What Detroit CEOs had to say about George Floyd death, social injustice

9 Detroit CEOs came together Wednesday to speak out against racism, police brutality amid national unrest

Detroit CEOs speak out against racism and injustice

DETROIT – CEOs from some of Detroit’s largest companies joined Mayor Mike Duggan in a press conference Wednesday to speak out against racism amid national unrest triggered by the killing of black Minneapolis man George Floyd last week.

READ: Report: 3 more cops to be charged in George Floyd’s death

Cities across the country have been consumed by protests against police brutality and racial injustice in the wake of Floyd’s death. Hundreds of people have flocked to Downtown Detroit since Friday to participate in protests and marches.

On Wednesday leaders from General Motors, Ford Motor Company, FCA North America, Quicken Loans, Henry Ford Health System, Illitch Holdings, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, DTE Energy, TCF Financial Corporation and the NAACP came together to support peaceful protests and call for change. In a joint statement the Detroit leaders condemned the “acts of injustice in the tragic murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor and the many other men and women whose lives have been cut far too short."

MORE: Detroit business leaders speak out against racism, institute plans to combat systemic problems

Together the leaders agreed to eliminate bias, racism, sexism and violence within their companies. They also plan to invest in programs and policies that “transform the disparities” that exist in marginalized communities.

  • You can watch the entire press conference above.

Here’s more of what the Detroit CEOs had to say Wednesday:

Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, President of Detroit Chapter of the NAACP

"Today, our nation stands at a crossroad. One road leads for towards justice and equity. Another road leads backwards towards injustice and inequality. I’m glad to be here today as we encourage our city and quite frankly cities around the nation to take the road towards justice and equity.

“These are CEOs of Detroit’s largest companies. They’re speaking out means something for the nation. It sets the tone for other CEOs and other states and other cities. It is only typical of the city of Detroit, who has always had a history of firsts: First with the auto industry, first with Motown, first with Dr. King’s march of 1963 when he delivered his infamous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Let us remember that it was more than just a speech, it was an idea. It was a workable plan for equity of opportunity throughout this lane. It was a plan where we should judge people not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character while the plan for justice and equity is still workable and is still in demand. Now, some will say these CEOs are just here for show, and it’s not going to make a difference; I say ‘how wrong you are.’ I say anytime people stand up for justice and truth, it does make a difference. I say it adds a new ingredient and to the justice equation. When business leaders leave the corporate suite and connect with that which is positive and calling out from the street, I say as Dr. King said: ‘The time is always right to do what is right.’”

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors

"At GM, we aspire to be the most inclusive company in the world. And our hope is that every company will do the same. I know the corporate leaders who stand behind me completely agree with this goal. And while there might not be a precise roadmap for how it will happen, that’s not an excuse to not work on it and to not try. So inclusion will be our Northstar. And every day we will take steps in service of our aspiration.

"I am committing to you as I did to the people of General Motors, that we will no longer allow the company to indulge of asking why. Today I’m committed that we will be a company focused on what what can we do? What will we do? Like all the leaders here today, we want to be part of meaningful, deliberate change. We will not allow ourselves the passivity of urging others to act, we will act. We commit to inclusion and that means creating conditions where every single human who believes in inclusion is welcome within our walls. For those who conditions do not exist, we will bring forth the resources and the rigor to ensure they do. "

Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company

"I love this city. It’s not just where we do business, it’s our home. We should be proud of how far Detroit has come. But the recent tragic events remind us of how far we have yet to go. We’re seeing outrage and real time expression of years and years of collective pain. And this pain is felt deeply here in Detroit.

"We’re seeing outrage and real time expression of years and years of collective pain. And this pain is felt deeply here in Detroit. Our community can’t thrive if all members can’t participate in its progress, and if some are excluded and targeted because of the color their skin.

“There are no easy answers and we aren’t interested in superficial actions. This is our moment to lead and work together to effect, real lasting change. at Ford, we’re committed to listen to engage with leaders to build a city, a state in a country that provides access for all. And to eliminate the fear that far too many African American members face each day. It would be easy to say that one person, one company, or even a group of companies can’t make a difference; that the issues are too deep. But I don’t believe that. I’ve seen what we can do in Detroit. Together we must commit to change and build a community which embraces all of our children.”

Mark Stewart, Chief Operating Officer, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles North America

"I speak on behalf of the nearly 200,000 Fiat Chrysler global family members, 36,000 right here in Southeast Michigan, and in the city of Detroit, when I express our absolute deepest sorrow for the senseless death of George Floyd -- and indeed for the many lives that have been lost in the scores of racism that continues to blight our communities, both here and around the country. It’s tragedy. It’s injustice.

“Certainly our society today has settled into somewhat sense of complacency where there’s tolerance and acceptance around social injustices. And I say to you today: no more. No more. Racism of any kind is divisive, it’s ugly, and it brings about the worst of humanity. Today I’m talking to you as a leader, talking to you as a person -- a person deeply disturbed by the recent events. And like many of you, the gamut of emotions, running through all of us in reaction to what’s happened in these last weeks. But today, instead of sadness, or the pain, I feel strength: Strength from our communities, strength from our conviction that we can bring about social change. We’ve got to continue to partner together, community leaders, business leaders, government, all of us to find the solutions to shift our society and stand against racism, against violence.”

Jay Farner, CEO Quicken Loans

"This morning, I have the privilege of representing our more than 25,000 team members who love and stand by the city.

