Racism and bigotry aren’t welcome in the U.S. and the U.S. military, according to U.S. Forces Korea commander Army Gen. Robert Abrams.
Abrams’ comments come amid nation-wide protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man prosecutors say was murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer.
“We should all be outraged and ashamed at the killing of George Floyd & others by police. I know I am,” Abrams tweeted Friday. “We should be equally outraged against racism and bigotry that continues. To be clear—there is NO place for it in our country and NO place for it in our military. ZERO.”
As a result, Abrams said that he has spent the past week speaking privately with black service members so they could share their concerns with him.
“The pain is deep and real. These are not isolated cases of discrimination and bigotry... it is in many places,” Abrams said. “...and what I heard is heartbreaking...we can and must do better. We cannot sit by and hope that ‘they’ fix it. Things will not improve by themselves. It takes action...by ‘us’. We need to start right here where we are.”
For service members, that means taking action within one’s squad or platoon — all the way up to USFK headquarters. Additionally, he said to examine the composition of one’s formation and note if there is a lack of diversity. Not only will increased diversity help wipe out bigotry, but it will increase formation effectiveness, he said.
“If you don’t think there is a problem, you might be part of the problem,” Abrams said. “Have the courage to start the conversation.”
A Military Times survey of active-duty readers revealed that 36 percent of all active-duty service members have personally seen examples of white supremacy and racism within the military. The poll had a sample size of 1,630 active-duty Military Times subscribers and was conducted last fall in partnership with Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families.
“Last and most importantly, we need to do less talking the talk, and start walking the walk in our daily actions that demonstrates our commitment to our values and dignity and respect for everyone,” Abrams said. “Together we’re stronger. You can make a difference. Let’s commit to it.”
Abrams is one of many military leaders who spoke out this week about racism in response to Floyd’s death. For example, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville and Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston all issued a letter Wednesday addressing the national unrest and how racial divides harms the military.
“Our ability to defend this country from all enemies, foreign and domestic, is founded upon a sacred trust with the American people. Racial division erodes that trust,” the Army leaders wrote.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday also shared a video, and urged sailors to correct other service members, friends and family when they make racist comments or jokes.
“Make them more self-aware of what they did and what they said,” Gilday said. “If we don’t do that, racism, injustice, indignity and disrespect — it’s going to grow and it’s going to continue.”