"Laura and I are anguished by the brutal suffocation of George Floyd and disturbed by the injustice and fear that suffocate our country," Bush's statement read. "Yet we have resisted the urge to speak out, because this is not the time for us to lecture. It is time for us to listen. It is time for America to examine our tragic failures — and as we do, we will also see some of our redeeming strengths."
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in Minneapolis on May 25 after a police officer held Floyd down with his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.
Floyd could be heard telling officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, "I can't breathe."
The incident was caught on camera and quickly circulated online, drawing outrage and protests first in Minneapolis and then dozens of other cities around the country. Many of those demonstrations have been peaceful but many others have involved violence and looting, with businesses ransacked and police vehicles set aflame.
Chauvin was fired and arrested on a charge of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and three other officers involved were also fired.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told CNN he believes the three officers with Chauvin were "complicit" in Floyd's death.
"It remains a shocking failure that many African Americans, especially young African American men, are harassed and threatened in their own country," Bush, 73, continued in his statement on Tuesday.
Scott Olson/Getty Images Candles burn at a Monday memorial at the spot where George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.
Michael Ciaglo/Getty Thousands of people stage a Saturday die-in next to the Colorado State Capitol in Denver, with their hands behind their backs to protest the death of George Floyd.
Bush, who did not call out or reference President Donald Trump directly, instead pointed to black figures throughout U.S. history.
"The answers to American problems are found by living up to American ideals — to the fundamental truth that all human beings are created equal and endowed by God with certain rights," he said. "We have often underestimated how radical that quest really is, and how our cherished principles challenge systems of intended or assumed injustice. The heroes of America — from Frederick Douglass, to Harriet Tubman, to Abraham Lincoln, to Martin Luther King Jr. — are heroes of unity."
He continued: "Their calling has never been for the fainthearted. They often revealed the nation’s disturbing bigotry and exploitation — stains on our character sometimes difficult for the American majority to examine. We can only see the reality of America's need by seeing it through the eyes of the threatened, oppressed, and disenfranchised."
(His Tuesday statement also drew criticism from those who pointed back to the many liberal critiques of the Bush administration, including his Middle Eastern wars and his poor handling of the recovery from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.)
John Moore/Getty Images Protests in New York City on Sunday.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty U.S. Park Police push back protestors near the White House on Monday.
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images Terrence Floyd (center) speaks on Monday to a group gathered at the site where his brother George Floyd was killed on May 25.
Bush's statement comes amid an outpouring of reactions from current and former U.S. lawmakers calling for peaceful protests and, in some cases, immediate congressional action.
Former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton have all made public statements on Floyd's death and the protests and violent unrest that have followed.
"Many doubt the justice of our country, and with good reason," Bush said in his own statement. "Black people see the repeated violation of their rights without an urgent and adequate response from American institutions. We know that lasting justice will only come by peaceful means."
After calling for the end to violence, Bush said that "achieving justice for all is the duty of all."
"This will require a consistent, courageous, and creative effort," he said. "We serve our neighbors best when we try to understand their experience. We love our neighbors as ourselves when we treat them as equals, in both protection and compassion. There is a better way — the way of empathy, and shared commitment, and bold action, and a peace rooted in justice. I am confident that together, Americans will choose the better way."
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.