If Greensboro police officers destroyed files pertaining to the 1979 Klan/Nazi killings after the department received a request for those files from the TRC, it's a big deal.
You can read the statement distributed at today's press conference after the jump.
Lots of other stuff to discuss -- potential illegality of alleged destruction, contents of files, chain of command in ordering the alleged destruction.
Other stuff I'm not sure has to be part of this particular discussion -- institutional racism, for example -- was introduced by the ministers.
For the moment, though, I'm most interested in the question of those files.
In September of 2007, the Rev. Nelson Johnson was contacted by an active duty Greensboro police officer who told Rev. Johnson that he had information that would be of interest to him. Rev. Johnson asked Mr. Randy Johnston to accompany him to a meeting with the active duty officer (hereafter referred to as “the Source”).
The Source shared that shortly after a request was received from Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Greensboro TRC), Sergeant Craig McMinn of the Greensboro Police Special Intelligence Department gave an order to destroy the files related to the 1979 Klan-Nazi Killings, including information on surveillance of members and/or persons thought to be members of the Communist Workers Party (CWP).
The order to destroy the files given by Sergeant Craig McMinn referred to files in possession of the Special Intelligence Division (SID). The Source informed us that the SID files were kept separate from other police files and that there are no back up files to the destroyed files. Further, the source said at least four active duty police officers were present when the order to destroy was given. The Source then stated that several of the police officers took approximately 50 boxes of files and threw them in a dumpster.
The Source informed us that it was his opinion that Sergeant Craig McMinn, if officially asked by appropriate city officials, would not lie but would tell the truth as it related to destroying the files.
Rev. Johnson shared the information given to him by the Source with the three co-chairs of the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Project (GTCRP) – Former Mayor Carolyn Allen, Rev. Z. Holler and Rev. Gregory Headen. The group made a decision to share this information with then sitting Mayor Keith Holliday. In October of 2007 a meeting was arranged with Mayor Keith Holliday. Also, a request was made that the mayor bring City Manager Mitchell Johnson with him to the meeting.
On October 22, 2007, Rev. Nelson Johnson, Rev. Z Holler, Rev. Gregory Headen, and Former Mayor Carolyn Allen met with then sitting Mayor Keith Holliday and City Manager Mitchell Johnson and shared the information given by the Source, including the Source’s opinion that Sergeant McMinn, under appropriate condition, would not lie but would truthfully validate that SID files related to the 1979 killings were in fact destroyed.
Mayor Keith Holliday and City Manager Mitchell Johnson expressed deep concern about the information they were hearing. There was a lengthy discussion about the ethical and legal implications of destroying the files, the City’s formal opposition to the truth and reconciliation process, as well as the enduring negative legacy of such behavior by police personnel. Mayor Holliday and City Manager Johnson assured the group that they took the information we shared with them very seriously and that they would follow-up.
Shortly after the meeting with the Mayor and City Manager, Police Chief Tim Bellamy contacted Rev. Johnson and requested that the name of the source who supplied the information be turned over to the police (him). Rev. Johnson reaffirmed that he had committed to the Source not to divulge the Source’s name as a condition for receiving the information. Rev. Johnson asked the Chief why was it not sufficient to simply ask Sergeant McMinn whether he had given such an order and to inquire of Sergeant McMinn who authorized him to give that order and to keep inquiring until the party or parties who initiated this order were determined.
Chief Bellamy explained that the issue of destruction of files was being treated as a criminal matter and that it would be necessary to inform Sergeant McMinn of his rights. The Chief expressed the view that Sergeant McMinn would likely call his lawyer and invoke the Fifth Amendment, refusing to answer any questions. With this scenario, the investigation would then be stalled unless there was another source to validate the claim that SID files were destroyed. The Chief suggested that without another source it would be difficult to go forward with the investigation.
Disappointed with the turn of events, another meeting was arranged with City Manager Mitchell Johnson. After a lengthy discussion, City Manager Johnson essentially confirmed the position of Chief Bellamy. When the City Manager was asked why not make the information public that we had given to him, he explained that there were strong interests that would likely exploit the situation and make it appear as if he were making “wild and unsubstantiated” charges. We assume for political purposes.
On Tuesday February 12, 2008, the Source shared the same information and more with Rev. Cardes Brown, Rev. Gregory Headen, Rev. Nelson Johnson and Mr. Randy Johnston.
For all practical purposes the information we shared with Mayor Holliday and City Manager Johnson has come to nothing; this appears to be because of the perception and/or reality of strong political forces arrayed against further exposure of inappropriate and possibly criminal behavior of police personnel under former Police Chief David Wray’s administration.
Initially, we chose not to disclose the information ourselves, as we continued to hope that the City would launch an investigation and keep the public informed of their findings. Unfortunately, to our knowledge, no such investigation has been initiated.
