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Former President Obama in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in October. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Barack Obama said Wednesday that "institutional constraints" stopped him from speaking out against the killings of Black Americans when he was in office.

Driving the news: The former president made the comments during the My Brother's Keeper Leadership Forum, which discussed activism since the May 2020, murder of George Floyd.

What he's saying: "There were some frustrations for me in my institutional role," Obama said, citing unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the fatal 2014 shooting of Black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.

  • "I went as far as I could just commenting on cases like Trayvon Martin," he said of the unarmed Black teenager shot and killed by then-neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in 2012.
  • Obama explained that in those instances he did "not in any way want to endanger" the Justice Department in its "capacity to go in, investigate and potentially charge perpetrators."
  • This meant he "could not come down or appear to come down decisively in terms of guilt or innocence in terms of what happened," the former president added.

Of note: Obama noted that when he won in 2012, he didn't have congressional or gubernatorial majorities, which prevented him from pushing through social justice reforms.

  • "All the reform initiatives that we were coming up with, and the ideas that had been generated, we weren't able to translate into as bold a set of initiatives as I would have wanted," he said.

Go deeper

George Floyd's family says Biden reaffirmed commitment to police reform

Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

George Floyd's family told reporters on Tuesday that President Biden assured them he was still committed to passing a police reform bill and "doing everything to make sure [Floyd's] legacy was respected."

Why it matters: The family's visit to the White House came on the one-year anniversary of Floyd's murder. Congress is expected to miss Biden's self-imposed May 25 deadline for passing police reform legislation, which has stalled in the Senate due to Republican opposition to certain provisions.

May 25, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Rep. Karen Bass: Income inequality is the greatest disparity in justice system

Income inequality affects people's ability to defend themselves and get proper legal representation during criminal trials, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) said during an Axios event on Tuesday.

Why it matters: Bass is the lead House negotiator in talks over the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House in March but has stalled in the Senate due to Republican opposition to certain provisions, including curbing qualified immunity for police officers.

George Floyd's family to meet with Pelosi on anniversary of murder

Nancy Pelosi speaking in June 2020 on a police reform bill named after George Floyd. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Members of George Floyd’s family on Tuesday will meet with lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), on the one-year anniversary of Floyd's murder in Minneapolis, CNN and NBC News report.

Why it matters: The meeting comes amid negotiations on a police reform bill named after Floyd that the House passed in March. The legislation has stalled in the Senate due to Republican opposition to certain provisions, including curbing qualified immunity for police officers.