Bill Gates Says 'Black Lives Matter' As Microsoft Staff Call for Bosses to Cancel Police Contracts

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has voiced support for Black Lives Matter, as staff at the tech giant called for the cancellation of police contracts.

In a series of tweets today, the 64-year-old billionaire said he is committed to learning more about systemic racism as demonstrations fueled by the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25 spread across the world.

He wrote: "The horrifying killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and far too many other Black people—and the protests they sparked—are shining a light on the brutal injustices that Black people experience every day in policing, criminal justice, education, health care, housing, the workplace and all other areas of their lives.

"I am committed to listening and learning more about systemic racism and what I can do with my actions and words to help create a more equal and just future."

Gates' support came as hundreds of Microsoft employees signed a petition calling on company bosses to support Black Lives Matter and cancel police contracts.

An email to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and executive vice president Kurt DelBene on Monday gained traction with some staffers inside the Redmond-headquartered tech firm, with signatures quickly spiking from 20 to more than 250.

I am committed to listening and learning more about systemic racism and what I can do with my actions and words to help create a more equal and just future. Black lives matter.

— Bill Gates (@BillGates) June 10, 2020

The petition called on leaders to support both defunding the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and demands set by a local fork of Black Lives Matter, while noting that some executives who do not live in the region may not understand the scale of the problem.

In recent weeks, U.S. citizens have taken to the streets despite the COVID-19 pandemic to speak out against systemic racism and police brutality—often being met with a heavy law enforcement response, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.

Last Sunday in Seattle, a man drove into a crowd of demonstrators before wounding a person at the scene with a firearm, then turning himself in to police.

"We are in agreement that our neighborhood has been turned into a warzone escalated by SPD and our coworkers and leaders need to know what is happening," the Microsoft petition said, noting "our streets and homes have been filled with gas."

In addition, the wide-ranging letter urged the management to cancel the firm's contracts with Seattle police, and sign a petition that calls for the resignation of city mayor Jenny Durkan for her "failure to protect her people and keep police accountable."

"Every passing day, we feel that our fellow coworkers, managers, and leaders who live miles away outside of Seattle are severely disconnected to the violent reality thousands of people have been facing every single day since last Saturday," it read.

"Helicopter noise, teargassing, flashbanging, rubber bullet, gun shots, and vans/buses filled with armed law enforcement. We need leaders like yourselves to help bridge this gap of disconnection, misinformation, and complacency," the letter added.

A movement calling on politicians to cut police funding has gained traction in some U.S. cities this week in the wake of Floyd's death.

Alongside police in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and New York, the Seattle department was named as one agency that could see its $400 million budget slashed.

Critics have noted that some police department budgets have remained stable in recent years while education and youth programs have suffered from steep cuts.

The Microsoft petition did not include a full list of those who had signed. The extent of the tech giant's contracts with the Seattle Police Department is unclear.

Microsoft has previously partnered with New York City police on a "crime prevention and counterterrorism technology" called Domain Awareness System (DAS), which lets cops actively search for suspects using "smart cameras and license plate readers."

In a statement to Business Insider, a spokesperson shared a section of an email by CEO Satya Nadella on June 5, previously sent to staff then published online.

"We need to look inside, examine our organization, and do better," Nadella wrote. "I have heard from many employees over the past several days, expressing calls for action, calls for reflection, calls for change. My response is this: Yes. We have to act."

A statement sent to Newsweek today via email, also attributed to Nadella, added: "our actions must reflect the values of our company and be directly informed by the needs of the Black and African American community. We also have a responsibility to use our platform and resources intentionally to address systemic inequities in our communities and in society broadly. This is the work we need to do to have lasting impact."

Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County said it was not involved in organizing protests, but issued demands to the city June 3, including the formation of a de-escalation team and asking officers to ensure that body cams are on for the duration of their shifts.

Bill Gates
Microsoft founder, Co-Chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates poses during a photocall at the start of the funding conference of Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Lyon's city hall, central eastern France, on October 9, 2019. LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty