Governor Carney closes state offices in honor of Juneteenth, announces criminal justice reforms

DOVER — Gov. John Carney announced Thursday state offices will be closed Friday in honor of Juneteenth, while also pledging to commit to criminal justice and societal reform with the aim of greater racial equality.

The governor said the state will recognize the emancipation of the last African Americans to be enslaved. More than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, “with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free,” according to Juneteenth.com.

Most states recognize Juneteenth in some fashion, and the Delaware General Assembly passes legislation honoring “Juneteenth Independence Day” every year. the governor’s decision makes it an official state holiday.

The announcement comes after weeks of national outrage following the death of a black man under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Protests have taken place in every state, and Delaware is no exception. In the wake, some lawmakers have filed bills to ban chokeholds and make other changes to the criminal justice in the hopes of eliminating systemic racism.

In a lengthy statement Thursday, the governor urged Delawareans to work together for positive change:

“Over the last several weeks, we have seen largely peaceful protests demanding racial justice and equality across our state. I have spent much of this time listening, and trying to chart a productive path forward. We can make meaningful change, and I believe we will.

“As we move forward, I believe the least that each of us can do is commit to learning the lessons of our history. The good and the bad. That’s why on Friday, June 19, we will close state offices in recognition of Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of the last enslaved African Americans in the United States. This holiday offers an opportunity to encourage open dialogue, and to recommit to treating one another with more respect.

“We are also working with the Delaware Heritage Commission to create an educational program around issues of race and slavery in Delaware and the U.S.  If we don’t educate ourselves and acknowledge our ugly history around race, we can’t begin to understand the anger and frustration that I’ve heard from so many Delawareans in the last several weeks.

“But we shouldn’t stop there.

“Next week, I will sign an executive order to ban the use of choke-holds at the Delaware State Police and Capitol Police, and require additional de-escalation training. We will stop posting mugshots of children, mandate participation in the national use-of-force database, and increase crisis intervention training and mental health services for police officers. These are first steps that we can take administratively to improve the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color.

“Talk is cheap. We are committed to moving forward productively – and in good faith – to make real change in Delaware. That starts with recognizing our shared history, and learning the lessons of the past.”

The governor will take part in a virtual discussion on Juneteenth with historians Friday.

Kent County Levy Court President, P. Brooks Banta also declared the closure of Kent County offices on Friday.

“Kent County Offices will be closed so that we can educate ourselves and acknowledge our history around race, and begin to understand the anger and frustration that we have observed and heard from so many Americans demanding racial justice and equality over the last several weeks,” said President Banta.

Earlier Thursday, Dover Federal Credit Union announced it was giving employees a paid day off Friday in observance of Juneteenth.