By Ken McNeely, President – AT&T Western Region and Leader of AT&T’s Social Justice Issues Working Group
Although we all have endured a year like no other, I know many of us still find ourselves, as we do this time every year, taking stock of what we’ve done over the past several months and what we still need to do as we look toward the year ahead. With the Presidential election just a month behind us and the pandemic still surging, it’s important that the killings of George Floyd and too many other Black Americans that were such an important focus of attention in the summer are not forgotten, and we don’t lose sight of the critical need to address racial equality and police reform.
Those horrific deaths led to a resurrection of the spirit of the civil rights movement, and that spirit instilled in many Americans an understanding of the need for equitable policing, and a new relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. While AT&T has been a leader in civil rights advocacy and the fight for equality since the 1960s, it became very clear to us this past summer that we needed to reinforce and redouble our commitment to address injustices.
In June, AT&T led a new Business Roundtable (BRT) initiative of CEOs to push for public policy changes to deliver equal justice outcomes for all. This marked a shift in the business community at the national level, but it also laid the groundwork for advocacy at the state and local levels.
We have worked with state and local elected officials to achieve some important breakthroughs. As our CEO John Stankey said, “As we all know, it’s easier to get things done locally.” To that end, AT&T employees are working hard to enact commonsense reforms in communities across the country where we live and work. To date, we’ve supported legislative proposals in 15 states that have become law. From Maine to Arkansas, from California to Florida, we have worked – and will continue to do so –to bring more accountability to our public institutions and establish equal justice for Black Americans.
- In Maine, AT&T became a founding member of their Racial Justice Fund, that supports programs working to achieve racial equality and eliminate racial bias throughout the state.
- In Delaware, we supported legislation and applaud actions of the Delaware General Assembly and Governor John Carney for adopting policing reform measures, including Executive Order 41, which contains provisions on transparency, community engagement, and training of law enforcement.
- In New Jersey, we sent a letter of support to legislators for a bill addressing police training that was subsequently passed.
- In Florida, we spearheaded the creation of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Unites. A program that will recruit Black-owned businesses who have been denied the opportunity to become chamber members. This will allow Black businesspeople to take full advantage of the Chamber networks and resources. This is on top of our $3 billion investment, announced earlier this year, in Black-owned business suppliers, which we are on track to meet by year end.
- In California, we supported three bills aimed at improving equitable policing by bringing greater transparency to use-of-force incidents, strengthening accountability and making it possible to strip badges of officers convicted of certain crimes or misconduct charges including excessive use of force. AT&T and WarnerMedia employees sent letters to Governor Gavin Newsom encouraging him to sign the legislation. So far, two of these bills are now law.
- In Arkansas, we are supporting a Hate Crimes Bill that would create an enhanced penalty for crimes committed against people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation or identity, along with other distinguishing factors. Arkansas is one of only three states without any such law.
This is not enough, but it is a start. As valuable as state and local action are, successfully addressing this will require action at the federal level to achieve full and equal treatment for all Americans. While there are no simple solutions, working together we can redefine the relationship between law enforcement and those they serve.
We believe the vast majority of law enforcement officers are dedicated public servants who do their work with courage and decency. In collaboration with public safety and community leaders, we have worked to build consensus and advance reform proposals, and supported events aimed at bringing first responders and their communities together. These efforts move us closer to equitable policing, but will also strengthen the accountability, trust and confidence in law enforcement.
As this unprecedented year comes to an end and we look to what will hopefully be a brighter 2021, we must not waiver in our commitment to economic equality and equitable law enforcement across the nation.