March 08--It's been almost a week since Montgomery Police Chief Kevin Murphy made national headlines when he presented an apology, and his badge, to U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. Murphy apologized for police officers' failure to act during a May 20, 1961, attack on Freedom Riders, of which Lewis was one.
Murphy described the response since Saturday's presentation at First Baptist Church, across from police headquarters on Ripley Street, as "overwhelming."
"There has been a lot of support and heartfelt thanks," Murphy said. "Many people have shared their personal story with me on their own experiences during the civil rights movement."
Murphy read a letter Thursday that was sent to him from a Montgomery resident who was a freshman at Alabama State University during the 1961 incident. She said on that day she was at First Baptist Church, where the Freedom Riders had been scheduled to speak. They were stopped by a white mob when their bus arrived at the Greyhound station on South Court Street.
In the letter she describes the fear she and others felt as a white mob surrounded the church and the Alabama National Guard was called in because the Montgomery Police Department would not protect them.
" 'And to hear you apologize, and mean it, speaks volumes,' " Murphy read from the letter.
Murphy said to be able to issue an apology to Lewis in the same church where that incident took place was of great significance.
"The spirit inside was a lot different 52 years later," Murphy said. "That's how it should be. What we experienced Saturday should be the norm."
Murphy said of the hundreds of responses he has received, there was only one negative phone call.
"And I didn't allow that person to take up a lot of my time," he said.
Murphy said he kept the apology to himself until minutes before he got up to speak at the church program, which was part of the 13th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama. He said he didn't ask for any camera crews or reporters to be at the event because he anticipated the moment would be a personal one.
"I didn't do it for anything other than it was the right thing to do," Murphy said.
Murphy said in his nearly 30-year career in law enforcement, he has only seen a police chief give his badge to another person one time -- that time it was to a retiring officer. He said the act is a gesture of respect and admiration and he wanted to display those feelings Saturday.
"My badge -- a symbol of honor and trust for all officers -- was a gesture toward him that he has led a life of service, a life of dedication," Murphy said.
National news organizations picked up the story of Murphy's apology, something Murphy said he had no idea would happen. He said his main goal was to give Lewis the respect he deserved.
"Again, I want the focus to stay on Lewis. He is the true hero here," Murphy said. "He put his life on the line for this country so that others may walk in freedom."
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