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Charlottesville, Durham and the Greensboro Massacre

In the wake of deadly violence at a white supremacist rally over the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA and the toppling of a Confederate monument in Durham last week, the political ground has shifted.

Duke University voluntarily removed the Robert E. Lee statue outside of Duke Chapel.

After decades of controversy, UNC is seriously discussing the removal of its ‘Silent Sam’ statue.

Perhaps most shocking to me:  the Greensboro City Council voted to apologize for the 1979 “Greensboro Massacre,” in which five members of the Communist Workers Party were killed by Klan/Neo-Nazi groups.

I spent a decade as a reporter at the News & Record, the daily newspaper in Greensboro. I city government. I wasn’t sure I’d ever see an actual apology.

For those unfamiliar with the 1979 tragedy, I would suggest this piece I wrote for the News & Record in 2015. The controversy then was a historical marker describing the tragedy which, after decades, many of the city cannot agree on.

From that piece:

“The fact that such a fiery argument still can rage at the highest levels of city government in 2015 is testament to the essential problem with all discussions of Nov. 3, 1979.

After more than 35 years, countless written accounts, three trials and a lengthy public Truth and Reconciliation process, the debate is still as heated as ever. No one version of events, how they happened and who was to blame has ever truly cooled and hardened into accepted, consensus history.

Debate over the killings still is framed in reductive racial and political terms.

Few are eager to wholeheartedly take the side of organized hate groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis.

But neither are many willing to mount a full-throated defense of Communist Workers Party members who urged “militant, direct action — a confrontation with the Klan” in the heart of Morningside Homes, the largely black neighborhood that was the first public housing project in North Carolina.

Morningside Homes is gone now — its cheap, 1950s-era houses and little dirt playground bulldozed.

But what happened there so long ago, its causes and its legacy, are still with us — those who were there that afternoon, those who watched footage of it on television in stunned silence, even those who were not yet born.”

The arguments over the events of Nov. 3, 1979 have special resonance this month. Arguments over political violence, property destruction and responsibility when political fights turn deadly – they are all features of the recent events that finally led to the Greensboro City Council’s apology.

What, if anything, we’ve learned since 1979 is an open question.

But it’s worth noting the Greensboro Massacre as one of a number of painful moments in the state’s history to which we should look as we decide where we go from here.

 

News

Greensboro City Council apologizes for 1979 Klan-Nazi shootings

On Tuesday night, the Greensboro City Council voted to apologize for the “Greensboro Massacre” – the Nov. 3, 1979 tragedy in which Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazi Party members shot and killed five activists from the Communist Workers Party.

The council has struggled with the city government and police department’s responsibility  in the shootings for decades. Two years ago the council voted to support a historical marker describing it as “The Greensboro Massacre” – the controversial phrase by which it is most widely known. But the council stopped short of formally apologizing then – something for which community activists in the state’s third largest city have long fought.

In the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville last weekend, that changed on Tuesday.

As the News & Record, Greensboro’s daily newspaper, reported:

The vote came unexpectedly, after several speakers urged the council to take the step in light of Saturday’s killing of an anti-Klan and anti-Nazi protester in Charlottesville, Va. Councilwoman Sharon Hightower made the motion, which was seconded by Councilwoman Yvonne Johnson.

The Klan-Nazi shootings happened the morning of Nov. 3, 1979, just as the march was forming in the Morningside Homes community. A heavily armed caravan of Klansmen and Nazis drove into a “Death to the Klan” rally and confronted anti-Klan marchers, many of whom were members of what became the Communist Workers Party. During the ensuing gunfire, five anti-Klan marchers were killed and 10 others wounded. All criminal defendants later were acquitted in state and federal criminal trials. A civil jury found the city and some Klansmen liable for one of the deaths. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent two years researching the shooting and the events surrounding it, and released its findings in 2006. Besides blaming the Klansmen and Nazi shooters, as well as the local police, it found that the march’s organizers, members of the CWP, share some responsibility, “albeit lesser.”

As recently as 2009, the City Council voted to issue a statement of regret for the events of that day, but stopped short of apologizing.

“This type of tragedy is nothing new,” said Tessa Kirkpatrick, a member of Anti-Racist White Folks Serving Black Lives Matter, on the incident in Charlottesville. “White supremacy has shaped both cities.”

“Let’s turn the tragedy of 1979 into a triumph for the city of Greensboro,” said Joyce Johnson, who was a participant in the “Death to the Klan” rally and the wife of one of the organizers, the Rev. Nelson Johnson.

Council members say they plan to review the commission’s report, with an eye toward issuing a more formal apology in the future. April Parker, a member of Black Lives Matter, then took to the podium and demanded an apology from the Greensboro Police Department and read the rest of the commission’s findings. She shouted: “The apologies have just begun!”

