U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Senior officers at the Air Force Academy took part in an online conference June 4 to denounce bigotry and intolerance in the wake of the international protest movement surrounding racial injustice in the U.S.
“This is not a political issue. Racism and bigotry have no sides,” said Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, the Academy’s superintendent. “This is an uncomfortable conversation but we have to have it. We are not going to be silent or avoid the topic.”
Earlier this week, Air Force Chief of staff Gen. David Goldfien and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, the Air Force’s top NCO, issued strong statements advocating for universal respect and equality.
“The death of George Floyd is a national tragedy,” Goldfein said. “Every American should be outraged that the conduct exhibited by police in Minneapolis can still happen in 2020.”
Wright, a black man, said his “heart starts racing like most other black men in America when I see those blue lights behind me.” His greatest fear, he said, is learning a black Airman has been killed by a white police officer.
“What happens all too often in this country to black men who are subjected to police brutality that ends in death … could happen to me,” he said. “As shocking as that may sound to some of you … I hope you realize that racism, discrimination, [and] exclusion does not care much about position, titles or stature”
Silveria said the Air Force and the U.S. must address its systemic and unconscious biases.
“We need to endeavor to make ourselves better and not be defensive about it,” he said.
Brig. Gen. Michele Edmondson, commandant of cadets, and Brig. Gen. Linell Letendre, the dean, also spoke to the online audience of cadets, faculty and staff.
Letendre said the Academy’s staff and faculty need to be agents of change for the world.
“What do we do first? We allow ourselves to listen,” she said.
Edmondson said institutional racism is a national tragedy and the Academy must amp up its conversation about racism and lead by example, especially with new cadets.
“We owe them the resources for these conversations,” she said.
Protesters across the world have rallied for more than a week since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The unarmed black man died after a police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to the neck.
Protest rallies across the U.S., including Colorado Springs, began within hours of Floyd’s death.
Silveria said the Academy must do all it can to eradicate racism and foster a culture of inclusion.
“Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” he said.