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Seattle area corporations respond to protests over police brutality with messages of solidarity, but few specifics

Katherine Khashimova Long, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

Seattle-area corporate giants lined up to decry racially motivated violence as protests denouncing police brutality against Black Americans have swept through the Seattle area and across the nation in the last week.

As demonstrators filled city blocks to decry the killing of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police, Amazon tweeted a message of solidarity with the Black community. Starbucks and Nordstrom called for "courageous conversations" around race. Microsoft pointed to its past support for criminal justice reform. "Racism has no home here," Zillow tweeted.

Major companies typically shy away from staking a position on topics as divisive as racially motivated police violence.

But across the country, protesters in the last week have repeatedly emphasized that there is no such thing as staying neutral, forcing companies that have traditionally preferred to stay silent on hot-button political issues to take a stand. During rallies in Seattle on Saturday, protesters carried signs saying "Silence is violence."

In some instances, companies that have denounced racial bias have been met with scorn for what some say are transparent attempts to burnish lackluster track records on race and diversity.

"You can't issue a statement about how you have a philosophy of everyone being equal, and then it comes out that you don't have that policy," said University of Washington professor Kathleen Fearn-Banks, the author of a textbook on corporate crisis communications.

 

Amazon's repudiation of "the inequitable and brutal treatment of Black people in our country" in a Sunday morning tweet rang hollow to many of the company's detractors.

The American Civil Liberties Union asked in reply, "Will you commit to stop selling face recognition surveillance technology that supercharges police abuse?" That tweet, by midday Monday, had 10 times as many "likes" as the original Amazon statement.

The ACLU is among those who have criticized the company's sale of its Rekognition technology to law-enforcement agencies, and its partnerships with them to boost sales of its Ring surveillance and home-security products.

A shareholder proposal at Amazon's annual meeting last week sought an "independent, third-party report ... to determine whether customers' use of its surveillance and computer vision products or cloud-based services contributes to human-rights violations."

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