The chiefs of some of the biggest U.S. banks called on their workers to fight racism after an unarmed black man died as a result of a white police officer kneeling on his neck, prompting nationwide protests.
"This week's terrible events in Minneapolis, together with too many others occurring around our country, are tragic and heartbreaking," JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Brian Lamb, the bank's newly appointed diversity chief, wrote in a memo to U.S. employees Friday. "Let us be clear — we are watching, listening and want every single one of you to know we are committed to fighting against racism and discrimination wherever and however it exists."
Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf sent an email to employees Friday saying that while, as a white man, he "cannot really appreciate and understand what people of color experience," he can "commit that our company will do all we can to support our diverse communities and foster a company culture that deeply values and respects diversity and inclusion."
The death of George Floyd, who was handcuffed on the ground while an officer knelt on his back and neck and a bystander captured the incident on video on May 25, sparked protests across the U.S., including violent confrontations on Minneapolis streets Thursday night. On Friday, the officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested and charged with murder.
Citigroup Chief Financial Officer Mark Mason, one of the highest- ranking black executives on Wall Street, said that after emotional conversations with his family this week, he felt the need to speak out on the topic.
"Despite the progress the United States has made, black Americans are too often denied basic privileges that others take for granted," Mason said in a blog posted titled "I can't breathe" on the company's website. "I am not talking about the privileges of wealth, education or job opportunities. I'm talking about fundamental human and civil rights and the dignity and respect that comes with them. I'm talking about something as mundane as going for a jog."
In a separate memo to workers, Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat acknowledged that many employees have experienced racism in their everyday lives in overt and subtle ways.
"I want you to know that your colleagues and I will always stand with you," Corbat said in a memo to employees. "While I can try to empathize with what it must be like to be a black person in America, I haven't walked in those shoes."
Bank of America's Minneapolis-St. Paul Market President Katie Simpson sent a memo to local staff to express grief and concern over Floyd's death, which she said raised "incredibly difficult" issues in the community. The company will "demand respect and inclusion for all people," she wrote on Friday.
Andy Cecere, CEO of Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp, said in a note to employees that he's "disturbed" by Floyd's death. "I'm trying to find the right words to tell our entire team, and especially people of color, that I believe their lives matter," he wrote.
The events in Minneapolis and the Covid-19 crisis highlight "the inequities black and other diverse communities have and continue to face every day and it strengthens our resolve to do more as individuals, as a firm and in our communities," Dimon and Lamb wrote. Scharf also cited the coronavirus pandemic as highlighting inequities. And he cited the killing of a 25-year-old black man, Ahmaud Arbery, while he was out for a run in Georgia earlier this year.
JPMorgan's leaders have been working to adjust the policies and procedures to help root out racism after a New York Times article in December described discrimination in an Arizona branch. The bank said at the end of March that it had identified areas across the company where it could improve, including requiring diversity training for all employees. It also hired Lamb as global head of diversity and inclusion.