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May 22, 2011

Comments

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Andrew Brod

Greensboro had a great opportunity to show the country how a TRC process is done, and while it may be ungenerous and perhaps even inaccurate to say we blew it, I share your disappointment in how it worked out here.

However, what stands out in my memory isn't the too-close relationship that you note, Ed. It's the city council's scandalous April 2005 decision not merely to refuse to endorse the TRC initiative but in fact to oppose it. But I take your point. I don't want to excuse then-Mayor Holliday and the council, but that decision didn't happen in a vacuum.

What happens too often in Greensboro is that both sides shoot each other in the foot.

Account Deleted

I know this is a deep and painful wound for the city of Greensboro and its residents but one thing strikes me. The survivors believed in what they were doing as a vehicle for positive change in the lives of those touched by their efforts to organize the Cone Mills, among others, and the neighborhoods. That belief was brutally crushed with incredible violence in an open display of hatred that cannot be minimalized.

Like a lot of middle class, suburban whites in the 70s and 80s, I used to think the CWP got what it was asking for that day.

But on reflection from a life experience more imbued with loss and suffering, I see things quite differently. No one deserves to see their friends and loved ones shot down in broad daylight by a gunmen operating in a lawless vacuum.

Nor do they deserve to have their grief and suffering minimalized for decades by a power structure that just wants the issue to go away. In experiencing the truth and rec process via the news and the web and the movies released on the subject, Jim Melvin's constant dismissal of the impact of the violence on the lives of the survivors is almost as brutal as the actions themselves.

So I am left to wonder who among the people of Greensboro would have advocated and sacrificed to make the truth and rec process a reality if not for the survivors?

I am constantly struck by the quiescent drive of one of the survivors just to have their loss acknowledged.

Ed Cone

AB, wasn't that rejection by Council in response to a request from Nelson Johnson and the GTRP, not to a request from the GTRC? As I recall (and this column suggests), that episode, however much better the Council could have handled it, was part of the same problem I'm describing here.

Billy Jones

The CWP operated like a bunch of thugs, stormed into a Klan meeting in China Grove, held Klan members at gun point then dared the Klan to come to Greensboro to fight with them at the Death to the Klan Rally in a black neighborhood where the CWP thought the neighbors would fight for them. The Klan responded in exactly the way they were expected to respond. The members of the CWP promoted the killings as part of their own little turf war/attention seeking media campaign proving the end doesn't always justify the means.

Did the CWP have a clue as to the can of worms they were opening? I doubt it. Most were young and new here and didn't understand our streets.

On the streets of Greensboro, we knew what was about to happen even before the TV cameras showed up at Morningside Homes-- we'd known for weeks. Even biker gangs steered clear of the KKK in those days. (Later the KKK would begin recruiting biker gangs.)

Neither the Klan nor the CWP were victims-- the City of Greensboro and the residents of Morningside Homes were the ONLY victims. Did the 5 CWP members deserve to die? No. Did Melvin and GPD do their jobs? No, the Bobblehead and GPD high ups were derelict in their duties at the least and co-conspirators at the worst. But to see this tragic event as anything more than it was is just plain ludicrous.

This wasn't some group fighting to save the world even if they had managed to convince themselves they were. Belief does not make it so. This was a typical gang war.

There were many gangs in Greensboro in the 1970s, The Bessemer Gang, The Spoons, The Pomona Boys, a dozen motorcycle gangs (I was a part of not one but two motorcycle gangs. Though not at the same time.) We even had a local KKK group meeting on US 70 in the McLainsville area. The CWP might have believed their motives to be somehow better or more worthy than the motives of all those other gangs but their SOP was that of any other group of street thugs.

The truth: We've known the truth since 1979. Here's the truth:

The CWP gang tried to flex their muscles and gain a bigger following of thugs by taking on a bigger and more widely known gang called the KKK. This is a regular rite of passage for gangs seeking to increase their sphere of influence-- something I've experienced from both ends. The CWP preached revolution but operated like thugs-- a common tactic of thugs hiding behind ideals.

At that time the KKK was basically a for-hire gang available to the highest bidders-- most often mill owners and others who wanted to maintain the status quo. It's common place for well established gangs to sell their services as their entrenchment leaves them with little room to expand.

