Calls to Military Law Enforcement Reveal Racial Disparities, Army General Says

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Maj. Gen Donna Martin
Maj. Gen Donna Martin, Provost Marshal General and Commanding General, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command used an active learning strategy to educate the audience by playing “Black History Jeopardy,” during Aberdeen Proving Ground’s Black History Month Observance held Feb. 23, 2021 at the installation’s Myer Auditorium. (Marshall R. Mason/U.S. Army)

Army Maj. Gen. Donna Martin is trying to figure out why military police respond more to alleged criminal offenses involving people of color.

As the Provost Marshal General of the Army and head of Criminal Investigation Command, Martin is conducting an assessment of how the service investigates and adjudicates military justice under Project Inclusion, a sweeping effort to promote diversity in the force. It was unveiled in late June after riots erupted across America to protest the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in Minneapolis police custody.

The data collected in the assessment shows "a little bit of disparity as we respond to crime on our installations," Martin told reporters Thursday, describing the effort as looking at everything from initial law enforcement response to final adjudication.

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"The response shows an overrepresentation of response to ... people of color, but when we go through the adjudication process, or into court-martial or actions that are taken by a commander, race is almost not even a factor," she said. "And so, it's our responsibility now to go and try to find out why that is. Why do we have this huge response at the beginning of the process, but as we look at the adjudication, race is not really a factor?"

Martin was one of seven Black general officers who participated in an Army roundtable with reporters to commemorate African American History Month.

Martin's command has sent out an anonymous survey to military communities on installations asking "very specific questions about how they feel about the safety on the installation, and it also very candidly asks them if they believe ... people of color commit more crimes than non-minority people," she said.

The survey also asks, "are you more likely to call the military police or have a law enforcement response if you suspect a person of color is involved in a crime," Martin said, adding that her command hasn't received all of the survey responses yet.

The roundtable participants said they have experienced racism in their Army careers but believe the service is moving in the right direction with Project Inclusion.

"As a young captain, I ran into a hurdle of racism and prejudice by my boss and was marginalized in my documentation and my evaluations," said Lt. Gen. Scott Dingle, the Army' Surgeon General and head of Army Medical Command. "It made me angry but yet I maintained my professionalism, and I knew that I just must show him as well as others as I went on in my career not to quit and get frustrated and throw in the towel."

Lt. Gen. Leslie Smith, the Army's Inspector General, said he is glad to have the chance to fix some of the racial disparities of the service's past.

"I think we have all been disappointed in some of the things we have seen, but there are two ways to look at it -- as a matter to lament and complain about or as an opportunity to fix the things that are there," Smith said. "I will tell you each one of us has a critical role and responsibility in fixing those things that you see. Project Inclusion is part of that, equal opportunity listening sessions are part of that, Army inspections and investigations are part of that -- all of those things are getting after fixing ourselves."

Martin's Army biography lists her as the first African American woman to command Army CID, but that's not how she wants to be known.

"I want the narrative to change; I want us to stop talking about firsts," she said. "I want us to talk about the achievements of all because all have the same opportunity to achieve."

Martin was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the military police in 1988 after graduating through Old Dominion University's ROTC program in Virginia.

"I joined army ROTC because I needed to find a way to afford my education ... but I stayed because I found a family, and the Army is still that family to me," she said. "And so, I serve as an example of what is possible. I serve because I want young women of color to believe that they can achieve anything that they dream, and I am encouraged every single day by the steps the Army is taking toward diversity."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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