who are hurting and grieving," Bush said. "Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America — or how it becomes a better place."

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The comments from Bush followed a week in which protests in major cities throughout the U.S. devolved into riots and violent confrontations between police and demonstrators. Public and private property was demolished and vandalized in several U.S. cities, with fires being set near the White House on Sunday night. 

On Monday, law enforcement fired pepper balls and smoke canisters on protesters near the White House, prompting intense criticism from some local and federal lawmakers. The episode came as President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Trump confirms 2018 US cyberattack on Russian troll farm Trump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott MORE said he would use the military to control unrest in cities. 

Bush said that he was "anguished" by what he called the "brutal suffocation" of Floyd, who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes while Floyd said, "I cannot breathe."

The former GOP president voiced his support for demonstrators calling for justice, saying it signifies strength when "protesters, protected by responsible law enforcement, march for a better future." He stressed that justice would come only through "peaceful means" but also acknowledged that peace would come only in response to equality. 

"Looting is not liberation, and destruction is not progress," he said. "But we also know that lasting peace in our communities requires truly equal justice. The rule of law ultimately depends on the fairness and legitimacy of the legal system."

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"And achieving justice for all is the duty of all," he added. 

A Minnesota county medical examiner on Monday ruled Floyd's death a homicide. Derek Chauvin, the former officer who knelt on Floyd's neck, has also been charged with third-degree murder in the case. Calls have mounted for the three other officers involved in the arrest to be taken into custody and charged and for police departments throughout the U.S. to implement reforms. 

In his statement, Bush acknowledged that it remains a "shocking failure" that many African Americans continue to face harassment and threats. He noted that "the doctrine and habits of racial superiority, which once nearly split our country, still threaten our Union" and urged Americans to launch a "courageous and creative effort" to change systemic inequalities.