Friday, February 03, 2006

Interim Police Chief Promises Cooperation with GTRC

GTRC Press Release:

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission (GTRC) – which still has unanswered questions involving police and the tragedy of Nov. 3, 1979 – met this week with interim Greensboro Police Chief Tim Bellamy to discuss the police department’s cooperation with the GTRC’s research.

Bellamy, who took over leadership of the embattled department upon the Jan. 9 resignation of former chief David Wray, assured Commission representatives that the department would finish delivering previously promised documents by March 1. Bellamy said he had directed Police Attorney Maurice Cawn to work exclusively on that task until all the relevant information is released.

“We realize that Chief Bellamy has a lot on his plate, and we appreciate his commitment to share the documents we need to produce a complete report,” said Emily Harwell, the Commission’s research director. “We feel that, now more than ever, the department’s commitment to transparency is an important step in healing the wounds in our community.”

The GTRC, which is to release its final report this spring, is mandated to examine the context, causes, sequence and consequences of Nov. 3, 1979, when Klan and Nazi members killed five labor organizers and wounded ten others at a “Death to the Klan” rally organized by the Communist Workers Party.

Klan and Nazi defendants were acquitted of murder and civil rights violations in state and federal criminal trials. However, a civil trial found that Klansmen, Nazis and two members of the Greensboro Police Department were jointly liable for wrongful death for one of the five killed. The verdicts caused widespread confusion. Rumors and misinformation have surrounded the events and their aftermath.

Police Attorney Cawn, who also served in that capacity in 1979, is in the midst of a time-consuming process called “redacting” the documents, or removing records deemed unsuitable for public release. The department already has delivered about one-third of the documents promised to the GTRC last summer.

Harwell specifically has requested a copy of the Operational Plan for the event – a planned rally, parade and conference for which organizers had obtained a permit. She also hopes to receive the unedited radio transcripts for all police frequencies used on Nov. 3, which were prepared as part of an administrative report that was publicly released in edited form in November 1979.

In addition to the police documents, the GTRC also needs individual statements from police officers on the force in 1979. Although two Greensboro police officers and one retired officer spoke at the second of the GTRC’s three public hearings, none had leadership roles in 1979.

Statements still are being sought from current or former officers who can answer specific questions in the following areas:
-the parade permit process;
-advance intelligence about Klan and Nazi plans to confront the marchers;
-police decisions in response to this information;
-critical communication failures prior to and immediately following the shooting;
-the internal affairs investigation process.

Modeled on truth-seeking efforts in South Africa, Peru and elsewhere, the GTRC is the first commission of its kind in the United States. In addition to seeking the truth and working for reconciliation in Greensboro, participants in the process hope it will serve as a model that other U.S. communities can use to address unresolved events in their own histories.

The volunteer commissioners were sworn in on June 12, 2004, hired a staff, and began work that has included taking statements, holding public hearings and a community dialogue, and reviewing documentary evidence.

The Commission’s report will include findings of fact as well as specific recommendations for the Greensboro community and its institutions for pursuing concrete healing, reconciliation and restorative justice.


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