In the memo, distributed to Goldfein’s wing commanders and other commanders and obtained by Air Force Times, Goldfein called Floyd’s death “a national tragedy.”
“Every American should be outraged that the conduct exhibited by police in Minneapolis can still happen in 2020,” Goldfein said.
Goldfein’s memo was sent hours after his top enlisted advisor, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, who is black, posted a lengthy Twitter thread about the deaths of black men at the hands of police that declared, “I am George Floyd.”
Goldfein’s follow-up memo said that Americans have to confront the awful reality of racism — and acknowledge that it also exists in the 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,” Goldfein wrote. “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.”
In a telephone conversation Tuesday, an Air Force official familiar with conversations between Wright and Goldfein said that Goldfein was aware and supportive of Wright’s plans to speak out Monday.
The official, who asked not to be named, said that Wright wrote his posts Monday morning.
“Obviously, it’s something that’s been weighing on his heart as he watched all the events unfold over the weekend,” the official said. “From his position, it’s difficult whenever you speak up, because people worry you’re trying to be political. He’s not trying to be political; he’s trying to share a conversation people need to have.”
The official said that in the coming days, other military leaders will be following Wright’s lead to engage in conversations about race and discrimination, as part of an effort to be a “healing salve.”
The reaction from Wright’s command structure, as well as other airmen, has been “incredibly positive,” the official said.
Goldfein “is not threatened by this conversation, and that’s very important right now,” the official said.
Goldfein said in his memo that on Wednesday, the Air Force plans to hold a Facebook town hall meeting on racial issues. That town hall will be held at 5 pm Eastern time on Goldfein’s official Facebook page.
And following up on Wright’s pledge Monday for an independent review of the Air Force legal system — after a series of scathing reports detailed persistent racial imbalances on how younger airmen are punished — Goldfein said that the Air Force inspector general will review its military justice system, racial injustice and opportunities for airmen of all backgrounds to advance. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, along with Goldfein and Wright, ordered this review, Goldfein said.
Goldfein urged his commanders to share Wright’s essay to foster discussion. And he acknowledged that his and Wright’s experiences growing up and in the Air Force are very different — but these conversations have to take place.
“Discussing our different life experiences and viewpoints can be tough, uncomfortable, and therefore often avoided,” Goldfein wrote. “But we have been presented a crisis. We can no longer walk by this problem.”
“I don’t have the answers, but I do know there is no room for bigotry, hatred or small mindedness in our force,” Goldfein said. “Period. Every member of our team needs to know we have their back.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.