Local vocal: Nov. 3, 1979 reveals police-hate group complicity
The discussions generated at many levels by the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission (GTRC) are wonderful examples of democratic self-government. This process paves the way towards democracy, putting into action the philosophy that government is of the people, by the people and for the people.
As one of the attorneys filing a federal civil lawsuit in 1980 for the victims killed or injured on November 3, I am very concerned at the fear to investigate the role of government agencies in the racist violence on that day. Nothing could be more important than to know the truth about law enforcement complicity in racist violence and concealment of that complicity. The American values of equal protection of law and free speech can have no meaning if law enforcement officials condone or incite violence against citizens or groups they dislike or despise, regardless of their political ideologies.
Most people in Greensboro have no idea the vast amount of undeniable proof gathered in court-supervised discovery during our lawsuit establishing government prior knowledge of the attack and deliberate failure to protect. The Greensboro Police Department was paying former FBI informant Edward Dawson to work inside the very Klan groups that led the attacks on Nov 3. An Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Agent, Bernard Butkovich, had infiltrated the very Nazi group that participated in the attacks on Nov. 3. These are facts, admitted by both entities. The FBI knew of ATF Agent Butkovich’s investigation of the Nazis because media contacts leaked to us an ATF Briefing Paper saying: ‘“The FBI has been informed of this investigation and it is being coordinated with FBI and ATF at the SAC (Special Agent in Charge) to SAC level.’” Agent Butkovich was present at a Nazi meeting on November 1 where he heard one member say he had made pipe bombs that would work well thrown in a crowd of ‘“niggers.’” Many more federal agents admitted under oath they were advised of the probability of violence on November 3. Yet, FBI Agent Cecil Moses went on WFMY-TV and stated: ‘“We had no evidence that the Klan was about to engage, or any other organization, for that matter, was about to engage, in any violent activities. On the other hand, we had not tried to penetrate or to direct any informants to the group, because that’s not within the guidelines to do so.’”
At the local level, according to the minutes the Police Chief’s staff meeting, police informant Dawson’s handler, Detective Cooper, had advised the Chief and other officers that the Klan was coming to Greensboro for a ‘“confrontation.’” Detective Cooper and another officer actually saw where the Klan and Nazis had gathered and saw men placing guns in a car trunk. Detective Cooper followed the nine-car caravan for nearly 30 minutes into the African American housing project. Then Cooper and a police photographer watched and took pictures of the murders in real time, without any attempt to protect the victims. The attackers, with Dawson in the lead vehicle, were allowed to shoot and kill five activists and injure many more.
Astonishingly, the jury that acquitted the Klan and Nazis of state murder charges was never told any of this information.
Today we hear from city leaders similar blatant denials of any cause to be alarmed about government complicity, usually accompanied by belittling of the integrity and intent of those raising the facts. A cornerstone of any democracy is its officials being accountable to the citizens. Since city leaders oppose getting out these facts, we, the people, must exercise our right and moral duty of civic engagement to seek out and reveal the facts not fearing the outcome. We can never know the truth if we are afraid to bring front and center for investigation the issue of government complicity in racist violence.
Lewis Pitts was lead attorney in the civil rights suit filed by the victims of the November 1979 attacks. Local vocal is a guest column that runs periodically in YES! Weekly. The author’s opinions are their own and not necessarily those of YES! Weekly. To comment e-mail editor@yesweekly,com.