A LaGrange, Georgia, police chief has apologized to the town’s Black community for the department’s extrajudicial killing of a Black man in 1940.
LaGrange Police Chief Louis Dekmar stood in front of a large audience at the Warren Temple United Methodist Church Thursday, Jan. 26, to make amends for the department’s lynching of 18-year-old Austin Callaway. Dekmar was made aware of the incident last year and decided that this gesture was needed.
“For the police, anytime you take someone into custody, you are responsible for their care and well-being … and that didn’t happen here. That’s where the police department failed,” Dekmar says. “The acknowledgment is not to place blame, it’s to say, ‘We did something wrong and we want to reassure the community that it won’t happen again.”
The teen was taken from the city jail by a group of armed white men, driven out to the countryside and shot in the arms, hands and head in September 1940.
At the time, police didn’t file a report nor conduct an investigation into the murder. It has been nearly 80 years since the killing and the men responsible have not been identified. There still is no record of Callaway being in jail, WRBL News 3 reported.
Members of Callaway’s family were present at the public ceremony and a cousin, Glenn Dowell, told WRBL that Dekmar’s words signified change in the tiny west Georgia community.
“Here comes LaGrange, Georgia, which has kind of previously been an oligarchy, ruled by an oligarchy in this community, changing. It has changed for the best,” Dowell tells reporters. “The tensions in the African-American community are super high because they’ve never seen anything like this in LaGrange before. They’ve never seen anything like this.”
The NAACP also has expressed support for the police chief’s gesture.