On Wednesday, Amazon’s top lawyer sent an email to his staff supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. But the note did not address a recent controversy over the same lawyer, who made what many of his Amazon colleagues saw as racist comments in high-level executive meeting notes where he devised a strategy to fight complaints from a black Amazon warehouse worker who says he was fired for protesting working conditions during the pandemic.
Amazon general adviser David Zapolsky spoke on Wednesday about the murder of George Floyd’s police and broader racial injustices in an email to his global legal staff, but the tech giant’s top attorney avoided reporting his leaked April statements , in which he referred the fired employee to “Not smart or articulate.” Those original comments caused anger among Amazon employees, who found Zapolsky’s choice of words offensive at best and racist at worst.
Zapolsky had used that language to describe Amazon employee Christian Smalls, who fired the company in March the day he led a small employee strike at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York. Amazon said that Smalls violated the company’s instructions to stay at home on paid quarantine leave after coming in contact with a colleague who tested positive for Covid-19. Smalls says he was fired for organizing the strike and voicing concerns about the safety of Amazon workers during the pandemic.
Zapolsky’s email on Wednesday had the subject line “Black Lives Matter,” in which he wrote that “the images and reports of violence, discrimination, and racist aggression against black people are reprehensible and harrowing.”
“Like many of you,” he added, “I have read and heard many voices responding to this most recent wave of racial injustice. I don’t assume I can add much to those conversations, so I’ve hesitated so far to write. But I do agree with those who argue that the most constructive things that people who have the privilege of not coping with in their daily lives can do, at least in the short term, listen and learn from those who do , double our commitment to be more effective anti-racist allies and advocates, and to support organizations and individuals seeking to address and reduce racial oppression, police brutality and structural racism in our society. “
Zapolsky closed that portion of the email saying, “That’s what I’m trying to do and plan to keep doing as we go along.”
The top lawyer also said he made personal donations the same 11 organizations that Amazon did recently, who “fight against systemic racism and injustice” in various ways. He added that he welcomed input from his staff to other organizations to consider support.
But Zapolsky’s email was not well received by some of his employees, an Amazon lawyer told Recode.
“This is the first time we’ve heard comments from legal leadership on these issues after David’s leaked email, which was in no way addressed or acknowledged by David or other legal VPs,” the Amazon employee told Recode . “It is difficult to consider this sincere if he has not addressed his offensive and arguably racist comments from the leaked memo.”
Zapolsky ended his email by telling employees to contact him on his mobile “even if you just want to talk, ask a question, share ideas or feedback, or just air them.” The same current Amazon employee told Recode that it is hard to imagine staff members applying Zapolsky to his offer.
During a phone call to Recode on Wednesday, Smalls, the fired warehouse worker who attacked Zapolsky in the leaked minutes of the meeting, had no word for words when he heard the contents of Zapolsky’s email.
“That’s ridiculous. That’s insulting. I don’t even know what to say,” said Smalls.
“I’m surprised he thought he could even speak about it,” he added.
In a follow-up text message to Recode, Smalls said, “Let him apologize publicly if he really cares about black people.”
When Vice first published Zapolsky’s meeting notes in April they revealed how Amazon leadership planned to position Smalls as the face of the anti-Amazon workers’ movement.
“He’s not smart or articulate, and as far as the press wants to focus on us and him, we’ll have a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers,” the notes said. . said.
“We need to devote the first part of our response to vigorously explaining why [Smalls’s] behavior was immoral, unacceptable, and demonstrably illegal, and only then followed our usual talking points about worker safety, “added Zapolsky in the commentary, according to Vice News. “Make him the most interesting part of the story and make him the face of the whole union / organization movement if possible.”
After the leak, Amazon made a statement on behalf of Zapolsky not referring to what many Amazon workers and some politicians, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), saw as racist undertones. It also did not contain any of the words “sorry,” “apologies,” or “sorry.”
The statement said, “My comments were personal and emotional. I was frustrated and angry that an Amazon employee would endanger the health and safety of other Amazonians by returning to the property repeatedly after being warned to quarantine himself after exposure to the Covid-19 virus. I let my emotions compose my words and gain the upper hand. ‘
Amazon spokesman Dan Perlet told Recode at the time that Zapolsky, who is white, didn’t know that Smalls was black when he wrote the minutes.
Some Amazon servants were smoking at the time that it was “ absolutely disgusting that they would talk about such a colleague. I very much doubt they would have used those words if he were a white worker. ‘
An Amazon spokesman declined to comment on Zapolsky’s email on Wednesday. The full text of the email is below:
Most of you are aware of the events that we have read, seen, and witnessed in communities in the United States in recent weeks. The images and reports of violence, discrimination and racist aggression against black people are objectionable and harrowing. Tragically, they are not new either. The list of victims is very long – the injustices against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, Tony McDade and Christian Cooper are just some of the past few months. Horribly, there are more every day, such as David McAtee, murdered Monday by the Louisville police who apparently ignored the order to wear body cameras. It is horrifying, painful and we have to find a way to end it. Black Lives Matter.
Like many of you, I have read and listened to many voices responding to this most recent wave of racial injustice. I don’t assume I can add much to those conversations, so I’ve hesitated so far to write. But I do agree with those who argue that the most constructive things that people who have the privilege of not coping with in their daily lives can do, at least in the short term, listen and learn from those who do , double our commitment to be more effective anti-racist allies and advocates, and to support organizations and individuals seeking to address and reduce racial oppression, police brutality and structural racism in our society. That’s what I’m trying to do and plan to keep doing it as we move forward.
On Sunday, Amazon posted the following message on our blog and various social channels: “The unjust and brutal treatment of black people in our country must stop. Together we stand in solidarity with the black community – our employees, customers and partners – in the fight against systemic racism and injustice. ”
This morning, Amazon announced donations totaling $ 10 million to the organizations listed below, which search in a variety of ways [to] achieve these goals. I have also made personal donations – to this and other organizations, and I welcome the discussion and input about others worthy of support.
Brennan Center for Justice
Equal Justice Initiative
Committee on Civil Rights
National Bar Association
National Museum of African American History and Culture
National Urban League
Thurgood Marshall College Fund
UNCF (United Negro College Fund)
A notable theme that many of these organizations share is that they seek to achieve change by asserting and enforcing rights through the legal system – a long-standing and strong tradition of the civil rights movement in this country. I know that some of our department are exploring ways to proactively participate in the work of these and other organizations in connection with current protests and other reform efforts, and I welcome and encourage such participation.
Finally, I also wanted to make sure you saw it Jeff’s Instagram post Friday, which strengthens one article about how many of our black colleagues are currently feeling. This is an extremely difficult time. We all need to give each other support and space as we move through this period, especially managers. And we will.
If there is anything I can do personally or a member of our Legal Leadership team to help in any way – even if you just want to talk, ask a question, share ideas or feedback or just vent then not to reach out [to] me, or a member of the legal leadership team, directly. My personal mobile and other contact details are in the phone tool.