Obama criticizes coronavirus response in online graduation speech

BERLIN, GERMANY - APRIL 06: Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to young leaders from across Europe in a Town Hall-styled session on April 06, 2019 in Berlin, Germany. Obama spoke to several hundred young people from European government, civil society and the private sector about the nitty gritty of achieving positive change in government and society. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama on Saturday criticized some officials overseeing the coronavirus response, telling college graduates in an online commencement address that the pandemic shows many officials “aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

Obama spoke on “Show Me Your Walk, HBCU Edition,” a two-hour livestreaming event for historically black colleges and universities broadcast on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. His remarks were surprisingly political and touched on current events beyond the virus and its social and economic impacts.

“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” he said. “A lot them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

Obama did not name President Donald Trump or any other federal or state officials.

As he congratulated graduates and commiserated over the difficult world they face, the former president noted the February shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, who was killed while jogging on a residential street in Georgia.

“Let’s be honest: A disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communicates have historically had to deal with in this country,” Obama said. “We see it in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our communities, just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning.”

Obama will also deliver a televised prime-time commencement address later Saturday for the high school Class of 2020 during an hour-long event that will also feature LeBron James, Malala Yousafzai and Ben Platt, among others.

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