Carr’s Remarks at Georgia Chiefs of Police Community Trust Initiative in LaGrange
ATLANTA, GA - On Saturday, August 17, 2019, Attorney General Chris Carr joined the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College and members from the LaGrange delegation to participate in the "Georgia Police - Community Trust Initiative," a reconciliation program involving nine police departments and the communities they serve. The goal was to formally address harm to racial minorities and transform relationships between the police departments and the communities they serve.
Below you will find Attorney General Carr's keynote address as prepared for delivery:
“I am so proud to be here today.
“I’m proud to be here as Georgia’s Attorney General, and I’m proud to be here as a Georgian.
“Today’s meeting is exciting to me. And this entire initiative? It’s important for us collectively as Georgians and for our collective history.
“There is a powerful movement happening across the nation between minority communities and law enforcement, and I am so pleased that it made a stop today in LaGrange, Georgia. It is probably more accurate to say that it is being led from LaGrange, Georgia.
“Thank you Frank and Lou for inviting me to participate in this important conversation. Thank you Mayor Thornton and LaGrange College for hosting today. Thank you to the leaders of the NAACP, the National Network for Safe Communities, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and many more for your key involvement in the discussion. And thank you to all of the members of the LaGrange delegation and community who are in attendance today.
“To set the stage, I’d like to highlight something Nelson Mandela said:
Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.
“I am here today because of my friend, Chief Lou Dekmar. Chief came to see me sometime last year, wanting to put this initiative on my radar. As I recall, it was truly at the beginning stages – an idea that he and some others were discussing. Chief told me about what had happened in LaGrange. How past events had damaged community-police trust and were continuing to hinder progress. He told me the story of 16-year old Austin Callaway, and what had happened in 1940. How the LaGrange police department had arrested Austin. How a white mob had killed Austin after abducting him at gunpoint from the local jail, and how he was found a few hours later shot five times. How nobody was ever arrested. How there were no records at the LaGrange police department showing any attempt to locate him or investigate the murder.
“Then he told me how he went before the African-American community specifically, but also the community at-large, at a public meeting at a local church. He said he did something that was likely so simple to some, so complicated and controversial to others, yet, ultimately, so powerful and constructive and healing.
“Chief told me how acknowledging that history, that important and terrible and significant moment in time, particularly to the black community in LaGrange, began a path to reconciliation and healing and trust.
“As the Chief sat there in my office that day telling me the story, I kept thinking about if that had happened to me. What if the roles had been reversed? I have a daughter who, at that time, was 13 or 14 years old. Not much younger than Austin. It made me feel sick because I could only imagine the terror and the fear that Austin must have felt. He was just a kid and nobody was coming to save him.
“I still can’t fathom what that must have been like for Austin’s family. And it reminded me of a similar incident that occurred a few years ago in Montgomery, Alabama.
"On the 47th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Congressman John Lewis and a group from Washington called 'Faith and Politics' that brings a group to Alabama to visit some of the Civil Rights cites each year, visited Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma - ending in Selma.
"And on the Saturday morning of their trip in Montgomery, one of the organizers got up at a church they were at, and said, 'The Lord works in mysterious ways. Until last night, the Mayor of Montgomery was going to be with us. But, he called me yesterday, and he said he couldn't make it per a family conflict. But, he sent the Chief of Police instead.'
"So the Chief got up, and mentioned he was a part of the Department for twenty-something years, serving as Chief for two or three.
"And, one of the things he wanted to do was to be able to train the Department on their history.
"So, he started a history project. And, he said, 'My friends, some of the history is good, and some of the history is not so good at all.'
"He then called Congressman Lewis up to the front. And, he said, 'Congressman, on that day in 1961 when the Freedom Riders arrived in Montgomery, Alabama, the Montgomery Police Department wasn't there... by design. And, as a result, you and many others were beaten. So, on behalf of the Montgomery Police Department, I want to apologize.'
"And, he took off his badge - which he mentioned is only reserved for a fallen brother typically - and gave it to Congressman Lewis. Then, the two of them embraced.