The Bobblehead (Melvin) being the suit and tie type of gangster that he has always been, was working to protect the status quo and secure his future by allowing the KKK to do his dirty work for him.

Was the KKK paid to come to Greensboro? That we don't know but for them to not come to Greensboro would have been their political undoing. Right or wrong the KKK had to come to Greensboro or go hide under a rock and die while all the other gangs fought over all they'd left behind. (Illegal liquor sales, prostitution, gambling, extortion, etc...) In those years the Hell's Angels MC and New Jersey Mafia controlled Greensboro's drug trade.

GPD was ordered to look the other way just long enough to let it happen.

The fact that five people died and no one served time even though there were millions of eye witnesses, proves that everyone involved was dirty and none wanted to admit their quilt.

Reconciliation: A farce. For the citizens of Greensboro who have long been forced to live under the shadows of the guilty, true reconciliation will only come when the surviving CWP, KKK, Melvin and then high ranking GPD officers who conspired to let it happen are all sentenced to life in prison.

Roch101

It would have been nice if the whole endeavor could have wrapped up with some grand moment of unity, when we all came to understand each other with previously absent empathy, nicely captured in a 128 point headline above the fold with a symbolic color picture.

Didn't happen. But here are its success as I see them.

1. Record compiled. It was beneficial to have the disparate accounts and records of the event, prior, during and after, consolidated. I've not heard any accusation that suspect records were included or legitimate records excluded. Thus, the T&RC freed our understanding from spin and theory.

2. Exposed prejudices lingering behind genteel persona. The push-back, the refusals to engage, the lack of buy-in were small-minded and cold hearted (former Mayor Keith Holliday dismissed it as a "guilt trip"). But at least those friction points served to expose the deficiencies in their sources. Prejudice still hides behind genteel smiles in Greensboro. That's important to know.

3. Building bridges. On a personal level, the TR&C's work inspired some of us to think a little (see Jeff's remarks above). Whether a result of the T&RC or whether the T&RC represented a continuation of processes already underway, it was an integral part of an on-going positive transformation for our community. Two examples come immediately to mind:

Nelson Johnson (specifically see his inspiring recollection of a moment of reconciliation with one of the KKK from 1979 at the 3:00 minute mark)

City Council Representative Robbie Perkins. Andy mentioned the Greensboro City Council's decision not only to decline a request to support the T&RC, but a subsequent motion to actually oppose it. Spiteful and cruel, I called it. The motion to oppose was made by Robbie Perkins. Three years later, Council was asked to accept a report on the T&RC from the City's Human Relations Commission and to pass a resolution of regret. Both passed, 5 to 4. Perkins was not only the swing vote, but his explanations for his votes were inspiring examples of how empathy can take hold and change a person for the better. Video (at the 03:15:10 mark.)

Jordan Green

I'm the person who said in an e-mail that institutional Greensboro would never have bought into the process in any case. I appreciate Ed's discretion, but I have no problem being identified.

I'm looking forward to reading this comment thread.

Jordan Green

Jeff and Roch's comments succinctly reflect my own analysis of the legacy of the truth process. Nicely put.

Roch101

Minor correction, Nelson Johnson's account in the video is of with a Nazi, not kkk.

MojoNixon

Billy's comment is the only one here that makes any sense.

The issue for many opposed to the TRC did not have to do with any degree of sensitivity / sympathy (or lack thereof) for the CWP survivors. In fact, I bet a lot of people opposed to the TRC felt sympathy towards the CWP survivors.

The issue was the perception that the TRC was trying to re-write the history of the events leading up to 11/3/79 in such a way that minimized the impact of the CWP goading the Klan into a confrontation -- a challenge to which a bunch of gun-toting, redneck racists were all too happy to accept.

That one particular element has colored many Greensboro people's views of the events that day. The residents of Morningside who had this hell visited upon them should have had more input concerning the "reconciliation" part of the bit -- they were the biggest victims. All we ever heard through the media during the TRC process was the push from "former CWP members". If those former CWP members wanted "reconciliation", they should have approached former KKK members and tried to create some joint healing.

