Major medtech companies with a presence in the Minnesota and elsewhere have been calling for peace, unity and racial justice following the death of George Floyd in police custody and the resulting demonstrations and violence.
Executives from Boston Scientific, Medtronic and the Medical Alley Association have penned open letters expressing their concerns and pledging to do better. Then Edwards Lifesciences and the medical device trade group AdvaMed added statements.
On Monday, Edwards CEO Mike Musallem told employees that Floyd’s death was “tragic and inexcusable.”
“Seeking diverse perspectives is part of our Secret Sauce because it makes us better and stronger, and we need all perspectives now more than ever,” Musallem said in the letter. “As we navigate these difficult times, it’s critical that we continue to treat each of our colleagues, and all people, with the respect, dignity and humanity we all deserve.”
AdvaMed president & CEO Scott Whitaker wrote to members that the trade group is proud of the industry’s employees who are peacefully protesting racial discrimination in the wake of Floyd’s death.
“As a healthcare organization, we recognize that we do not have the solution to a cultural crisis like the one we face today,” Whitaker said in the letter, posted on LinkedIn. “The medical technology community is united in our common mission to improve and save lives. We are united in our support of diversity and equity in our companies. While we continue our single-minded pursuit of medical breakthroughs to treat and cure disease, we must also have a single-minded focus on eradicating the disease of racism in this country and around the world.”
In an op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times, writer Thomas Friedman called on business leaders to lead a cultural change in the U.S.
“It is not hopeless,” Friedman said. “I hope America’s principled business leaders, and there are many, can find a way to come together to lead a healing discussion, maybe through the Business Roundtable, in the absence of a president willing and able to do so.”
Thousands of people have taken to the streets across the country since the Memorial Day death of Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis. The unarmed black man died while (now former) Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck and bystanders pleaded for the officer to stop.
As a video of Floyd’s death began to circulate, some protestors began staging peaceful demonstrations in the Twin Cities. Others turned to violence, smashing storefront windows, looting, and burning down a police station and several businesses in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Demonstrations continue to spread across the country.
The city of Minneapolis quickly fired Chauvin and three other officers present, two of whom were reportedly seen pressing on Floyd’s back while the third kept bystanders away. Chauvin was initially charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Today, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison elevated the one the first charge against Chauvin to second-degree murder and announced that the other three former officers will be charged with aiding and abetting murder, according to a report in the Minneapolis StarTribune.
In an open letter to employees on Friday, Boston Scientific executives noted that the company has about 9,000 workers in the Minneapolis area, and condemned injustice and discrimination.
Medtronic CEO Geoff Martha extended his sympathies to Floyd’s family and to employees who knew Floyd.
“I can’t find the right words to explain this or make it better. It is senseless. Every time I think we are moving beyond these kinds of acts, they happen again,” Martha wrote in an open letter to Medtronic employees, posted on LinkedIn.
“What I can say is that I won’t tolerate it — whether it be the act that killed Mr. Floyd or the acts of those burning this city,” Martha added. “What I can say is that I — and we — must be better than that and that we will continue to give our time, our resources and our attention to make this better.”
Medtronic’s U.S. headquarters are located in Fridley, Minn., about 10 miles from Minneapolis.
Martha said he is contacting “partners” in the city and that he will contribute his own time and resources to improving race relations in the community. The CEO also said he will continue supporting employee diversity and resource groups within the company “to help drive change inside and outside of our walls.”
Minneapolis resident and former Medtronic CEO Bill George said he and his wife were among the protesters who took to a major highway bridge in Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon. In a letter on his website, George called for changing “the deep inequities, racial injustice, and prejudice that people of color have encountered for years” as well as the culture at the Minneapolis Police Department.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was seen on the video kneeling on Floyd’s neck, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers who were present and involved in Floyd’s arrest have not been charged.
Minneapolis police have a long history of strained relations with the black community. Jamar Clark, 24, was shot in the head in 2015 by police, who were not charged in his death. Weeks of protests followed.
“Changing the culture of the Minneapolis police force is only an essential first step,” George said. “The police must reclaim their sworn obligation to protect and serve. Beyond that, business and community leaders must provide equal opportunities for people of color to progress through their leadership ranks, until the diversity of their leaders reflects the diversity of the people they serve.”
George also called for “moral leaders who call upon ‘the better angels of our nature’ to guide us on this journey,” quoting Abraham Lincoln. “My greatest desire is for people to step up as moral leaders, each in their own way, to restore greatness to our city and our nation by building a just and moral society.”
The Medical Alley Association, a Minnesota-based medtech trade group, also weighed in.
“Just as we have come together to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, so we can come together to finally make real progress on eliminating the unnecessary divides in our community. These divides keep us from living up to the standards that we adamantly profess as Minnesota values,” said CEO Shaye Mandle in an open letter.
“Inequities are very real in Minnesota. As healthcare professionals, we are in every community and see these inequities and disparities firsthand. We go to work every day, trying to improve the health and save the lives of all Minnesotans and everyone in need around the world. We must work together to resolve these inequities and disparities,” Mandle added. “Let us pledge to not let George Floyd’s death become another tragic footnote, but rather the time that Minnesotans made the commitment to change the way we see our world.”
This article has been updated with statements from Edwards Lifesciences and AdvaMed, as well as information from the Minneapolis StarTribune and the New York Times.