Blacks face deep-rooted racism, discrimination in US military: Report
In nearly every branch of the US armed services, there is a deep-rooted culture of racism and discrimination that stubbornly festers, despite repeated efforts to eradicate it, according to a report by The Associated Press.
The AP found that the US military's judicial system has no explicit category for hate crimes, making it difficult to quantify crimes motivated by racism and prejudice.
The US Defense Department also has no way to track the number of troops ousted for extremist views, despite its repeated pledges to root them out. More than 20 people linked to the Jan. 6 siege of the US Capitol were found to have military ties.
The AP also found that the Uniform Code of Military Justice does not adequately address discriminatory incidents and that rank-and-file people of color commonly face courts-martial panels made up of all-white service members, which some experts argue can lead to harsher outcomes.
The military said it processed more than 750 complaints of discrimination by race or ethnicity from service members in the fiscal year 2020 alone. But discrimination doesn't exist just within the military rank-and-file.
That same fiscal year, civilians working in the financial, technical and support sectors of the Army, Air Force and Navy also filed 900 complaints of racial discrimination and over 350 complaints of discrimination by skin color, data from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows.
In February, Lloyd Austin– a former Army general who now is US secretary of defense, the first Black man to serve in the post – ordered commanders and supervisors to take an operational pause for one day to discuss extremism in the ranks with their service members.
Austin gave commanders the latitude to address the matter as they saw fit, but emphasized that discussions should include the meaning of their oath, acceptable behaviors both in and out of uniform, and how service members can report actual or suspected extremist behavior through their chains of command.
A recent poll from The Military Times showed the stand-down was received with mixed reviews. Some service members said their units went "above and beyond," but others reported their trainers made disparaging comments that undercut the discussions and that the sessions were short and non-interactive.
The Southern Poverty Law Center sent Austin a letter shortly after his order, applauding him for his decisive action but underscoring that systemic change on all military levels is urgent.
"Those who are indoctrinated into white supremacist ideology present a significant threat to national security and the safety of our communities," SPLC President Margaret Huang wrote.
In a statement to the AP, the Defense Department said extremism is not "widespread" in the armed forces, but acknowledged that "efforts to stamp out extremist views from the rank-and-file have historically been reactive versus proactive until recently." Pentagon spokesman Maj. César Santiago pointed to Austin's stand-down order in February that stressed the oath of office taken by military personnel, including a "commitment to protecting our nation from enemies foreign and domestic."
Santiago added that "we know that far too many service members indicate they experience discrimination." He noted that the Defense Department had launched multiple efforts in the past year, including updating its anti-harassment policy, assessing its training on implicit bias, and developing data-driven strategies to guide efforts to attract and retain diverse members and also identify unhealthy work environments.
Stephanie Davis joined the US military in 1988 and was medically retired by the Air Force in 2019 after more than two decades of service. Davis, who is black, said she felt ground down by overt racism and retaliated against for accusing a superior of sexually assaulting her.
She noted how insidious racism can be to members of the ranks – service members entrust their lives to their fellow troops, and a lack of cohesion in a unit can be deadly.
"It creates a harmful and dangerous work environment," Davis said. "And a lot of us suffer in silence because we feel like there's nothing that can be done."
In the midst of last year's summer of unrest sparked by police killings of Black Americans across the nation, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, claimed during a congressional hearing the military cannot afford racism or discrimination.
"We who wear the cloth of our nation understand that cohesion is a force multiplier," Milley said. "Divisiveness leads to defeat. As one of our famous presidents said, 'A house divided does not stand.'"
Austin pledged to rid the ranks of "racists and extremists" during his confirmation hearing before Congress, which came on the heels of the Capitol insurrection.