The following is a letter that Eaton Corp. Chairman and CEO Craig Arnold sent this week to employees:
In the spring of 1968, violent riots erupted in more than 100 American cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The truth is, most of us had not yet been born or were too young to remember that awful period in our nation’s history. I was only 7 years old at the time so, for me, like most of you, my memories of this period come primarily from what I read or watched on television. How wonderful would it be if we could say that we learned a valuable lesson from King’s assassination and the riots that followed. Sadly, the unnecessary deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, as well as the widespread rioting currently taking place across the U.S., are yet another reminder of how little has changed.
I’m sure many of you are struggling to understand why. Why does a police officer force his knee into the neck of another human being for nine minutes, ignoring pleas of “I can’t breathe,” while three other police officers stand by and do nothing to help? Why do two white men armed with a .357 Magnum and a shotgun chase down and kill an unarmed black man, who was out for a Sunday afternoon run? And yet, no arrests were made for more than two months. Why do a group of police officers use a battering ram to break into an apartment after midnight, confronting and killing an innocent and unarmed black female, shooting her at least eight times in a suspected drug bust where no drugs were found?
Why, why, why? I wish I had the answer. Perhaps something has gone horribly wrong with our society. Yes, I say society because it would be too easy to place the blame on a few bad apples. We will always have a few bad apples. For too long, the majority of Americans, decent and caring individuals, have stood by and allowed the worst of us to go unchecked. We have allowed hate and those who have little regard for the life of another person to practice with impunity. We have rationalized our way into accepting behavior that is unacceptable because we’re too busy – or too fearful − to get involved.
It's time for us all to get involved and to have our voices heard. I often quote the words of writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Many of you are also asking yourself, why are they rioting in the streets, destroying property and bringing more senseless death to our nation? I ask myself the same question. And let’s be clear. The impulse to destroy is the wrong answer. The civil unrest we see today will leave an indelible mark on our country, the communities affected and on all of us personally. Our thoughts are with all who’ve been touched by these tragedies, and we extend our deepest condolences to the families who have lost loved ones as a result. Here, too, we need to make our voices heard.
But I understand the anger, frustration, and hopelessness that exist in so many of our minority communities. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of peace, but even King noted in one of his speeches, “These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.” King never condoned violence of any kind, but he did understand its origins. So, as we do everything we can to restore peace and order in our communities, let’s not lose sight of the “why.”
We all know that riots are the wrong answer and will only set us back as a nation and as a people. Even worse, rioting will shift the dialogue from the root cause of the problem to the urgent issue of ensuring that we control the few bad apples − those who would engage in violent protest and the destruction of property.
It would be easy for the events over the last few days to suggest that we are dealing with an insurmountable problem – certainly a problem that is too big for any one individual to confront. I disagree. Just imagine for a moment that you were one of the police officers on the scene the day that George Floyd died. And when he said, “I can’t breathe,” you did what should have been done. You intervened and put a stop it. Where would we be today? Maybe still dealing with protests in the streets of major cities, maybe not. At a minimum, we would have one less senseless loss of life. One person can make a difference − you can make a difference.
We have made progress toward achieving racial equality but have a long way to go before we realize King’s vision to live in a society where all people are treated equally, and not judged or limited by the qualities that make them unique. I’m committed to doing all I can to make that a reality for my children and grandchildren, and for all of you.
This commitment begins with my role at Eaton. I’m deeply proud of the spirit of diversity and inclusion that defines our culture. But no matter how much progress we’ve made, no matter how many awards we’ve won, we can always do more. We can and must do better. And you have my word that I’ll continue to do all in my power to foster a culture of trust and inclusion at Eaton, where we all feel a sense of belonging, where all voices are heard, and where we feel safe being our authentic selves at work every day.
The day before his assassination, King spoke out against the use of violence and aggression to achieve racial equality. In the course of his famed “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, he said, “We don’t have to argue...we don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails.” What we need, King went on to say, is to stand together to make America a better nation.
History is once again presenting an opportunity for us to become better. This is the time for us to come together, to truly listen and learn from one another, and to embrace this moment to become the nation we were meant to be.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer