In this country, since the death of George Floyd and the rise in prominence of the Black Live Matter movement, many companies are taking a second look at what part they play in racial matters. Some companies like Quaker Oats have offered it will stop sales of Aunt Jemima brand products. Of course, NASCAR has banned the Confederate flag. But now Ford finds itself in the center of a dilemma. Some of its employees are circulating a letter asking Ford to stop making police cars.
The auto industry has been diverse for 100 years but it still sees bouts of racism today. But a product associated with police has mostly had a good image until now. Two-thirds of police cars in America are built by Ford. It is made up of Explorers, F150s, and Expeditions. Besides the side benefit of exposure, Ford is making money selling police vehicles.
Should it come as a surprise that once Ford CEO Jim Hackett was made aware of the letter he quickly threw out the idea of stopping police vehicle manufacturing? Ford has always championed diversity. It has many affinity groups that include LGBT, interfaith, and African-Ancestry Network or FAAN. According to Jalopnik the idea of stopping police production has been discussed at FAAN meetings but leadership was not aware there was a letter to be circulated in-house.
This is a portion of the letter showing up on internal computers at Ford
This letter is being passed around Ford internally with the request to digitally sign it. Jalop got a copy of the letter. Here are some of the key portions of it:
“On June 1st, you communicated to the company your commitment to ‘lead from the front and fully commit to creating the fair, just, and inclusive culture that our employees deserve.’ We thank you for your leadership on this initiative. We also appreciate and fully support your statement against “superficial actions,” and we write to push for real action by Ford Motor Company to address our role in the structures that perpetuate racism in society.
“On May 25th, 2020 George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis Police, alongside a Ford Police Interceptor. Days later, police officers drove Ford Police Interceptors into crowds of protesters in New York City and Los Angeles. During these past weeks, our vehicles have been used to deploy chemical weapons banned by the Geneva Convention.
“Throughout our history, the vehicles that Ford employees design and build have been used as accessories to police brutality and oppression. We know that while many joins, supports, or supplies law enforcement with good intentions, these racist policing practices that plague our society are historic and systemic—a history and system perpetuated by Ford for over 70 years—ever since Ford introduced the first-ever police package in 1950. As an undeniable part of that history and system, we are long overdue to “think and act differently” on our role in racism.”
We doubt Ford leadership would have thought they would face a situation like this
While we’re sure Ford leadership means what it says we doubt it ever thought it would have to face a situation like this. Once Hackett got wind of the letter being circulated this is some of what he wrote:
“First, it should be clear both Bill Ford and I believe deeply that there is no room for the systemic repression and racism that have been exhibited by law enforcement encounters gone wrong. We’ve said clearly that Black Lives Matter and I am personally driving a review of our Diversity and Inclusion rituals, practices and behaviors. We do believe strongly that more transparency and accountability is required in police operations.
“Second, we also believe the first responders that protect us play an extraordinarily important role in the vitality and safety of our society. Our world wouldn’t function without the bravery and dedication of the good police officers who protect and serve. But safety of community must be inclusive of all members and today, it is not.
“Holding these two thoughts together in one’s mind is possible, but now there is tension. It’s our belief the recent issues surfacing from the George Floyd tragedy are bringing a very intensive and necessary spotlight on police training and reform. In fact, I sit on the Business Roundtable, an organization comprised of CEOs from America’s leading companies, which has committed its shared energy to the work on police training and reform.”
Some think Hackett paints a picture leveraging the questions we face as a nation to Ford’s benefit
But some feel that the following points made by Hackett paint a picture of leveraging the questions we are facing as a nation to Ford’s benefit:
“It’s not controversial that the Ford Police Interceptor helps officers do their job. The issues plaguing police credibility have nothing to do with the vehicles they’re driving. In fact, as we imagine the future power of our connected vehicles, smarter Ford vehicles can be used to not only improve officers’ ability to protect and serve, but also provide data that can make police safer and more accountable. Just think, dating back to the Model T, Ford has more than 100 years in serving first responders and that leadership over the decades has been earned by co-developing our purpose-built vehicles and technologies with police and emergency agencies to make our vehicles the number one choice.
“By taking away our Police Interceptors, we would be doing harm to their safety and making it harder for them to do their job. Again, this is why, given our insights, new capabilities and leadership, I believe these unfortunate circumstances present Ford with an even greater opportunity to not only innovate new solutions but also leverage our unique position to support the dialogue and reform needed to create safer communities for all.”
We all remember or know about the summer of 1967 in Detroit
Ford and all of Detroit has had its fair share of racism, including continued race-related assembly line incidents. And we all remember or know about the summer of 1967 in Detroit. It would obviously be a huge symbol of solidarity with the BLM movement were Ford to discontinue manufacturing police vehicles. But the backlash would probably be big and could ultimately cause more pain for people of color.
First, if police Explorers were eliminated, it would probably result in layoffs at the assembly line making them in Chicago. Though I’ve never visited that line, one can assume it is made up largely of black men and women. So layoffs would directly affect them.
Either way it goes there will be much tension at Ford, but externally too
Then the backlash from communities around the country that pride themselves on purchasing American vehicles for their policing activities. Choosing as a response to stop purchasing their own cars from Ford could hurt sales which, again, could affect many black and Latino people inside Ford. Either way, it goes there will be much tension at Ford, but externally too.
The optics of seeing Ford Explorers ramming protestors or having police officers kneeing arrested individuals next to an Explorer makes Ford complicit in some people’s eyes. It will be more than just interesting to see how Ford leadership navigates this moment in time, and what it gives up in terms of product and values.