The council also voted to reinstate the city’s Police Community Review Board, which has been a point of controversy as the city continues to struggle with tensions between the community and its police department.

 

 

News

Greensboro writer on being on the ground in Charlottesville

You need to make time to read this first-person piece on the chaos of this weekend’s deadly rally in Charlottesville by Greensboro’s own Jordan Green.

Green, a writer and senior editor at Triad City Beat, has been covering right-wing and white supremacist gatherings – and their counter-protests – for years. He wrote the piece from Charlottesville for The Nation magazine.

Green interviewed people on the scene, getting some sobering reflections from North Carolinians who showed up to protest the “Unite the Right” rally.

From his piece:

Tanesha Hudson, a local activist with Showing Up for Racial Justice, reflected on the trauma during a speak-out at McGuffey Park three hours after the attack.

“I really don’t know how to feel about today,” she said. “I know people didn’t come out here to lose their life. I know people came out here thinking that the police would at least protect us. We are citizens here in Charlottesville that pay our taxes, and our tax dollars didn’t work for us today; it worked for them. They were protecting them. They escorted them, they walked them out to make sure they were okay. They never once, never once even offered or lifted a finger. The only thing they lifted for us to do was shoot tear gas. They never once did anything to protect us—the people who are standing for peace and unity and love and togetherness.”

As she spoke, mourners laid flowers in a pile in the center of the park to honor those killed and injured in the attack. The mood in the stricken crowd modulated between defeat and resolve.

“This is like a replay of Jim Crow,” Hudson said. “I mean, I don’t know what other way to put it. I stand here as a young black lady, and I feel like I’m living through Jim Crow. I feel like today was a replay of 1960. Things I hear my grandmother and grandfather talk about, I witnessed today.”

Read the whole thing here.

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Payton McGarry, HB 2/HB 142 plaintiff, running for Greensboro City Council

Filing for local elections ended Friday and – perhaps predictably in a politically fractious year at the state and national level – there are a raft of first-time candidates on this year’s ballots.

Among them, one of the most interesting is Payton McGarry. The 21-year old transgender man was a plaintiff in the original HB 2 lawsuit – and is playing the same role in the amended suit against HB 142.

McGarry, a student at UNCG, has filed to run for City Council in Greensboro.

Payton McGarry, now a candidate for Greensboro City Council.

Since HB 2 was originally passed, McGarry has been a visible and vocal part of opposition to measures that would limit transgender protections. Now he’s looking to become the first openly LGBT member of the Greensboro City Council. It’s McGarry’s first run for office – and it could be an uphill battle. Though the city council races are officially non-partisan, McGarry is a liberal Democrat running against a moderate Democrat incumbent in Councilman Justin Outling. Leaning socially liberal and fiscally conservative, Outling won the District 3 seat in his own right after initially being appointed to finish the term of a departing councilman. That was no small feat for Outling, a black Democrat running in a council district whose representatives have traditionally been white and more conservative.

Outling has proven to be a moderate in office, which has made him a target for some more left-leaning candidates.

Two other candidates have also filed for the seat – Anturan Marsh and Craig Martin.

The primary election will be held Oct. 10. Election Day is Nov. 7.

News

Greensboro looks to learn from nationwide study on police review boards

If you’ve been following the tensions between the Greensboro Police Department, the community and the police complaint review board, you should read Susan Ladd’s latest column.

The columnist for Greensboro’s News & Record looks at a study of citizen boards for police oversight across the country – and what Greensboro and other N.C. cities can learn from it.

From her column:

The [Greensboro] PCRB generally conforms to what the study describes as the review-focused model of oversight boards, which are headed by civilian volunteers, review the quality of police internal affairs investigations, and make recommendations regarding its findings or requests further investigation.

And the PCRB is plagued by some of the weaknesses the study identifies in review models: it has limited authority, few organizational resources and is less independent than other forms of oversight. Because review boards focus on individual cases, their ability to promote systemic change within a law enforcement agency is limited. St. Petersburg, San Diego and Indianapolis also follow the review model.

Investigation-focused models (San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C.) are generally staffed by paid civilian investigators who conduct independent investigations of complaints against police officers. These boards may even replace the police internal affairs process. They are the most independent, but they also are the most expensive form of oversight and face the strongest resistance from police departments, the study says.

Auditor/monitor-focused boards (Denver, New Orleans, Los Angeles) don’t focus on individual cases but use a paid staff with technical expertise to review police department records, case files and databases to determine patterns in complaints and make suggestions for improvement.

Many boards are organizational hybrids that combine different organizational forms and types of authority. A toolkit on NACOLE’s website includes examples of charter language, oversight policies and procedures, complaint forms, annual reports and other resources.