A Georgia police chief’s apology Thursday night for his department’s role in a 1940 lynching of an African American man focused attention to a period he called his profession’s “darkest hour.”
LaGrange chief Lou Dekmar, who is white, said the lynching of Austin Callaway — who was snatched by a band of armed white men from the city jail — never should have happened.
The department failed to protect Callaway while he was in its custody and it failed to investigate his murder, the chief said. No one was ever held accountable for his death.
“I sincerely regret and denounce the role our police department played in Austin’s lynching — both through our action and inaction,” Dekmar told a packed audience of black and white citizens at the Warren Temple United Methodist Church. “For that I am profoundly sorry.”
Dekmar placed Callaway’s murder against the backdrop of thousands of lynchings across the South between 1877 and the mid-20th Century. He called law enforcement’s role in this legacy of racial violence “deeply checkered.”
“As one that is proud to be a police professional, I believe this period was our darkest hour,” said Dekmar, who has been chief in this city southwest of Atlanta for 22 years.
Dekmar’s apology is believed to be one of the first in the nation by a police chief for his agency’s role in a lynching. The story has garnered national attention since the AJC wrote about it on Wednesday.
The chief has received praise for the apology. Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan was at Thursday night’s ceremony and tweeted out a photo from the event saying he was “Proud of Chief Lou Dekmar.”
Dekmar is known nationally for in police chief circles. He is currently the First Vice President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police — one of the largest police associations in the country. He will become president of the organization later this year.
He said the push for reconcillation with Callaway’s family and the black community was made, in part, to help strengthen relationships vital for his agency to effectively carry out its public safety mission.
“This acknowledgement and apology is further opportunity to build trust,” he said. “But it must also be accompanied by a commitment to never again tolerate a climate of injustice.”