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Report on 1979 Klan-Nazi shootings to be released in late April

by Jordan Green

Members and staff of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission have been circumspect about what conclusions they’ll draw about the causes and consequences of the 1979 Klan-Nazi shootings in Greensboro. Commissioners met in mid-December to guide Research Director Emily Harwell on how to draft the report.

Previous truth commissions have released final documents that included so-called ‘“minority reports’” to allow dissenting commissioners to convey alternate viewpoints on events. Lisa Magarrell, a senior associate at the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice, who has served as a consultant to the Greensboro truth commission, said she hopes that outcome will be avoided.

‘“Commissions generally do try to reach consensus,’” she said. ‘“It’s important that there be consensus on a substantial critical mass of the report. It’s often very difficult because commissions are reflective of their communities.’”

The commission plans to conclude its work in late April and release the report to the public afterwards, said commission spokeswoman Joya Wesley. The commission will have to decide how to release the report, and both citizens groups such as the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Project and official entities like the Greensboro City Council will have to decide how to respond to the report, if at all.

‘“We have been talking about planning a public ceremony,’” Wesley said. ‘“We’re probably leaning towards [releasing the report in] one fell swoop. The mandate says our report goes to the community.’”

Reports by previously impaneled truth commissions have hit snags with government interference in the past, an outcome unlikely to trouble the Greensboro group due to its uniquely independent status.

The Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor, which examined Indonesia’s bloody invasion and occupation of that country, completed its report earlier this year. President Xanana Gusmao reportedly submitted the report to parliament in mid-December, but so far it has not been released to the public. In addition to her role as the lead researcher for the Greensboro truth commission, Harwell worked as a senior researcher for the East Timor truth commission.

Similarly, the ruling African National Congress party launched legal efforts to suppress the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation’s report in 1998 when the commission declined to amend sections that implicated the party in human rights abuses during the years of struggle against the white-dominated apartheid system. The courts ultimately ruled against the government.

‘“There was an attempt to block the publication of the report through the courts by the ANC and others,’” Magarrell said. ‘“Because the commission made specific findings about individuals, they allowed individuals to make responses. And I think that’s how they found out what was in the report.’”

Magarrell said care was taken in South Africa to ensure that no group was allowed special influence over the report ‘— a model she expects will be followed by the Greensboro commission.

‘“In South Africa there was a very strict procedure about how the report was released,’” she said. ‘“The media was given the report a little bit in advance so they could digest it and write their stories, but I think they were sequestered in a room. There was a lot of care taken that it would be released in one fell swoop.’”

‘“It’s clear that this report is for everybody,’” Magarrell added. ‘“It’s for the city government and the town as a whole. One of the nice things about Greensboro is that there isn’t any intention that there be an intermediary.’”

Aside from how to release the report the commission must decide where documentary materials will be housed after it disbands. The commission received proposals from the libraries of UNCG, NC A&T University and Bennett College, according to a news release in December. Commissioner Cynthia Brown said she expects a library to be chosen sometime in January.

The release of the report will usher in a third phase of the truth process, provided that community groups and elected officials choose to act on its recommendations.

One person waiting to see the report is former mayor Carolyn Allen. A co-chair of the local task force of the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Project, a citizens group independent of the commission, Allen said her group will be guided by the report’s recommendations.

‘“Our goal has been to find ways to keep the discussion going and keep communication open,’” she added.

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com

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