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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Georgia police department apologizes for using targets with photo of a Black man

A photo provided by the Villa Rica Police Department shows a Villa Rica Police Department vehicle in Georgia.

By Lauren McCarthy

A police department in Georgia apologized last week after its use of firing-range targets with photos of a Black man on them at a gun-safety class prompted outrage in the community.

A Facebook post Tuesday by the Villa Rica Police Department included photos from a June 17 training that showed white attendees firing at targets, each one with the same image on it: a Black man pointing a gun.

The posts gained widespread attention, with hundreds of comments and shares. Some social media users responded with frustration, with one saying that the pictures on the targets should have used “both genders, various races and various ages.”

The department in Villa Rica, a community of nearly 18,500 people about 30 miles west of Atlanta, did not delete the posts but did remove the photos and a video and apologized in a statement.

“It was never our intention to be insensitive, inflammatory or offensive to anyone,” the statement said. “However, we respect the honest opinions of our fellow citizens and apologize for any offense we may have caused.”

The targets were part of a package that included realistic images of people from various ethnic groups, the department said.

In an interview with the television station WSB-TV, Police Chief Michael Mansour called the incident a “mistake.”

The first half of the firearms-safety class was held at the Villa Rica Police Department, and the second half took place at an unnamed local range, according to a department Facebook post. Attendees had to pass a background check and bring their own firearms and ammunition.

Mansour, who could not be reached Saturday, told the TV station that the training had started with participants firing at targets showing a white man wearing a ski mask, but that those ran out and they switched to using ones with the image of a Black man.

“The perception of it looks like we have people just shooting at Black guys, and that’s not at all what it was,” he said.

But not everyone accepted the apology.

The president of the NAACP chapter in Carroll County, in a letter requesting a meeting with city officials and Mansour, said the department’s statement lacked “sincerity” and “sensitivity toward minority residents.”

The president, Dominique Conteh, said the use of such targets had “been deemed racially inappropriate and unacceptable” by other departments across the country.

Villa Rica Mayor Gil McDougal said in a statement that he was “personally embarrassed” by what he called an “offensive post” by the department.

In a phone interview Saturday, he said the city would conduct an internal investigation as well as select an outside organization to review the episode.

“I’ve lived in this community my entire life — there is just not this sense of racism or bias that could be portrayed in this picture,” he said, adding, “I need to understand how it came about that those were the only images used.”

McDougal said he asked the department to remove the photos and images Tuesday but directed that the comments remain open.

“The public is right to express their views,” he said.

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