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Atlanta employers decry racism, recent deaths that sparked protests

Metro Atlanta companies joined a chorus of others from around the country in denouncing racial injustices as demonstrations against police brutality and other racially tinged confrontations continued across the U.S. on Tuesday.

Some of those same businesses are pledging action as the nation convulses under days of protests triggered by the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick. All three were African American. Floyd and Taylor were killed by police. Arbery was shot and killed by a white resident.

Home Depot announced it will donate $1 million to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in support of efforts to end racism and injustice. Coca-Cola Company said senior leaders will host a “Stand As One” dialogue on racism and what the company can do to create change. Leaders of Southern Company, the parent of Georgia Power, said they will “redouble our ongoing efforts to improve relations between all members of the communities where we live and work.”

The companies’ statements mostly focused on underlying issues that sparked the protests, rather than the riot violence and property damage that has become a priority for the White House.

Many major brands face expectations that they will support issues and share values that their employees, customers, stockholders care about, said Rob Baskin, a former director of public relations at Coke and now a vice president of public affairs for the Atlanta Police Foundation.

“The interests of society and the interests of corporations are served by unity and a sense of working together to solve issues and problems,” Baskin said.

Bob Hope, co-founder of Atlanta-based public relations firm Hope-Beckham, said companies are navigating an increasingly sensitive marketplace. They tend to take stands that many of their stakeholders can agree on.

Many of the recent statements issued by companies nationally sound very similar, said Naveen Donthu, who is a professor and marketing chair at Georgia State University. They come across as less authentic as a result, he said. But he praised a campaign by Nike. Riffing on its “Just do it” line, the company released a video with the words “Don’t do it.”

“Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America. Don’t turn your back on racism,” it says.

Home Depot Chief Executive Officer Craig Menear issued a statement denouncing “the senseless killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other unarmed black men and women in our country.”

“We cannot ignore that their deaths are part of a pattern of racism and reflect the harsh reality that, as a nation, we are much too far from fulfilling the promise of equal justice for all,” he said.

James Quincey, the chairman of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, wrote in a message sent to employees and posted online: “We stand as one with our employees, business partners and communities in rejecting racism and discrimination. We share their anger, fear, sadness and disappointment over the lack of progress in protecting Black Americans and people of color from acts of racism and injustice.

Quincey also said the company joins with “Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and community leaders across North America, in the call for peaceful protests with purpose. We reject all forms of violence and destruction.

On Monday, the Atlanta Committee for Progress issued a statement that said, “The senseless and horrific events of the past several weeks have left the people of our community reeling with anguish, fear, frustration and justified anger.” The group’s 42 members include business and education leaders, among them Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Alex Taylor, CEO of Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Delta Air Lines posted on its Facebook page that “words alone cannot help to solve the crimes of racism. We recognize that we still have work to do, but know that we are listening and will not be silent.”

Carol Tome, the new CEO of UPS, said in an open letter to UPS employees that “recent incidents in Brunswick, Georgia, Minneapolis, Louisville and New York City and the resulting social unrest across America confront us with a different reality. A reality that reveals the worst in humanity. A reality that hate lies just below the surface and discrimination, fear and violence can happen anywhere.”

She wrote, “I’m angry and I’m ashamed as I see people treat others with contempt and hate.”

Staff writers Michael E. Kanell, Kelly Yamanouchi, Christopher Quinn and Andy Peters contributed to this story.

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