FILE - PA Pennsylvania State Police 9-4-2020

Pennsylvania State troopers pull over vehicles on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, along the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Breezewood, Pa.

(The Center Square) – The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association said Monday that Gov. Tom Wolf owes the organization an apology after he released a Juneteenth statement linking ongoing racial inequality to law enforcement.

David Kennedy, PSTA president, pointed to an internal message from the governor issued Friday that read, in part, “Juneteenth is a celebration of the progress we have made as a nation towards equality and justice for all. Sadly, the continued death of African Americans at the hands of police … are painful reminders that racism and intolerance are still with us today.” 

Wolf signed a bill in 2019 that designates Juneteenth, observed on June 19, as a holiday for state workers. Kennedy made clear the association supports the holiday.

“But in making his announcement, Gov. Wolf chose to use his platform to further push a false narrative that is inflammatory, reckless, and hurtful,” he said. “This is nothing less than the worst kind of political pandering and only serves to further divide our nation at the expense of officers who already work incredibly dangerous jobs.”

Lyndsay Kensinger, a Wolf spokesperson, told The Center Square on Tuesday that the message was sent "to invite participation in Juneteenth Day, a holiday that marks the emancipation from slavery for African-Americans."

"The intent of the email was to acknowledge that there is still work to be done across the nation towards equality and justice for all," she said. "We are sorry that this message was obscured, and we hope all Pennsylvanians can observe Juneteenth and recognize its importance. Law Enforcement officers play a vital role in protecting Pennsylvania citizens and supporting our communities, and we are sorry if anyone took offense to the message."

Kennedy said Wolf’s announcement coincided with the annual observance of National Police Week, when communities nationwide hold memorials for fallen officers. He said 264 officers died in 2020 in the line of duty, in addition to 125 this year alone. 

Wolf ordered all U.S. and state flags on public buildings and grounds fly at half-staff on May 15 in honor of Peace Officers Memorial Day. Flags have been lowered to half-staff since March 11 in honor of the country’s COVID-19 victims and will remain lowered “until further notice,” the administration said.

“On this day, we pay tribute to all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our commonwealth,” Wolf said last week. “We honor them and their dedication to keeping our commonwealth safe.” 

Kennedy said despite the gesture, his Juneteenth comment “spits in the faces of all police officers and troopers who have dedicated their lives to service.”

"And for their families who have lost loved ones in the line of duty, this insult rips open a fresh wound,” he said. “Gov. Wolf owes all law enforcement and their families an apology.”

The association said it’s just the latest of several slights against officers throughout the pandemic. The administration never prioritized state troopers for COVID-19 immunization, despite their daily contact with residents that have tested positive, Kennedy said.

In an extended statement given to Abc27, the association said the governor also ignored their requests for masks and never offered condolences when a trooper died in a station parking lot after contracting the virus.

The association represents about 4,300 state troopers. About two-thirds of municipalities rely on state police alone – a fact that’s led to more than 700 officers and 1,000 department employees contracting COVID-19, Kennedy said in a March news release

“Troopers want to have real conversations about moving forward together to benefit all residents of this great commonwealth,” he said Monday. “But that cannot happen as long as the leader of our commonwealth pits everyone against the police. This must end now.”

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.