The fact that most people in Greensboro had moved on by 2005 and weren't quite sure about the need for "truth and reconciliation" didn't help things, either. An extremely small, radical group bit off a bit more than it could chew in confronting another extremely small, radical group. Neither of those two groups in the slightest came close to representing the views, goals, and dreams of the people of Greensboro, and the incessant push by the group that came out on the losing end of the confrontation to try to force an entire city to bear the weight of some "collective guilt" was, frankly, annoying.

Roch101

And yet, those "perceptions" proved invalid.

Nonetheless, it's interesting to hear that you agree that Jim Melvin ordered the Greensboro Police to stay away so that his KKK minions could secure his political future. You are entitled to you opinion, but it is precisely this kind of conspiracy theory the T&RC had the benefit of discrediting.

MojoNixon

Don't confuse one poster with another. I said nothing about Melvin.

Who actually needed reconciliation concerning this whole ordeal, anyway? What group of people actually spoke up and said, "We need healing and reconciliation."?

I don't think it was former residents of Morningside. I think it was former members of the CWP. Did they ever say who they wanted to reconcile with? Because if they did, and if they then mentioned that it was former KKK members, then reconciliation makes sense. But the CWP needed reconciliation with no other group for their decision to incite violence.

The "truth" part was never in doubt, short of the culpability of the City of Greensboro and GPD -- and that is an extremely valid concern which needed more investigation and critique / censure.

Maybe the whole thing should have been a "Truth Commission" instead.

Ed Cone

Mojo, there was substantial outreach to former Klan and Nazi members, including some emotional scenes of reconciliation, and public testimony.

Also, in my view one of the successes of the report was the enlargement of the "two groups" narrative to include a third group -- local and federal law enforcement -- as key actors in this drama. One need not conclude that law enforcement was involved in any sort of conspiracy to understand how important the care and feeding of right-wing extremist groups by federal agents had become at that time, and to assign a certain degree of responsibility to the GPD for failing to keep the peace on a morning when, as Billy says, "The Klan responded in exactly the way they were expected to respond."

Account Deleted

I am still trying to digest Billy's closing comment. I was under the impression that the Constitution gave a person and an association of persons the right to say whatever they wanted without fear of government reprisal. What is it that any of the CWP survivors have done that merits a sentence of life in prison? And if you saw your loved one cut down in front of you, don't you think that sorrow alone might outweigh any time spent incarcerated?

What is it that CWP did that deserves comparison to a group of men attacking them and shooting them down in broad daylight in the streets of your city?

I was under the impression that Billy was a friend of at least some of the survivors who live in Greensboro.

I think we might ought to consider the ramifications of our comments related to this matter, especially since it becomes clearer with time that history will judge your city by it's obvious failure to "protect and serve" its residents on that hateful day.

Steve Harrison

The entire City of Greensboro needed the Reconciliation, Mojo. Some of you may act like you don't care, but the (national) infamy the City brought on itself that day still endures to this day. I've been exposed to it as recently as a couple of years ago.

I live in Gibsonville, but since only three people outside of Gibsonville are aware we even exist, I usually tell people in other states (and even some in this state) that I live near Greensboro. I mentioned it to a guy in the Seattle area when I went in 2009 (I think), and he asked me if the Klan was still active.

I made some joke about the Grand Poo-Bah falling off his horse to cover my embarassment, but it stung.

Now, I doubt if even a successful, campfire sing-a-long Reconciliation would cure those lingering memories, but ignoring it hasn't worked.

Roch101

"Don't confuse one poster with another. I said nothing about Melvin." -- Mo Nixon

Come on dude, don't be afraid to stand by what you said. Billy said Melivin ordered the police to stand down just long enough for his hired KKK minions to do their deeds and secure Melvin's future. You said, "Billy's comment is the only one here that makes any sense."

Change your mind if you want, but don't pretend you didn't approve of that view.

MojoNixon

You pick cherries when you're not blogging, right? Well it is almost June.

I never said that I agreed with every word of the post -- just that the post made more sense than any of the other posts up to that point.

Jordan Green

To underscore what Ed said, the CWP survivors did hold an emotional meeting with a former Nazi shooter, Roland Wayne Wood. And Gorrell Pierce, a former Klan leader, gave testimony that was respectful of his former adversaries. Some degree of reconciliation was achieved between the CWP and Klan/Nazi group. Reconciliation between the survivors and the city establishment? Only on a superficial level. There was moving testimony that I recall by at least one Morningside Homes resident, although I would agree with Ed that their voices were minimized and did not emerge as fully as they should have in the public discourse that resulted from the process.