"I know this, because I was there. I was eight to ten rows back from Congressman Lewis and the Chief. I could see the tears in Congressman Lewis' eyes, and there was not a dry eye in the entire room.
"That acknowledgement, that apology that embrace has impacted me since that very day.
“So as we begin our conversation today, it seems like there are several themes that this group could contemplate and discuss as we all collectively move down the path toward reconciliation and healing and trust in Georgia and in each of our communities.
“The first is history and its important role in reconciliation.
“It seems to me that what was common in both of the stories I told – about LaGrange and Montgomery – was the history. The history not only of the roles law enforcement played – or didn’t play, depending on how you look at it – but the lack of acknowledgement that those events ever took place.
“The history mattered. Acknowledging that these events took place and the role law enforcement played mattered. And by doing so, it led to reconciliation and healing and trust in both cases.
“I believe in history by addition, not history by subtraction or deletion. We must keep adding to the story. Adding evidence-based history to the conversation is a good thing. It makes us richer as a people. Whether the history is good, bad or ugly. And acknowledging the ugly can end up being powerful.
“The second theme would be dignity. Let’s recommit to ensuring the dignity of each and every human being – whether a member of the community or a member of law enforcement. All of us deserve to be treated with dignity.
“The third theme is justice. It is simply not just for members of the community to be targeted by government simply because of the color of their skin or their gender or their religion or their sexual orientation or where they are from.
“And it is equally unjust for men and women in law enforcement to be targeted for violence, slander, defamation or any other malice simply because of the uniform they wear.
“I have been Attorney General for nearly 3 years now, and I want to say one of the great honors I have is to support the men and women in law enforcement who each and every day leave their homes and their families to uphold the rule of law and keep our communities safe – some of whom don’t make it home at the end of the shift because they have sacrificed themselves for somebody else.
“As in any profession, there are those in uniform who have done or will do wrong – just like there are citizens who have done wrong or will do wrong – but I have found that the vast majority of those in law enforcement, from those on the streets to those who serve as Police Chiefs and Sheriffs, are dedicated, honorable and compassionate people who are called to public service and thrive on helping others.
“So when I hear about incidents like what happened in Dallas, Texas in 2016 where five officers were killed, and seven officers and two civilians were wounded by an individual who was retaliating against law enforcement, it too makes me feel sick.
“Because I am certain that when those officers left for work that day, they had no idea that they would be wrongfully and unjustly targeted, leaving family and friends behind.
“And finally, we must focus on trust. A few of the elements of trust are faith, confidence and relationship.
“This is what we must work on in the state and in our home communities.
“I will suggest that today is a great day to begin to build trust by getting to know one another. We begin to get to know one another when we learn about each other. We learn about each other through a very uniquely human activity - conversation.
“In my opinion, our conversation must acknowledge history. We must recommit to ensuring the dignity of the members of our communities and those in law enforcement. We must strive for justice in our actions in the community and toward those in law enforcement.
“We must begin to speak openly and honestly with one another. That in and of itself may be a major step for some. And that step certainly is a good thing.
“But what is better, and what will lead to reconciliation and trust, is when the words we say are genuine. We must mean them. Because, folks know when you do, and they know when you don’t. When you do - that’s when trust begins and when reconciliation can occur.
“And when words are spoken, they are only useful if others listen.
“But if I am willing to genuinely speak and you are willing to genuinely listen – and vice versa – who knows what we can accomplish together.
“We are coming together to begin to transform relationships between the police departments and the communities they serve.
“I have the hope that this event will be a tipping point for many more across our state.
“We are all here because we want to find a way to reconcile differences, or, rather, to embark on a path of reconciliation.
“This will happen from not one, not two or three, but many, many discussions.
“To truly reconcile, we must all come to the table from a place of understanding.
“And, that doesn’t happen overnight.
“I think Chief Dekmar said it best when he addressed the Warren Temple United Methodist Church during the remembrance of Austin Callaway:
We don't expect ever to erase the past. But what I hope we can do is interrupt the past.
“That’s why we are here.
“I appreciate everyone’s open minds and hearts as we continue this important mission.
“I am here to listen, to learn and to help forge a path forward.
“Thank you for allowing me that opportunity."