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Jimmy Carter: 'Silence Can Be As Deadly As Violence'

(CNN) -- In his first public reaction to the nationwide unrest surrounding the police killing of George Floyd, former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday that "silence can be as deadly as violence," and called on Americans in positions of "power, privilege, and moral conscience" to fight racial discrimination.

"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," he said.

"We need a government as good as its people, and we are better than this."

Carter, a Democrat, said in the statement that he and former first lady Rosalynn Carter "have seen that silence can be as deadly as violence" since leaving the White House in 1981, and are now "pained by the tragic racial injustices and consequent backlash across our nation in recent weeks."

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

Carter's remarks follow more than a week of nationwide protests across the country calling for justice for Floyd, a black man who was killed last week by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Carter is the latest and final living former president to weigh in the national climate in the days since Floyd's death.

Reflecting on his 1971 inaugural address as Georgia's governor where he declared, "The time for racial discrimination is over," Carter said Wednesday that "with great sorrow and disappointment, I repeat those words today, nearly five decades later."

"Dehumanizing people debases us all; humanity is beautifully and almost infinitely diverse," he said. "The bonds of our common humanity must overcome the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices."

Carter's message echoed recent statements from former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who all called for unity in challenging racial discrimination.

Bush, a Republican, said in a statement that "it is time for America to examine our tragic failures -- and as we do, we will also see some of our redeeming strengths." And his Democratic predecessor, Clinton, similarly said that "we need to ask ourselves and each other hard questions and listen carefully to the answers."

Obama, a Democrat, said: "The bottom line is this: 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."

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