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Air Force head calls George Floyd's death 'a national tragedy,' announces service review

Air Force head calls George Floyd's death 'a national tragedy,' announces service review
© getty: A man holds a sign while protesting near the area where a Minneapolis Police Department officer allegedly killed George Floyd

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein in a new memo calls the death of George Floyd a “national tragedy” and has vowed to do more to fix racial inequality in the military.

In the memo, sent to Air Force commanders on Monday night, Goldfein denounced the actions of Minneapolis police after Floyd died in their custody. A video showed the unarmed black man saying he couldn’t breath as an officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, with his death sparking nationwide protests.

“The death of George Floyd is a national tragedy. Every American should be outraged that the conduct exhibited by police in Minneapolis can still happen in 2020,” Goldfein said.

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“We all wish it were not possible for racism to occur in America, a country founded on the sacred ideal that 'all men (and women) are created equal' and have the 'unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' But it does, and we are at a moment where we must confront what is,” Goldfein continued.

The memo follows comments made by Kaleth Wright, the chief master sergeant of the Air Force, who on Monday shared his struggle against racism.

“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. As shocking as that may sound to some of you,” Wright, the highest-ranking enlisted man in the Air Force, wrote in a Twitter thread.

Wright also said he struggles “with the Air Force’s own demons that include the racial disparities in military justice and discipline among our youngest Black male Airmen and the clear lack of diversity in our senior officer ranks.”

Goldfein acknowledged Wright’s comments in his memo, and also announced that he and Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett have directed the Air Force’s Inspector General “to do an independent review of our legal system, racial injustice, and opportunities for advancement.”

“To the Airmen who are mourning, angry, or weary of the battle against racial prejudice, discrimination, bias, and systemic discrimination, Chief Wright and I recognize your pain,” Goldfein wrote.

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“As the Air Force's military leadership, we reflect on and acknowledge that what happens on America's streets is also resident in our Air Force. Sometimes it's explicit, sometimes it's subtle, but we are not immune to the spectrum of racial prejudice, systemic discrimination, and unconscious bias.

“We see this in the apparent inequity in our application of military justice. We will not shy away from this; as leaders and as Airmen, we will own our part and confront it head on.”

Goldfein’s message also comes less than a week after the Air Force acknowledged “persistent and consistent” bias against black airmen in its judicial system in internal documents, first reported by the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders.