- Amazon on Sunday published a statement expressing solidarity with the Black community in the wake of the George Floyd protests.
- An activist employee group challenged the company, tweeting: “Which police contracts have you cut? How many remain?”
- Amazon has numerous ties to law enforcement through its Ring surveillance cameras and facial recognition software Rekognition.
- A warehouse worker who last week published a blog saying he was suspended for union organising said the company was “full of it,” and pointed to the firing of warehouse worker Christian Smalls.
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Amazon published a statement expressing solidarity with the protests against racial injustice across the US, but its workers aren’t convinced.
On Sunday the retail giant released a statement calling for an end to the “inequitable and brutal treatment of Black people in our country” following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a White police officer knelt on his neck for almost 9 minutes.
“Together we stand in solidarity with the Black community – our employees, customers, and partners – in the fight against systematic racism and injustice,” the statement read.
A group of activist Amazon employees shot back on Twitter on Tuesday: “Which police contracts have you cut? How many remain?”
Which police contracts have you cut? How many remain? https://t.co/uhbPV6vLcI
— Amazonians: We Won't Build It (@WeWontBuildIt) June 2, 2020
Amazon has deep ties to law enforcement
Amazon has close ties to the police through two of its products: doorbell camera company Ring and its facial recognition software Rekognition.
The sale of Rekognition to law enforcement has been criticised in particular by AI experts and civil rights leaders who say the technology if deployed is likely to exacerbate over-policing of people of colour, as the software is less adept at recognising faces with darker skin tones.
Amazon has pushed back saying the software’s “confidence threshold” has to be taken into account, but there’s little evidence that police forces using the software are trained in how to interpret this. Last year a police force in Oregon told Gizmodo they did not utilise the confidence rating.
In an interview in February of this year, Amazon’s head of Web Services Andy Jassy said the company doesn’t know the total number of police forces using its software.
Ring meanwhile has partnered with over 600 police departments, some of which hand out free Ring cameras to local households. The partnerships give police forces tools to request access to Ring footage to investigate suspected crimes. Earlier this year lawmakers asked Amazon to give more detail on its police partnerships as part of an examination of “traditional constitutional protections against surveilling Americans.”
Privacy International told Business Insider the links between Amazon as a private company and police forces are broadly concerning.
“Police should not have dual loyalty to a private company and the public; police should be loyal to the public. It is not that easy to entrust private companies with highly intrusive functions. For example, companies’ aim is to generate more and more profit and not protect us. We do not have the same rights or guarantees against them,” said Ioannis Kouvakas, a legal officer at Privacy International.
“What events like the recent protests to advance equality highlight is that police might not hesitate to tap into private surveillance apparatuses […] in an effort to normalize surveillance and undermine democracy under the cloak of defending it,” he added.
Amazon was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Business Insider to ask if it would be suspending police contracts.
The case of Christian Smalls
Amazon worker John Hopkins, who last week published a blog claiming he was suspended from his job at the company after making efforts to unionize, laid out in a Twitter thread why he believes Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos are “full of it” when they claim to stand in solidarity with George Floyd protesters.
Hopkins pointed to the fact Amazon fired Christian Smalls, a Black warehouse worker who organised a protest at his New York warehouse. A leaked memo from a meeting where CEO Jeff Bezos was present showed Amazon’s top lawyer recommended the company pursue a PR campaign against Smalls, and said he was “not smart or articulate.”
In a statement to Jacobin reporter Alex Press, Smalls called Amazon’s statement “disgraceful.”
“Ask Amazon the per cent ratio of how many Black people hold VPs or regionals [sic] positions in that company,” Smalls said. Hopkins pointed out in his thread that in the last available numbers, which are from 2014, 85% of Amazon’s Black employees worked in unskilled jobs.
“Amazon’s tweet purporting to support our struggle for equality is entirely disingenuous and insincere. I demand that they take down the tweet, and take the actions that are entirely within their purview to make life better for their black employees,”tweetedHopkins.
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