President Carter on Floyd killing and riots: ‘We are better than this’

Former President Jimmy Carter in 2017. “Dehumanizing people debases us all,” Carter said about the killing of George Floyd and the riots that followed. “Humanity is beautifully and almost infinitely diverse. The bonds of our common humanity must overcome the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)
Former President Jimmy Carter in 2017. “Dehumanizing people debases us all,” Carter said about the killing of George Floyd and the riots that followed. “Humanity is beautifully and almost infinitely diverse. The bonds of our common humanity must overcome the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

In 1971, during Jimmy Carter’s inaugural address as Georgia’s governor, he said famously: “The time for racial discrimination is over.”

Forty-six years later, as he watched the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing protests and riots, the former president said with “great sorrow and disappointment, I repeat those words.”

“Dehumanizing people debases us all,” Carter said Wednesday. “Humanity is beautifully and almost infinitely diverse. The bonds of our common humanity must overcome the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices.”

The former president said he and his wife Rosalynn have been pained by “tragic racial injustices and consequent backlash across our nation in recent weeks.”

“We need a government as good as its people,” Carter said. “We are better than this.”

Last Monday, Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, who held his knee on the dying man’s neck for close to 10 minutes. Outrage over the death, coupled with the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., led to nationwide protests.

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Protesters were active downtown as protests continued for a fourth day on Monday, June 1, 2020, in Atlanta.  Protests over the death of George Floyd continued around the United States. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Protesters were active downtown as protests continued for a fourth day on Monday, June 1, 2020, in Atlanta. Protests over the death of George Floyd continued around the United States. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Many of the protests in major cities, including Atlanta, saw some riots and looting. One of the officers involved in Floyd’s death has been charged with second-degree murder, and arrest warrants were issued on Wednesday for the other three for aiding and abetting a murder.

“Our hearts are with the victims’ families and all who feel hopeless in the face of pervasive racial discrimination and outright cruelty,” Carter said. “We all must shine a spotlight on the immorality of racial discrimination. But violence, whether spontaneous or consciously incited, is not a solution.”

Carter, who grew in rural Plains, recalled firsthand the impact of segregation and injustice on African Americans and said that as governor and president, he had a responsibility to bring equity to the state and the country.

“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,” said Carter, who was elected president in 1976. “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.”