LaGRANGE — More than 100 residents and law enforcement officers of all ages, faiths, socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities stood together, shoulder to shoulder in prayer on Lafayette Square on Wednesday afternoon.
It was the community’s peaceful call to action instead of protests and more violence in the wake of last week’s shooting deaths of two African-American men in Louisiana and Minnesota, and five police officers killed and several others injured by a sniper during a downtown demonstration in Dallas, Texas.
The event, called Repairing the Breach, was organized by Jeffery Henderson of the Word of Grace Christian Center at 1904 Hamilton Road. The idea came to him during a time of prayer on Friday after the mass shootings in Dallas.
“There’s been so much negative talk,” he said. “This event was about community awareness and gave us a platform to all come together, stand arm in arm and fight the (spiritual) enemy who is trying to tear these communities and this nation apart. We’re all neighbors here. We don’t have to be afraid of one another. … The police are here to protect us and guide us in the community. Citizens need to understand that.”
Henderson and the Rev. O’Shay Smith, with Communion Fellowship, led the community together in prayer, while a young teenager inspired the group through worship with songs like “Amazing Grace.”
“Prayer is powerful,” said Coweta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Pete Skandalakis. “If we pray about our own differences, we can solve our differences … and this is one of the things that I love about LaGrange. The people come together to tackle tough problems.”
Sheriff James Woodruff was encouraged by the event.
“With so much going on, for the churches and community to come out and pray for law enforcement and our safety is just wonderful,” he said. “I know we appreciate it.”
Law enforcement officers from the sheriff’s office and LaGrange police, along with prosecutors from the Troup County District Attorney’s Office, State Court Judge Jeannette Little, Mayor Jim Thornton and city council members, county commissioners and community leaders all gathered to show their support.
Before the prayer service, LaGrange Public Safety Chief Lou Dekmar shared some statistics with the group, hoping they would better understand the reality of a law enforcement officer’s role in the community, versus what they might hear or see on national media.
Nationally in 2015, he said there were millions of police contacts with citizens, between 11 to 12 million of those ended in arrests and 991 people were fatally shot by law enforcement officers responding to the call. Out of all 50 states, Georgia ranked eighth in population size and 42nd in the number of police involved shootings, Dekmar said, referencing data compiled by the Washington Post via the FBI.
In LaGrange, there were 48 incidents involving use of force among city police officers, he said. That number is less than 1 percent of total arrests by LaGrange officers last year, Dekmar added.
None of the use of force incidents involved a fatal shooting by an officer. LaGrange police have not been involved in that type of deadly encounter in more than 21 years, said Dekmar.
He believes the reason for those low or nonexistent statistics within the police department is the same reason dozens of officers stood in the square on Wednesday, next to neighbors and, sometimes, total strangers.
“Our officers have a great deal of community involvement with organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club, United Way, Mental Health Court (and) the faith community,” Dekmar explained. “Informally, we do a lot through community outreach. … Probably most significant is that because of our relationships within the community, we can better handle certain issues like domestic violence, mental health issues or homelessness.
“The event tonight represented the support we, as law enforcement, enjoy from our community,” he added. “It also reinforces that we can come together as a community to solve problems. Partnerships over protest.”
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.