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« 73* | Main | Healthy debate »

Jun 10, 2006

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Chewie

If you think that this letter-writer's opinions were formed by reading the Commission's final report, I think you woke up wrong today.

It's obvious that what he knows, he knows from what he's read in the newspaper.

I reject your assertion that this kind of bias, which has existed in the community "since day one", as he says, is somehow the fault of the Commission or its final report.

It's there and it has to be engaged; but asking the Commission to magically fortify Greensboro's weak stomach for change is a very tall order.

There will be people who don't like it, don't get it, and don't want to know the truth -- especially about the systems that rule their lives, including the police and the government. To protect the status quo, they will continue to believe myths about '79 and about the GTRC. Some have reasons that are well-intentioned and easy to understand; others have been steeped in fear and ignorance all their lives, and will die that way.

Sad but true. This town is one highly dysfunctional family at times. It would take more than a two-year Commission to make it healthy.

Ed Cone

As I've written for some time now, the myths of 1979 are not satisfactory. There is much in the report to rebut the myths.

However, the TRC decided to write from a distinct point of view, and to summarize a long report with a document that is heavy on recommendations that strike even some supporters as too much. The letter-writer may have been working from a newspaper account of a summary; many people will do the same. Rather than just discounting what such people have to say, maybe there is a way to engage them and move the conversation forward.

Part of the reconciliation process should involve recognizing the biases of the report and the flaws in TRC strategy. They did a lot of good work, but that work was meant to start a process, not to be the final word.

As you saw in my reaction to Davenport Jr's column, I have no patience with propaganda and name-calling attacks on the TRC. But that doesn't mean there aren't criticisms worth listening to. You don't have to agree with them, but honoring the existence of different points of view is important to reconciliation.

John D. Young

Ed as I go through the report in more detail I tend to agree with your comments -- "And its recommendations are too light on reconciling the city and its people with the facts and the cops, and overly weighted to feel-good gestures and the back-door validation of the CWP." I also agree that if there is energy to grapple significantly with the report, both its good parts and questionable parts, then the entire process, including the current community discussion, can lead to a far better understanding of Nov. 3rd.

Such a report by its very nature must leave out a lot of information but I remained concerned at how the report at times leaves out some important parts of the story. Below may prove to be two examples where it would have been better to let Nazi shooter, Roland Wayne Wood, continue to speak. His additional words may help explain why a jury did develop some reasonable doubt about the killing intentions of the Klan/Nazis.

The first example is at the bottom of page 182 in the section called Sequence of Events: Nov. 3, 1979. At the bottom of that page Roland Wood is quoted in the report:

"They were fighting, then the gun (the shotgun that Jim Waller grabbed from Tom Clark's truck parked in the intersection) went up and hit Roy Toney. You'll see in the pictures a barrel mark right there on his head, forehead... I am thinking get out of here and just as I turned to run. Bam! The third shot... Now the first shot was fired by Mark Sherer but to us it was like a stick that hit against a car. We didn't know it was a shot, we really didn't... But that (the third) was the first shot I personally (heard). I didn't know who had the shotgun or nothing...The last person I saw was the two of them were fighting over it. Did it go off accidentally? Did it go off on purpose? I don't know. I honestly do not know."

However, Wood immediately continues in his statement to the Commission and this was not included in the report: "Only thing is I wish to God I had run some other direction, maybe he (Jim Waller) wouldn't have grabbed it up, you know. But if you listen to the news cameras, I think Channel 12, I come running out from the intersection just about to that wall there. Watch out -- they got guns! My God they have guns. I was scared for my life."

A little later in response to a question from Bob Peters about the guns Roland Wood said:

"The only guns I saw now. No, no, no hold it, sorry, were the ones on the curb, ok. I saw at least three rolled up. I looked up and saw some people up the street with guns in their hands. What kind of guns, I can't tell you. And today I don't know if they were guns or pop bottles with drinks. My mind was going crazy!

