LAGRANGE, Ga. (CBS News) – You can’t wipe away generations of racial injustice with an apology. But for one Georgia community, an apology provided a start.
LaGrange, Georgia is a city divided by railroad tracks, and decades of racial inequity and injustice.
LaGrange Police Chief Louis Dekmar took an oath to protect all of LaGrange’s citizens.
“I think the role of the police is almost like the Hippocratic oath, which is first: do no harm,” said Chief Dekmar.
It was just a few short years ago that Chief Dekmar made a public apology for a dark spot in the city’s history. Austin Calloway was a Black teenager who was lynched in 1940. Four years ago the City of LaGrange created a memorial marker in honor of Calloway.
“”I sincerely regret and denounce the role of the Police Department played in Austin’s lynching, both through our action and inaction. And for that I am profoundly sorry,” said Chief Dekmar.
In LaGrange, atoning for the past includes working for a better future. “Much of crime is impacted by social issues. And so the police can be very effective,” said Dekmar
Chief Dekmar is partnering with organizations like the Homeless and Substance Abuse Center, run by Yvonne Lopez, a Baltimore native. Lopez called Chief Dekmar a “resource for the community.”
While Lopez was living in Baltimore, she never thought she was see the time she would be hugging a police officer.
But that was then and this is now. “My family members is in awe, when they hear about the work I am doing with the police,” said Lopez.
LaGrange is now a model for community policing across the nation.
Chief Dekmar say the key to that is trust.
Recently, Chief Dekmar changed the life David Mixon, age 43, who was a prisoner on work release when the two met.
“He just called me to his office one day and asked me what I was arrested for. I told him that I was young, and a made a mistake. And he just told me that he will help me find job when I got out, ” said Mixon.
After 20 years behind bars, Mixon is now free, and working as an animal service officer.
Referring to Chief Dekmar, Mixon said, “I am grateful every time I see him.”