Nearly 8 Decades Later, Georgia Police Chief Apologizes For Lynching
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A police department in Georgia is taking a hard look at its past in an effort to strengthen its relationship with African-Americans. Last night, the police chief made a public apology for his force's role in a lynching that happened more than 75 years ago. From Georgia Public Broadcasting, Sam Whitehead reports.
SAM WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: In 1940, a mob came to the city jail in LaGrange looking for 16-year-old Austin Callaway, a young black man accused of attacking a white woman. Police officers didn't stand in their way. Last night, members of that same police force stood with the community at the Warren Temple United Methodist Church to remember him, and to hear Police Chief Lou Dekmar deliver a message.
CHIEF LOU DEKMAR: I sincerely regret and denounce the role our police department played in Austin's lynching, both through our action and our inaction, and for that I'm profoundly sorry. It should never have happened.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes, yes.
WHITEHEAD: Dekmar, who is white, also apologized for the failure of local law enforcement to ever investigate the murder, but the night wasn't just an occasion to atone for sins of the past.
DEKMAR: This acknowledgement and apology is a further opportunity to build trust, but it must also be accompanied by a commitment to never again tolerate a climate of injustice.
WHITEHEAD: Then came the response from a relative of Austin Callaway, leaders of the local and state chapters of the NAACP and LaGrange Councilman Willie Edmondson.
WILLIE EDMONDSON: From this public apology tonight, we can now start the healing process and come together as a community in love and forgiveness.
WHITEHEAD: But healing isn't easy.
KRISTEN REED: I mean, apology is never enough. I don't think an apology is ever enough for a murder or for a lynching and for the injustice that followed.
WHITEHEAD: After the service, Kristen Reed said it's not often law enforcement apologizes for mistreatment of communities of color.
REED: And for Lou Dekmar to stand up there and say I'm sorry for something he didn't do and no one did who was here, nobody's alive from that time, or if they are alive they're not a part of the police department. They had nothing to do with it, and for them to feel the need to say they were sorry I think sends a message, especially in a climate like this.
BENITA EPPS: It's a start, a good start.
WHITEHEAD: Benita Epps says one apology doesn't erase decades of division. Still, she's hopeful this is a sign of things to come in LaGrange.
EPPS: Because that's history, and if you don't recognize your history, you're not going to be able to move forward I don't think.
WHITEHEAD: There's a lot of that history to sort through, but Epps says open discussions about the mistakes of the past will lead to more productive conversations about the future. For NPR News, I'm Sam Whitehead in LaGrange, Ga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.