Police Chief Louis Dekmar of LaGrange, Ga., publicly apologized Thursday more than 76 years after a black man was brutally murdered in the small town, CBS News reports. To be specific, Dekmar apologized for the lack of protection given to Austin Callaway when he was shot to death in 1940.
According to Reuters, Callaway was abducted by a mob of white men from the jail in LaGrange in September 1940 before being driven into the woods and shot to death.
Callway, who was 18 at the time, had been jailed following allegations that he assaulted a white woman. LaGrange police never investigated the young man’s death or kept a record of the mob that broke into the jail and overwhelmed the single guard.
“It was as if it was erased from the memory of the white community,” Dekmar, who is white, told Reuters in a phone interview. “But the black community still remembers, and I want to acknowledge that this happened and it was wrong.”
According to the newswire, Dekmar, who has been police chief in LaGrange for 22 years, had never heard of Callaway until a few months ago when an elderly black woman visited the police station.
As the woman looked at old photos of officers on the wall, she reportedly said, “Those are the ones who killed our people.”
Dekmar, taken aback, started asking questions. And then he scheduled a ceremony for Thursday evening at a United Methodist Church in the community.
“What was done was wrong,” Dekmar told his diverse audience Thursday evening, apologizing for the lack of response on the part of the Police Department.
“I, on behalf of the LaGrange Police Department and the city of LaGrange, want to acknowledge the Police Department’s failure to take crucial action in its obligation to protect Austin Callaway on Sept. 8, 1940,” he added. “An acknowledgment and apology is necessary to aid in healing wounds of past brutalities and injustice.”
According to CBS, Callaway’s family was there for the apology, including his second cousin Glenn Dowell, who described the evening as an emotional one.
“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,” he said, according to CBS.
Dekmar’s goal was to start to mend the broken trust between the community and the police.
“This is just one more step that is a significant step, but it’s not the concluding step,” Dekmar told CBS.