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It’s been more than 75 years since an armed posse of white men snatched Austin Callaway from the LaGrange city jail, drove through darkness to a country road and killed him with gunshots to the head, arms and hands.
There was no effort to identify his killers, no criminal investigation and no discussion by city police about their complicity in the lynching of the young African-American man. In essence, Callaway’s death was scrubbed from the city record.
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Yet like so many other acts of racial terror across the South, his violent end lived in the collective memory of the local black community and contributed to its distrust of police. Now the city’s police chief is ready to offer a public apology for his agency’s role in the 1940 lynching – an extraordinary admission that is believed to be among the first of its kind.
“This was brutal,” said LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar, who is white. “It represented injustice, specifically to an individual and impacted a community generally because of the apprehension it created to deal with authorities… I think an acknowledgement and apology is needed to help us understand how the past forms and impacts the present. It makes it clear what was done was wrong.”
The chief ‘s remarks will take place at a ceremony of remembrance Thursday evening that will include the city’s mayor, local NAACP, the president of LaGrange College and Callaway’s descendants.
Last fall the head of one of the largest police groups in the country, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, acknowledged and apologized for his profession’s historical mistreatment of minority communities. That came three years after a police chief in Montgomery apologized to Rep. John Lewis for his agency’s failure to protect Freedom Riders in 1961.
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