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Gwynne Shotwell’s Email on Crew Dragon’s Successful Launch and Police Brutality

Gwynne Shotwell

Five days before SpaceX became the first-ever private company to launch humans into orbit, George Floyd, a 45-year-old black man, was murdered at the hands of a white police officer who pressed his knee against the victim’s neck for about nine minutes. The name of the police officer is Derek Chauvin, who is now charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

The world is outraged by this appalling incident and many Americans took to the streets to express their anger about racism and police brutality.

As SpaceX employees and leadership are taking pride in accomplishing a pioneering mission, they are also processing this tragedy. Specifically, the company’s President and COO Gwynne Shotwell sent a heartfelt email to employees, congratulating them while also responding to the events that happened.

Many companies are now taking a thorough look at their anti-discrimination and pro-diversity policies to think of what they can do to prevent racist incidents to the fullest extent. An important step in coming up with the appropriate suggestions for improvement is asking employees of color themselves. Shotwell acknowledges this as she writes that she will be meeting with African American employees to discuss with them their experiences at work and what must be improved at the company.

In the email, she also mentions African-Americans who have been victim to similar incidents of police brutality, including Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

Preceding this email was Elon Musk’s note about the launch on Monday: “Your incredible work is now literally part of history! Words cannot express how proud I am of what you have achieved.”

In response to the events, Musk tweeted that the police officers who witnessed the event must also be arrested. He said, “Definitely not right that the other officers were charged with nothing. What message does this send in general to officers who stand by while another does wrong? #JusticeForGeorge.” The three police officers who were bystanders have now been charged.

A day after the launch though, Musk announced a hiatus from Twitter.

Gwynne Shotwell, on the other hand, expressed her thoughts in the internal memo sent across the office. The following is a verbatim copy of her email:

From: Gwynne Shotwell

Date: Jun. 3, 2020 [Ed: time stamp redacted]

To: Everyone

Subj. Demo 2 and Changing the World

SpaceX Team,

On Sunday, SpaceX successfully delivered its first humans, NASA Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the international Space Station. I hope each of you takes great pride in this extraordinary accomplishment. Until now, only three countries – Russia, the United States and China – have achieved the feat. Your commitment to the safe passage of ‘The Dads’ has required perseverance, sacrifice and a pursuit of a better, more exciting future. I truly believe there is no other group of people that could have made this happen – thank you and congratulations on the mission success thus far.

In speaking of trying to attain a better future, we must acknowledge the current reality. The death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many more highlight the difficulties that communities of color face. These events are troubling. If you are struggling personally or would like to talk to someone, please reach out to your HR Rep, or visit our benefits page to learn about resources provided by Lyra Health and other services. It is ok (and encouraged) to take a moment, or the time you need, to deal with this.

I want to ensure that SpaceX is a place where these difficulties are recognized and certainly a place where bias and discrimination are not tolerated. I will be meeting with our African American employees this week so that we can have more in-depth conversations about their experiences at work and discuss what we can do to improve. I want to meet with others that want to help in this regard. Please send requests to Brian Weir [Ed: Executive Assistant to the COO], Brian Bjelde [Ed: VP of Human Resources], or our Manager of Diversity and Inclusion Jamin Gallman. We will collect good ideas, achievements and misses on this page. [Ed: Link redacted] It will also highlight organizations and opportunities to support this broader community.

Thank you for all your contributions and personal sacrifices that make SpaceX a tremendous success. Congrats on the historic launch and docking of the still ongoing DM-2 mission. And thank you in advance for your continued support in making SpaceX a place where all people can do excellent work, buoyed by the support and teamwork of their fellow employees.

Let’s keep doing our best work and accelerate our goal of making humanity multi-planetary.

— g

p.s. A few of you have asked about the button I was wearing during launch. It’s based on a quote by Harriet Tubman that says “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

The Muskette
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