In summary

Chief executives of some of America’s largest companies have engaged in a new initiative to advocate for public policy changes to secure equal justice.

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By Rhonda Johnson, Special to CalMatters

Rhonda Johnson is president of AT&T California, responsible for all external affairs, public policy and philanthropic activities in California,

Moments in which it is possible to affect historic change are infrequent, and when we arrive at one it is imperative that all individuals and institutions of good do what they can to make certain the moment is seized.

We are at such a moment today.

This is the year in which all Americans have seen the reality that has been evident, but not forcefully addressed, for far too long. The tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and too many other Black Americans before them have at last awakened the nation at large to the pervasive inequality and injustice that stain our society.

We have approached this moment before but never quite arrived, regrettably allowing opportunity to pass. Tragedies spur outrage, which leads to protests, which yield promises of reform. This time, it feels like there is substance to those promises. There is a sense that at last there is a public mandate and the political will to address racial inequality across a broad range of areas, including equitable policing.

Nationally, the Business Roundtable, an organization made up of chief executives of America’s largest companies, has engaged in a new initiative to advocate for public policy changes to secure equal justice outcomes for all. We are proud that the committee advancing that initiative is chaired by AT&T’s Executive Chairman Randall Stephenson.

In an open letter to federal, state and local elected officials, Stephenson recently wrote: “This is America’s moment to seize the opportunity for change and business leaders cannot sit this one out. We must engage to drive reform.”

In California, the governor has a number of reforms on his desk passed by the Legislature to promote more equitable justice. It is important that the community come together to demonstrate to state leaders the depth and breadth of public support for systemic reform.

It is that conviction – the idea that there is a common ground of communal support for equal justice – that is motivating AT&T California to deviate from business as usual and to publicly support and actively advocate for the passage of key reforms.

These reforms would create clearer standards for police conduct, promote public transparency and accountability, and begin to test new approaches to dealing with crises to reduce reactive violence.

We believe that enacting these policies will help make California a more just and equitable state for everyone who lives here.  All of these policies have the potential to affect needed change, have bipartisan support and are aligned with our company’s mandate for promoting equitable justice.

We believe our greatest strength is our employee base, more than 30,000 of which are here in California. They are the connective tissue that binds us to the communities we serve. That is why it’s imperative that all of our employees feel safe in the neighborhoods in which they live, work and raise their families. 

We will continue our internal commitment to the values of diversity and inclusiveness in our workforce and in the communities we serve. But at a moment like this, we must also recognize that in the pursuit of a just society the actions we take internally are not enough. 

It is a moment to publicly stand and be counted.

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