SecDef: 'Murder of George Floyd was a wakeup call'

Defense Secretary Mark Esper listens to a reporter question at an Aug 28, 2019 press conference - photo via video stream 

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the police killing of George Floyd was a personal "wakeup call" on racial discrimination in the military.

"I think the murder of George Floyd was a wakeup call. It brought people, Americans, out onto the streets to protest this discrimination that many of our fellow Americans, African Americans experience. And it was a wakeup call for us as well as leaders. We know we're not immune to what is happening in broader society, that society that we serve," Esper said during remarks at the Aspen Security Forum on Aug. 5.

Esper said he's heard similar stories across the military branches and they spurred DOD to stand up three initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion across the DOD, including launching a new diversity board to develop recommendations. Results from the new Defense Board on Diversity and Inclusion in the Military's deliberation are expected by the end of the year.

"I don't think what everybody appreciated, at least me personally, is the depth of sentiment out there among our service members of color, particularly Black Americans, about how much the killing of George Floyd — and the other incidents that preceded it and succeeded it had on them [and] what they were experiencing in the ranks as well."

The defense secretary's comments come as Congress looks to increase directives and oversight of the issue. The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act pushes several provisions targeting racist symbols, such as renaming military bases that commemorate Confederate generals and banning displays of the Confederate flag, and creating chief diversity officers within each military service.

President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act if it contains provisions backing the renaming of such military installations – although bills supporting the renaming passed the House and Senate by veto-proof majorities.

The Defense Department is also in the midst of reviewing six combatant commands, including European Command, for efficiencies in time, financial, and personnel resources. The defense-wide review of the defense agencies, including the Defense Information Systems Agency, yielded nearly $6 billion in savings that could be reinvested into DOD priorities.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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