Former President Bill Clinton said Friday that he’s been “truly awed” to see young and diverse people come together to protest racial injustice amid a coronavirus outbreak that has laid bare many of the country’s long-standing inequalities.
“Just as we were dealing with that, we then watched as George Floyd’s life was squeezed out of him,” Clinton said in a virtual commencement address to the class of 2020, “as Ahmaud Arbery’s last run turned him into hunters’ prey, and as Breonna Taylor died in a hail of bullets.”
The speech was part of Verizon’s “Ready for Anything” series of virtual commencement speeches. (Verizon is the parent company of Yahoo News.)
Floyd’s death, Clinton said, “reverberated across this country as nothing has in years, in large measure because it was captured on video.”
The 46-year-old black man died on May 25 after being pinned to the ground by Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis officer who was seen in a video kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin. Floyd’s death sparked worldwide protests.
Even before the pandemic, Clinton said, graduates were “entering a world of growing inequalities and divisive tribalism with people pulling, pulling, pulling away from those who are different from them.”
Clinton did not mention President Trump, whose response to the protests has been widely criticized, by name. But the former president said the divisions have been aggravated by “dysfunction in our politics” and by those who “inflame our worst instincts ... for their own power and profit.”
“This has put your future, our democracy and our very planet at risk,” he said.
The 73-year-old Clinton said he has been “truly awed” by young activists gathering in “massive crowds of all races and backgrounds who come together to stand up for justice and equality and to stand against violence and racism.”
“You have given new hope that we might yet succeed in our very oldest struggle,” he said.
Clinton then quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
“He might have said it less poetically that it actually zigs and zags toward justice, and somebody has to be there to bend it in the right direction,” Clinton said. “And your generation is doing a lot of the bending.”
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