Terry

My understanding was that the main purpose of the TRC was to raise money for further TRC's, which would in turn raise money for more TRC's. In this they seem to have succeeded.

jaycee

GPD involvement rested with one man, Captain Trevor Hampton, the commander of that district at the time. He is black. In order to prevent any semblance of militancy on the part of the police, and to prevent GPD from later being alleged to have incited anything if violence did occur, he ordered his men to distance themselves from the protest. No conspiracy, no collusion with the KKK, or anything else. Just a decision made in an attempt to prevent violence. Unfortunately, it backfired.
Hampton was later Chief of Police in Durham, but was run out of that town for incompetence. One has to imagine just how incompetent a black chief has to be in that black community run by a corrupt black city government to be tossed out.
The whole issue has been enlarged and expanded over the years into something much larger than it was when it happened. There is a reason for this--the whole November 1979 issue is merely a vehicle used by Johnson, et.al., in trying to bolster their political power in our community. The TRC was nothing more than a grandstanding stage play by Nelson Johnson and others with an agenda to try and rewrite history.

Roch101

This makes my point of one of the successes of the T&RC: When someone anonymously asserts knowledge of the events, it is easy enough to check them against the facts collected and documented by the T&RC (and in this case, not surprisingly, finding the commenter quite off the mark in his bigotry and prejudices.)

see: http://www.greensborotrc.org/1979_sequence.pdf

Ed Cone

Maybe, in the spirit of reconciliation, we could focus a little more on getting the truth straight and a little less on flaming other commenters in this thread?

Roch101

Cotton to racism under the guise of good manners if you want, Ed. I won't, if you don't mind.

bubba

In Roch's mind, "truth" is any convenient "re-telling" of a story that fits his point of view.

I suspect jaycee's his truth comes from actual real world experience.

Whose opinion is more credibile?

Account Deleted

The only problem I have with jc's experience is that it is no where supported by the facts in existence. But that's never stopped people from blaming teh "blacks" in the past.

Billy Jones

Jeffrey,
I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. I didn't mean that everyone involved should spend life in prison but some involved were clearly guilty of murder in the 1st degree and should have gotten life in prison. Others involved should have been punished according to the crimes they committed on that day and on previous days. Crimes like holding people at gun point (China Grove) do merit time in prison, do they not? Others appear to be guilty of obstruction of justice after the fact-- another crime.

But in the end nobody went to prison.

Again, the only victims here were Greensboro and the residents of Morninside Homes. I realize that CWP members lost loved ones and I know they hurt because of their losses but losing loved ones does not make anyone less culpable when a crime is committed. Challenging people to a street fight is and has long been a crime and when guns are involved it becomes a felony. Both sides were carrying loaded guns (CWP members were carrying conceiled weapons without permits to do so.) so both sides committed felonies.

As to my relationships to some involved: my knowing someone does not change that person's previous crimes and my current relationship is based on the good they're trying to do today and not mistakes from 1979.

Billy Jones

PS.
I went back and reread the last paragraph of my first comment-- talk about unclear, man did I ever screw that one up.

Billy Jones

As to Captain Trevor Hampton:

On the street we all knew the KKK was coming with intentions of getting back at the CWP-- how could GPD have not known the KKK would show up?

jaycee

Roch, were you commenting on my remarks?
Show me where I'm wrong...is Trevor Hampton not black? Was he not the commander of that district on the day in question? Did he not order his men to stay away from the scene to prevent inciting violence by their presence? Oh, you might not know the answer to the last one, because you were not involved in any way with the incident and probably didn't talk to many of the GPD folks immediately after the event as I did.
Oh, and the source you cited, suspect though it is since it's from the TRC, supports exactly my recollection of the events, specifically the first paragraph regarding the "low profile approach."

cheripickr

I sense the phrase "straw man" coming any second now....