I run back and hollered -- Watch out they got guns! My God they got guns! I didn't say who had them or anything; I didn't know. I run back towards the car. I hollered, Jack, get the trunk opened. I was scared. I wanted my gun in my hand. I wanted to be able to fight back. I wanted to be able to protect myself and I did. I can't believe I was so stupid. I walked right down the middle of the sidewalk... but I did. Somewhere along the way I got out of the van with a cigarette and lit it. Or did I light it up along the way? I don't know but I did."

Wood continues:

"It is unbelievable how fast you will do things at such a time and you don't know. You don't know how fast it is happening! You are faster than you ever thought about being..."


The second example is on page 174 of the same report section. The report quotes Wood: "As they prepared to leave, Wood talked about using a tear gas grenade, but Dawson told him the streets are too narrow. Mark Sherer said it was discussed that they should roll up the windows when the tear gas grenade was thrown. Wood confirmed he had such a grenade, which he said he got from Ft. Bragg."

The report fails to present all of Wood's comments about the tear gas grenade in his statement to the Commission. In his statement he said: "Oh, he (Roger Shannon) come up with that stuff before. He is one who had given me a hand grenade, gas style hand grenade. You know you pull the pin. You know not a little tear gas like they (CWP) used in the courtroom... When I made those statements to the police, I am talking about a full scale tear gas grenade. A canister about that big around where you pull the pin and you throw it. That's what I was talking about. But I did have a little can of tear gas but on Nov. 3rd I wouldn't let them take it. No, no, no it's not going! If we are not going to have any trouble we are not going to need it. Does that make sense to you? Why take something you are not going to need. If you are not going to get in trouble, why are you going to need it? I wasn't expecting any trouble."

It seems that the report at times does not allow us to place ourselves fairly into the shoes of the jury. The juries in the first two trials are shown at times as unreasonable when the transcripts and statements to the Commission may show that the jury finding of reasonable doubt about Nov. 3rd may not be unreasonable. We should also remember that shots 3 could have been fired, as Wood describes, as Waller and Toney wrestled for the shotgun. All three of the juries seemed to agree, due to Bruce Koenig's testimony and Harold Flowers' court room testimony that shot 4 and 5 could reasonably have come from near the stick fighting area at the intersection and were likely fired by Bill Sampson with his .38 caliber handgun.


I am pointing out the problems above not to discredit the report, because even after 26 years this is a very difficult story to get correct, but to show how a real court room setting with thorough cross-examination has a lot of advantages over a Commission with no subpoena power. The Commission basically chose to not engage statement givers in thorough cross-examination. Rather than prove that the trials were shams I think as we start giving the report a full in-depth look we may see that the juries and the court room settings begin to appear more reasonable.

Chewie

John, how did you have access to Wayne Wood's entire statement?

Did you check with the Commission to see if any of that was confidential, as many statements were, before using it to make your point here?

John D. Young

Chewie, I originally volunteered to transcribe the statements of Paul Bermanzohn and Elizabeth Wheaton after Jill Williams asked for help with transcriptions. I was asked by Jill to do the transcription for Wood. At the time she told me the Wood transcription, that was not part of the public hearings, would not be published on the GTRC blog but would be part of the archive and made public after the report through the archives. Since Jill said last week that the archives were being sent to Bennett I think that Wood's full statement will be public in a few days.

I did use Wood's several additional sentences in my piece posted above that completed quotes used in the report. This part of his statement also basically follows court room testimony in three trials. His entire statement has valuable information just like the other statements. As you may well know when you type one of these statements from only a vocal recording you get very intimate with each phrase.

One of my concerns about cross-examination, rules of evidence, etc. is that it is very difficult to decide how to balance any individual statement. Wood does make several very controversial statements (not part of the sentences I used) that needs some additional exploration. I hope he will return to some type of community format down the road to discuss some of these issues. He also makes some very moving apologies and views his life as significantly changed today from who he was in 1979 when he was considered the "most dangerous man in N.C."

I think Wood's statement allows us to see him as someone other than a brutal Nazi and that is the real importance of his statement. To me this is part of the power of the process to begin to view all involved with more humanity.

If there is energy in this community to continue a broad discussion about Nov. 3rd I think we can all benefit. To me the community reconciliation part begins when we as a community see the humanity in all involved and give up our rigid stereotypes of Klan, Communist and police. Those people involved that day were not really different from you and me.

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