We are living in anxious and difficult times. Our times became exponentially more anxious and more difficult last week. On May 25, in Minneapolis, police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man suspected of a nonviolent crime (a store employee called the police accusing him of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill). Mr. Floyd was killed during the course of his arrest, as clearly shown on video and now seen by most or all of us and hundreds of millions of others around the world.
The killing of Mr. Floyd has followed similar recent and widely publicized tragedies, including the police-involved killing of Breonna Taylor and the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, in which so many other Black Americans have been victimized before them. These events, individually and collectively, have left us feeling sad, frustrated, anxious and angry. They are incomprehensible, but at the same time not incomprehensible enough. These most recent events have taken place during an unprecedented global pandemic, which has been challenging for all of us, but has been especially devastating for the Black community and other communities of color worldwide, which have experienced significantly higher rates of COVID-19-induced loss and suffering. And, for a community that is already grieving, the events of this past week have instilled fear and reopened psychological wounds accumulated over centuries of oppression and racism. These events serve as jarring reminders of the discrimination, bigotry and sense of “not belonging” that Black people and other marginalized groups endure every day, inside and outside of the workplace. To these colleagues, I want to send a clear and unequivocal message: Please know that we stand with you and in support of you.
At Mayer Brown, our core values are grounded in the principle that every individual—each and every individual—is equally worthy of respect and appreciation. We recognize the value that diversity and inclusion bring to our business and to our communities and we have a corresponding responsibility to speak up when our core values are undermined.
As members of the legal community, we bear a special and heightened responsibility. We understand that the rule of law requires that everyone, and especially those in power, be held accountable for their actions. Those who failed to protect or even recognize George Floyd’s human rights should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Mayer Brown stands in solidarity with all who lawfully seek justice for those who have been denied their civil liberties and human rights, and particularly when that denial has such tragic and irreversible consequences.
Even as we seek ways to channel our raw emotions of sadness, frustration, anxiety and anger, I call upon the Mayer Brown community to embrace this situation with a sense of urgency as an opportunity for transformational change. I think of this call to action as having two parts—first, as an opportunity to accelerate our progress to make Mayer Brown a more diverse community and, crucially, a more inclusive one, to the benefit of our clients and ourselves—and second, to fulfill our responsibility to use our immense talents and our platform to seek needed change in our society and to use our individual resources, talents and networks to take action in support of marginalized communities.
On the first point, I invite each of you to join me in:
- listening to and learning from colleagues and friends who have experienced or witnessed discrimination;
- educating ourselves about the unique and complex relationship that Black people and other people of color have with their communities and their institutions, including their workplaces;
- examining the bias in our own thoughts and behaviors;
- engaging our friends and family in uncomfortable conversations about the problem of racism and bigotry of all kinds; and
- understanding that many members of the Mayer Brown family have been psychologically and emotionally affected by these ongoing injustices and showing them that they have our unwavering support.
On the second point, we start from the proposition that making a positive difference in the communities where we live and work is a core value of Mayer Brown. We have been active in this area for years, but we were reminded last week that this journey remains in its infancy. It is in this spirit that we recommit to marshalling our considerable resources and embracing our responsibilities as members of the local, national and global legal communities to help in bringing about badly needed change.
I will borrow from our former partner Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s remarks earlier this week: “We have to turn our pain into purpose in order to get through this moment together and . . . to move us forward in a way that is more equitable, inclusive and just. I know in my heart and in my soul that we will be able to learn from this moment and move forward together.”
Chairman, Mayer Brown