In the wake of George Floyd's death—a death captured on video in which the 46-year-old African-American Floyd can be seen and heard pleading, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe," while Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneels on Floyd's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, nearly three minutes of which occur after Floyd becomes unresponsive—several top Wall Street employers have issued statements about the incident, other incidents like it, and the protests that have followed. Below are excerpts from these statements.
Bank of America
"Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other fellow citizens have died in deeply tragic circumstances. Many of you have shared with me your own expressions of anguish and anger about what has happened and how it is playing out across the country. I have listened and learned from all of you ...
"Of course, all of this is happening during, and being exacerbated by, a global health crisis that is affecting us all in very personal ways. The data also shows the greater impact it is having for our communities of color. The sense of isolation and perhaps even helplessness as we live through this pandemic are contributing to the tragedy we are seeing unfold before us in so many cities.
"Many of us are asking what we can do now?"
"No organization is immune from the challenges posed by racial bias. As a firm committed to racial equality, we must also consider where racial disparity exists in our own organizations and not tolerate our shortcomings. We can only heal these wounds—building a more diverse and inclusive firm and contributing to a more just society—if we talk to each other and cultivate honest, open relationships and friendships. Going forward, we will continue to develop resources to help you engage in productive conversation and to take meaningful action, and you’ll be hearing more this coming week. I recognize this process isn’t easy—I know it’s not easy for me. But it’s essential."
"Even though I'm the CFO of a global bank, the killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky are reminders of the dangers Black Americans like me face in living our daily lives. Despite the progress the United States has made, Black Americans are too often denied basic privileges that others take for granted ... I'm talking about fundamental human and civil rights and the dignity and respect that comes with them. I'm talking about something as mundane as going for a jog.
"Racism continues to be at the root of so much pain and ugliness in our society—from the streets of Minneapolis to the disparities inflicted by COVID-19 ... These systemic problems will not go away until we confront them head on. So we must continue to speak up and speak out whenever we witness hatred, racism or injustice. I know I will—and I hope you will too."
"This week’s terrible events in Minneapolis, together with too many others occurring around our country, are tragic and heartbreaking. Let us be clear—we are watching, listening and want every single one of you to know we are committed to fighting against racism and discrimination wherever and however it exists.”
"I am horrified by continued attacks against the black community, highlighted most recently in the U.S. with the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, and with what Christian Cooper experienced in Central Park in New York City this past Monday ... I know that acts of inhumanity—against any person or group—have a profound impact on our people; how that manifests in each person is unique and personal to them. I also know that this is not a time to be silent. I know it in my gut—and I know it from many of you who have reached out—the many of you for whom these types of words and deeds are particularly and personally painful.
"So I am asking all of you—even with everything you are going through and everything you are doing—to 'look up' and acknowledge what is happening around us. I want you to check in with each other, and be willing to have conversations that may take us outside of our comfort zone."
"This is a painful time for our nation. As a white man, as much as I can try to understand what others are feeling, I know that I cannot really appreciate and understand what people of color experience and the impacts of discriminatory behavior others must live with ... But, as the CEO of Wells Fargo, I can commit that our company will do all we can to support our diverse communities and foster a company culture that deeply values and respects diversity and inclusion."
Do these posts, emails, blogs, and memos matter?
Yes, they do. It's important that top employers, on Wall Street and in other industries, respond in a moment like this. In times of crises, true leadership and character are revealed. We saw this at the outset of the pandemic. And we're seeing it now, in the wake of more tragic deaths of African-American men in police custody.
While C-suite executives are by no means obliged to speak out, not speaking out says volumes. Not speaking out—when executives' clients, coworkers, employees, shareholders, and fellow citizens are in pain, are struggling with a systemic problem that's not going way, are angry, confused, heartbroken, enraged—is akin to executives telling all of these people that they don't care, that they're not committed to upholding their most basic human rights.
Of course, actions speak louder than words. But words are a start. They can be catalysts of change—within individuals, organizations, communities, and societies. And so, more words are needed, from the above top employers and executives and others like them.
Finally, it's important to note that if you work for a firm that's spoken out, hold your firm accountable. Make sure your firm's leaders stick to their words. Make sure they promote an open dialogue among employees. Make sure they enact real changes to their diversity and inclusion efforts. And make sure they engage with their employees and communities, no longer looking the other away but taking systemic racism head-on.
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