The following was sent to members of the Yale SOM community on June 1, 2020.
June 1, 2020
Dear Yale SOM Community:
The killing of Mr. George Floyd, an African American man, by the Minnesota police has shocked and deeply angered me, as it has doubtless done to you. This event is, alas, but the most recent installment in a regrettable catalog of black men meeting violent deaths at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve them. The litany of these occurrences spans good and bad economic times, cuts across Democratic and Republican administrations, and respects no regional boundaries. Without a video recording, this event may well have followed another familiar pattern: a focus in the public discourse on the alleged precipitating actions of the victim (forever unable to defend himself), and skepticism or outright disbelief towards those who suggest wrongdoing inspired by racism on the part of the police.
To the anxieties that lead virtually all of the black families I know, including my own, to preach to their children, and especially their sons, the need for extreme caution when interacting with the police, is thus added frustration from the indignity of not having those fears understood or even believed. There is no gainsaying the video evidence of what happened to Mr. Floyd. Seeing the callous brutality of the act, the cavalier disregarding of his pleas for help, and the failure of multiple officers to intervene has helped us all to understand and believe. It has also enkindled righteous anger, not only in the black community but also among a broad cross-section of Americans repulsed by this event and by what it reveals about the policing experienced by many of their African American fellow citizens.
These feelings have found admirable expression in a wave of massive, multi-racial, and impassioned protests against police misconduct across the entire country. I think I speak for us all when I say that we at SOM affirm the pain that causes so many to gather and collectively raise their voices against racial injustice. Further, consistent with our distinctive mission, I believe that we are motivated by their example to work to help eradicate the structures of racialized bias and power that give rise to injustice. Some work before each of us must occur in our private lives as citizens and neighbors and friends. In the professional sphere, management and leadership skills of the sort developed at SOM will be essential for reforming police departments and to identify and empower good police officers. This repeating cycle of societal pain must end, and I have every confidence that we will do our part to bring that about.
Regrettably, some in the large crowds of protesters have engaged in destructive or violent behavior. I think it is essential to condemn with firmness and in the clearest possible terms, looting, rioting, and general mayhem that threaten the wellbeing of others or their property. No group in this country has historically suffered greater harm from violent mob action than African-Americans, so those seeking to achieve racial justice for blacks have, it seems to me, a particular moral duty to not cause injury to others. I hope earnestly that any destructive behavior ceases. I hope, too, that any such occurrences do not become the main focus of our attention in the days ahead, displacing the urgent imperative to be steadfast partners to those who feel powerless and fearful and need our support, understanding, and assistance.
Things may be dispiriting at present, but I am very optimistic about the future. A key strand of my scholarly research documents and attempts to explain racial differences in socioeconomic outcomes. Even though some persistent gaps remain, various labor market, housing, and financial market outcomes show a steady erosion in black-white differences over time. These relative improvements for blacks were the result of a determined effort by policy, business, universities, the military, and various other institutions to lower the effects of bias and discrimination. As these protests raging around the country indicate, Mr. Floyd’s death may be the catalyzing spur that prompts us—all of us—to ensure that racialized police treatment is consigned to history’s garbage pile.
With best regards,