Harkening back his early political career in segregation-era Georgia, former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday that he and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter "are pained by the tragic racial injustices and consequent backlash across our nation in recent weeks."
He did not specifically name George Floyd, the unarmed black man who died last week in Minneapolis, or Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot while jogging in South Georgia. (Though Arbery was killed in February, his death was thrust into the national spotlight this month.)
Since Floyd was killed in police custody on May 25, large protests have spread across the country. Many have been peaceful but some have descended to rioting and violence, including in Atlanta, home to The Carter Center.
Mass demonstrations have been held daily in Georgia since last week and are expected to continue.
In his statement on Wednesday, President Carter, now 95, said: "As a white male of the South, I know all too well the impact of segregation and injustice to African Americans."
"In my 1974 inaugural address as Georgia’s governor, I said: 'The time for racial discrimination is over,' " he continued. "With great sorrow and disappointment, I repeat those words today, nearly five decades later."
"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," Carter said. "We are responsible for creating a world of peace and equality for ourselves and future generations."
Still, he said, "Violence, whether spontaneous or consciously incited, is not a solution."
Jessica McGowan/Getty Images Former President Jimmy Carter
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In an essay on Monday, Obama, the country's only black president, wrote: "I've heard some suggest that the recurrent problem of racial bias in our criminal justice system proves that only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more."
He continued: "If we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform."
On Wednesday Carter, too, appealed to large-scale action.
"We all must shine a spotlight on the immorality of racial discrimination. ... We are responsible for creating a world of peace and equality for ourselves and future generations," he said. "We need a government as good as its people, and we are better than this."
That had been the work of his and Mrs. Carter's life since the White House, he said.
"Rosalynn and I have strived to advance human rights in countries around the world," he said. "In this quest, we have seen that silence can be as deadly as violence."
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
• Campaign Zero which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
• ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.
• National Cares Mentoring Movement provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.