The recent turn of events, including the request to fire the City Manager, has compelled us to share the above information in the interest of justice. We recall that newly elected City Council Member Mary Rakestraw campaigned on the basis of exonerating former Police Chief David Wray. Her principal tactic has been to attack City Manager Johnson for allegedly inappropriately handling charges growing out of former Police Chief David Wray’s administration, for which two police officers have been criminally indicted and for which over 30 officers have brought civil suits.
Sadly, Ms. Rakestraw has called for the firing of the City Manager based on mishandling a memo that sought to explain and justify the infamous “black book” used during the David Wray administration. It seems clear that we are entering a long season of switching issues and covering up and denying the long, ugly, racist history within the Greensboro Police Department to which some members of the City Council have objectively been a party.
Less than a year ago City Councilwoman Florence Gatten unleashed a campaign that essentially demonized City Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small, publicly asking her to resign and eventually resulting in a failed recall vote. The anchoring charge against Ms. Bellamy-Small was that she leaked the RMA report to the media, a report authorized by the City of Greensboro that investigated charges of racism and criminal behavior in the department, from which the aforementioned criminal indictment and civil suits have emerged.
The Campaign initiated by former City Councilwoman Florence Gatten involved the City and the public in a mean-spirited, racist, unjustified and expensive failed recall vote against a duly elected African-American City Council member. While the initiative against Ms. Bellamy-Small was clearly rooted in the unsubstantiated allegation that she released the RMA report that reflected negatively on the David Wray administration, a number of other charges were generated to give the appearance that the recall was about Ms. Bellamy-Small’s overall “misconduct.” Ms. Bellamy-Small, her district – which is majority African-American, and the City of Greensboro should not have been put through that ordeal.
It seems fairly clear that Councilwoman Rakestraw is objectively following in the wake of the failed effort of former Councilwoman Gatten. It appears to us that a block has evolved early in the administration of newly-elected Mayor Yvonne Johnson that will objectively serve to split the city government and the people of Greensboro. We are not experts on the work of City Manager Mitchell Johnson. Whatever his work performance may or may no be, we are convinced that Mitchell Johnson is now thoroughly tied into the expressed efforts of Ms. Rakestraw to get him fired in order to exonerate the administration of former Police Chief David Wray. We should not be misled; the exoneration of the long standing pattern of racism and abuse that surfaced in Chief Wray’s administration is the driving force in the debate concerning the City Manager – not his overall job performance.
Based upon the information we have presented, we call upon the City of Greensboro to take the risk of fully and thoroughly investigating the information the Source has given to us and that we have already passed along to the former mayor and current city manager. We call upon city officials to keep the public regularly informed as to the outcomes and findings of its investigation. Further, we call upon the public media in all of its forms to follow-up this story with accuracy and historical integrity.
It seems to us that Ms. Rakestraw is not fully aware of the deeper implications of the direction she has charted. Similarly, we are convinced that the average white citizen of Greensboro is not aware of the depth, substance, persistence and changing forms of racism, particularly its institutional forms.
Candor requires us to share that we have much more information from the Source than we have shared, some with civil and criminal legal implications. We are prayerful about the proper use of this information. There is a very limited context for a discussion of honesty, depth and integrity in Greensboro. The atmosphere here has been so poisoned that a conversation is trapped by these toxins before it can yield meaningful fruit. We are reluctant to put out information which will be treated disrespectfully and used to further fuel old prejudices and/or reinforce and justify distorted and false positions.
In spite of our reluctance to use the courts, the courts are increasingly emerging as a place for Greensboro to try to air these disputes and to seek enough truth for the city to advance toward a measure of restorative justice, to reconcile, heal and move forward more holistically.
We have shared this information and our perspective in some detail with love, humility and hope. Love, because we believe that love is the only force that can ultimately cultivate understanding, engender forgiveness, and heal the denied brokenness in our city.
Humility, because we believe humility acknowledges a certain point of view while being open to see other points of view that might correct and/or enrich one’s own point of view. We are not so stuck in our point of view that we will be blind to other points of view.
Hope, because we remain hopeful that our white brothers and sisters, in particular, will step forward to help our city work through the current crisis without another wrenching experience of confusion, disguised racism and denied racial division and hatred. Ms. Rakestraw needs your help; communicate with her. We all need each other in order to make progress towards a truly just, multi-racial society, from which we will all benefit.
The three names listed below submit this article in our capacity as pastors. The other organizations are listed as information only. We are interested in hearing your response to this article and any thoughts that you have on how Greensboro might proceed. This article is listed on the Web at www.belovedcommunitycenter.org
Rev. Cardes H. Brown
Pastor, New Light Baptist Church
(Also President, Greensboro Branch NAACP and Executive Committee Member, Pulpit Forum)
Rev. Gregory Headen
Pastor, Genesis Baptist Church
(Also, President, Pulpit Forum and Executive Committee Member, Greensboro NAACP)
Rev. Nelson N. Johnson
Pastor, Faith Community Church
(Also Executive Director, Beloved Community Center and Vice-President, Pulpit Forum)