Today, we honor Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, when the last of our Black ancestors who were forced into legal slavery in the United States were finally free. President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years before, but those enslaved in Galveston, Texas, were not informed the Civil War had ended until 155 years ago today. As we are all aware, the inhumanity of slavery continues to plague our country, and our beloved Black community, as we grapple with our painful, violent past and the racism perpetuated by our systems, policies, practices, and behaviors.
On this symbolic day, King County Metro is in the news for an incident that occurred at South Facilities Maintenance building. A statue of a person of color was found in front of the flagpole. This incident was recently shared on social media and in the news. The image evoked racist symbolism for some employees at Metro. Racism has no place at Metro or anywhere.
This incident was reported internally on June 2, and action was quickly taken to preserve evidence, gather information, and alert management at our Transit Facilities Division. Metro’s Equal Employment Opportunity/Equity & Inclusion team and the Transit Employee Labor Relations group were informed, and a formal investigation was launched on June 5. The investigation is still open and active.
Many Metro employees are expressing hurt, anger, and offense. As an agency, we acknowledge both the damage done by this incident and the broader reality that we are not where we need to be.
In the conversations that followed, some employees expressed feeling unsafe or scared to come forward to report incidents of harassment, offensive language, or other forms of bigotry. Across Metro, we must have courage to take individual action, support each other, and hold each other accountable to build an anti-racist workplace where employees feel safe, welcome and respected.
Today, at Metro and across our region, we celebrate and reflect. We also must think about what each of us can do to root out racism and honor this day. For some, that is showing up, being accountable, and speaking up. For others, it may be focusing on unity, healing, and service.
On Juneteenth 2020, as we honor, recognize and celebrate the immense contributions Black and African Americans have made to our country, I am committed to joining King County Executive Dow Constantine’s pledge to work with our labor partners and the King County Council toward the goal of making Juneteenth an official holiday.
Take care of each other and be safe,
General Manager, King County Metro