“As the CEO of the Rock Family of Companies, I am committed to ensuring our African American team members feel safe. More importantly, our team members need to continue being heard and feel comfortable expressing pain and frustration without fear of reprisal. What makes our family of companies amazing is its people and the very life experiences they bring. In partnership with Trina Scott, our Chief Diversity Officer, and leaders across the family of companies, I immediately instituted an action plan to advance meaningful and lasting discussions and actions on race, police brutality, and inclusion. Our mandate remains clear: To ensure a safe environment where all can flourish and grow.”

Wright Lassiter, President & CEO, Henry Ford Health System

"As you think about how we’ve arrived at this moment, in my humble opinion, the ideology of this fractured state that we’re existing, it comes down to two things: intolerance, and indifference. As the world’s most diverse melting pot, we continue to struggle to lift ourselves from our troubled beginnings. The inescapable gravitational force that our history of slavery, in parts upon our nation, continues to sow seeds that are hurtful, that are insidious, and times are right in our face. With prejudice, injustice, and intolerance in full view in the last couple of months with the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and now George Floyd, I’m hopeful that appropriate justice will happen and that our nation will wrap these communities in our support and prayers.

“Yet I’m reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King, sharing that ‘a riot is a language of the unheard.’ In other words, what we’re seeing in our communities are reflective of the fact that our nation is not listening. So, at this moment, as we stand here at times like these, we must all decide if we’re going to stand silent and turn away from the fray, choosing comfort over progress, indifference; or will we summon the courage that exists in all of us when we’re confronted with acts that violate our sense of dignity and humanity.”

Chris Ilitch, President & CEO, Ilitch Holdings

"Today, we stand together to champion equality, justice and respect for the African American community. And I’m proud to stand with those who support diversity and inclusion and condemn hatred and racism, prejudice and violence.

“No doubt, these have been difficult days. We all mourn the tragic and all too common loss of African American lives. We are saddened, we are troubled, we are angry. But anger is not enough. We have a moral obligation to meet intolerance and injustice with action and resolve. We need to peacefully and productively channel our grief and shared sense of decency into lasting and positive change. The strength of this city lies in the spirit of this city, and in the grace and the goodwill of its people. It lies in our ability to rally, to rise and to demand better.”

Dan Loepp, President & CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

"If anybody doesn’t think that there are health disparities in Michigan and America, they’re blind; they’re blind to the truth.

"I’ve had hundreds of conversations since (the coronavirus pandemic) played out and and especially with my colleagues of color -- and people are tired. They’re tired of people dying, whether it’s COVID or on the streets. They’re mad. They’re afraid.

“It’s all about action. (...) And I have never seen a group of people more committed to doing something. I hope that what comes out of this besides action is that we actually get to a metric where (Black Americans) don’t have to have ‘the talk’ (about police brutality with children). That’s a that’s a very tall order. But, if we eradicate injustice and there is justice for all -- both black and white -- maybe there’ll be a time where you don’t have to have that talk.”

Gerry Anderson, Executive Chariman, DTE Energy

"The first thing that I want to say is to DTE’s African American community, but also to the African American citizens of Detroit, is that we stand with you, and in your pain and your frustration and in your exhaustion. When any among us are demeaned, or denied basic human rights, we are all dehumanized. It’s only by standing with those who are demeaned that we have a chance of regaining some measure of our humanity.

“But, after the pain and the protest pass, we’re going to need persistence. We’re going to need persistence to see through practical, tangible changes. And I would be foolish to offer simple solutions to deep-seated issues. There are so many things that need to change, the creation of economic and educational opportunity chief among them. But we also need to persist and see through reforms in our criminal justice system, and reforms where the police departments -- which are so critical to the functioning of our communities -- where those police departments have lost their way, we need to undertake reform.”

Gary Torgow, Executive Chairman, TCF Financial Corporation

"For far too long, there have been men and women of power who deny the truth of racism. Not today and not anymore. George Floyd is the latest tragedy in a centuries-long line of African Americans to suffer violent deaths at the hands of police officers. They were victims of a law enforcement system that truly produces legions of dedicated public servants, but unfortunately also shields murderers in their midst.

“We do believe that most police officers in this country are exceptional, dedicated public servants and we owe all of them our eternal gratitude. But there are still, unfortunately, some who use their badges as a license to do and cause harm. We stand here today to drive a stake in that reality. We condemn Mr. Floyd’s violent murder and we share the grief and fear and anger of our community. Our hearts go out to the men and women who have endured the pain and suffering of bigotry. We unite together in rejecting all forms of bias and racism and violence in our workplaces and in our communities. Our purpose calls on us to strengthen businesses and individuals, and especially in times of tragedy to help those who are hurting the most.”

Mike Duggan, Mayor of Detroit

"Twenty years ago today, I was running for Wayne County Prosecutor in the year 2000. And one of the main things I talked about was that in 2000 the Detroit Police Department had the highest rate of shootings of citizens of any police department in the country.

"When I was campaigning and I talked to the business leaders who were supporting me, and I would tell them how important (addressing) this was, the reaction I got was a lot of skepticism. ‘Are you really sure the people were innocent, that these cops shot at?’ It wasn’t their experience. And, in this country, it wasn’t just the business leaders. It was the indifference of white America to the mistreatment of African Americans at the hands of police officers that’s created the deep and gaping wound in this country -- it’s happened over a long time. And when that officer put his knee down on George Floyd’s neck, it ripped that scab off and it’s bleeding. And now, we have to face it.

“(...) We aren’t here today with final solutions. We’re here today to say that the conditions of systemic racism in law enforcement will change when everybody joins the cause. I hope we see the corporate leaders from the rest of America join them soon.”

MORE: ’Go home’: Detroit police chief, community leaders slam violent out-of-town protesters

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.