Local religious leaders hope a community gathering planned for Thursday in the heart of downtown LaGrange will help spark stronger ties between area residents and local law enforcement.
Organizer Jeffery Henderson, associate pastor of Grace Christian Center, said the idea for the vigil stems from current, violent anti-police protests seen in the wake of the shooting of a Ferguson, Missouri teen earlier this month.
“I saw something tragic,” said Henderson. “But I felt like this was an opportunity to pull community leaders together and pray for peace — not just in Ferguson, but in LaGrange and across the nation and to prevent this from happening here.”
Starting at 7 p.m. on Lafayette Square, Henderson will lead the public in group prayer, and residents will hear from elected government leaders and law enforcement officials.
Henderson said the vigil will follow suit with similar demonstrations that have sprung up around the nation following the death of African-American teenager Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri.
Brown was shot and killed Aug. 9 by Fegurson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white. Ferguson police have previously reported that Brown was fatally shot following a struggle with Wilson. Eyewitnesses, on the other hand, have said Brown was unarmed and was trying to surrender to police.
Since the teen’s death, racial riots, anti-police protests and violent demonstrations have been rocking the small St. Louis suburb since Brown’s death for the past 10 days.
LaGrange Mayor Jim Thronton said he plans to speak at Thursday’s free event downtown and said he hopes it will continue to encourage locals and law enforcement to work together for a safe, civicly involved LaGrange.
“It’s a chance for the police department to further build relationships with the community,” said the mayor. “We’re going to talk about what we can do, and continue to do, to prevent this from ever happening here.”
LaGrange Public Safety Chief Lou Dekmar is also scheduled to attend the gathering. Dekmar said he will speak to attendees about his department’s role in fostering safe communities while maintaining a professional, accountable police force.
“Our relationships are with the people we serve,” Dekmar said. “And if there are ever concerns about law enforcement, then we have to have a process to review our conduct and be accountable to the people.”