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Air Force’s top lawyer calls for proposals to improve racial equity in US military’s justice system

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Rockwell (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Michael S. Murphy)
June 07, 2020

The Air Force’s top lawyer is calling for a change in the U.S. military’s racial justice system following the death of George Floyd on May 25 that sparked nationwide protests and riots.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Rockwell, the service’s judge advocate general, has requested the JAG Corps submit proposals to address racial equity, saying it’s needed to “break down barriers and promote conversation, productive debate and further analysis,” in a Wednesday letter that leaked online.

“As our nation grapples with the issue of racial justice and equality, the public will look to the Armed Forces to set the example,” Rockwell wrote in the letter, which leaked on the Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco on Thursday. A U.S. military official confirmed to Military.com that the letter was authentic.

Rockwell claimed there was an institutional prejudice against black airmen, who are given punishments at higher rates than white airmen.

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Statistics show that black male airmen “under the age of 25 and with less than 5 years of service receive non-judicial punishments and courts-martial actions at a higher rate than similarly situated white male Airmen,” Rockwell said. However, Rockwell did not mention the number of infractions between black airmen and white airmen.

“Nothing is more important this conversation,” he added. “How can we use military justice statistics to contribute to a wider conversation about valuing our Airmen? What efforts can we make, whether within our JAG Corps or within our Department of the Air Force, to address this disparity?”

This latest development comes after Air Force Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright and Chief of Staff Gen David Goldfein answered airmen’s questions about race at a town hall session on Wednesday.

“Air Force leaders need to ask themselves, ‘Am I giving this person a fair shot, the same I would give another person?'” Wright said.

“This is about us showing by example how to have a tough, tough dialogue,” Goldfein added. “It’s often easier to avoid it. We can’t walk by this anymore.”

Rockwell’s letter echoed these points, asking if the Air Force was “welcoming all new Airmen into the Air Force family and fostering an atmosphere of inclusion? Are we giving everyone an opportunity to meet — and exceed — standards? We must broaden this discussion beyond Airmen facing disciplinary action.”