Former commandant of the Marine Corps, retired Gen. Robert Neller, is urging national leaders to “speak out for justice and fairness” following George Floyd’s death in police custody.
“The time for being silent has passed, at least for me,” Neller wrote in a “Letter to America” shared on LinkedIn Wednesday.
“We know what happened in Minnesota to George Floyd was not right,” Neller wrote. “He deserved better. And his death like those of too many others needs to count for something. We are better than this.”
Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis while in police custody has motivated protests to erupt around the nation. Despite silence from military leaders in the days immediately following his death, current and former military leaders started addressing the racial issues at hand this week.
“To our National leaders, both politically and culturally. Continue to speak out for justice and fairness,” Neller wrote. “At the same time work to address the conditions of any group in the Country who is disadvantaged by any reason. You cannot make everyone in the Country succeed but we must create opportunities for success not conditions for failure. Life is hard and all Americans expect to work hard … but don’t make it harder than it is.”
For white Americans, Neller said those who believe they are not racially prejudiced still have work to do — and that means listening to the experiences of people of color, and understand things “you either have not seen or cannot see.” He also sympathized with black Americans’ anger, calling it “understandable and justified” as he encouraged them to peacefully protest.
“The great majority of America hears and agrees with you,” Neller said.
He also encouraged law enforcement to continue doing their “difficult” jobs with professionalism and dedication, but advised them to walk away in heated situations. Additionally, he urged law enforcement officers to intervene if another colleague is violating the law or engaging in misconduct.
“To the racists in America,” Neller wrote. “For the record, things will not go backwards in this country. America is great but because we move forward and get better… socially, economically, culturally, educationally …. In all ways. We are not going back to the ‘way it was.’”
“You are on the wrong side of history,” he said. “I pity you.”
Neller also shared a quote from Henry Longfellow about two ships passing each other at night before moving on in silence. That’s not how Americans should react moving forward, he said.
“Stand up for what is right,” Neller concluded. “We can no longer be ships in the night and just move on. Love and protect your neighbor. Stay safe.”
Other military leaders have also spoken out this week to address the country amid national unrest. For example, current Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger, along with all other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voiced ways the military can eliminate racism.
“Current events are a stark reminder that it is not enough for us to remove symbols that cause division — rather, we also must strive to eliminate division itself," Berger said in a statement Wednesday.
Berger’s statement came after he issued a letter in April for the June 2020 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette and asserted the Confederate battle flag “has the power to inflame feelings of division.” As a result, he called to “exclude from our Corps public displays” of the Confederate battle flag.
Neller served as commandant of the Marine Corps from 2015 to 2019, and was relieved by Berger. Read Neller’s full statement here.