Account Deleted

Jaycee: In reading the TRC report, which is compiled from testimony by the police officers and grand jury proceedings, no where does it state that Hampton gave the order you state. It does say specifically that a Sgt. Comer ordered two officers to be at the intersection of Everitt and Carver streets at 11:30 a.m. It also states that Comer was in charge of the patrol units assigned to the parade. It also states that a police commander Daughtry was in charge of the tactical units assigned to be on stand-by and in position at 1130 am and that when he discovered at 11:16 a.m. that his units were still at Biscutville he told them "they have 14 minutes by my watch. Rush 'em up." (see page 9)

So claiming that one police commander made an executive decision that set the parameters for all police units involved in the parade operation seems to not be supported by the testimony of those police commanders and officers involved.

jaycee

Sykes, there are probably many things not stated in the "report." I doubt the "report" contains each and every word or sentence uttered by hundreds of people involved on the days before, during, and after the incident. Perhaps the answer you seek is not there because no one asked the question.

Account Deleted

Or perhaps your boys dropped the ball.

bubba

"Or perhaps your boys dropped the ball"

Or perhaps you don't know what you're talking about.

Ed Cone

The GPD failed to keep the peace that day. Federal law enforcement was deeply involved with the Klan and Nazi groups.

The first statement is true by definition, the second is established fact.

I am interested in thoughts on the post topic itself -- whether the GTRC was hampered in meaningful ways by the close relationship with the survivors group.

On that topic, I think it's important to consider not just the actions of the survivors themselves, but also the TRC leadership and commission -- should they, and could they, have done more to assert and maintain their independence?

Preston Earle

Hindsight is a very useful attribute for pundits and commentators but a much less useful one for people who actually made the decisions in question. Billy Jones, a person whose opinion I greatly admire, wrote "true reconciliation will only come when the surviving CWP, KKK, Melvin and then high ranking GPD officers who conspired to let it happen are all sentenced to life in prison" and later modified that to "some involved were clearly guilty of murder in the 1st degree and should have gotten life in prison".

I'm having trouble seeing Murder here (as the jury did as well). A number of folks were perhaps guilty of felony bad judgment, but I'm thinking the legal system got it pretty much right.

As to Ed's question, I'm on the side of folks thinking the TRC process was flawed by the survivors group trying to use the process to prove they were right all along. It was not so much a process of reconciliation as it was a process to advance their positions. IMHO, the TRC leadership and commission abetted this.

Fred Gregory

Suggest suspension of any further discussion of the TRC until the bicentenial of the event.. Nov. 2179

Account Deleted

Did they ever figure out why, since the police had an informant with the Klan caravan and an officer keeping them under photographic surveillance, and the police knew at least 20 minutes in advance of the caravan's arrival at the protest scene that they were armed and had multiple concealed weapons in their vehicles, the caravan was not stopped before its arrival?

Folks are free to hate communists as much as I hate small minded white men over the age of 60 who have no zest for life left in their decaying minds and bodies but that does not change the fact that the police were the third and most important rail in this incident and had the power to prevent violence that day. Whether it was incompetence, poor communication procedure or something worse is debatable but that they failed to protect and serve the public that day in incontrovertible.

Account Deleted

Ed: To answer your questions, as someone who has never had respect or admiration for Nelson Johnson, I am able to have faith in the independence of the commissioners appointed to examine the events.

I observed the process via your blog, the news, some of the documentaries(Greensboro's Child, Closer to the Truth) and the final report. The report clearly lays blame on the CWP for its rhetoric, its choice of location and in its overt invitation to the Klan. So I can't see the argument that there was a lack of independence in the commission itself.

Maybe in the genesis of the process, but I think the final TRC was sufficiently independent to come to independent conclusions.

bubba

"Folks are free to hate communists as much as I hate small minded white men over the age of 60 who have no zest for life left in their decaying minds and bodies but that does not change the fact that the police were the third and most important rail in this incident and had the power to prevent violence that day."

Wow! Who ghost-wrote that for you?

jaycee

"Did they ever figure out why, since the police had an informant with the Klan caravan and an officer keeping them under photographic surveillance, and the police knew at least 20 minutes in advance of the caravan's arrival at the protest scene that they were armed and had multiple concealed weapons in their vehicles, the caravan was not stopped before its arrival?"

Yes.

timur

I agree with Fred. Put the thing in a 200 year time capsule

John D. Young

The TRC process basically began by naming the Klan and police as the culprits. Just view the early film/video called “Voices of Greensboro: The Purpose, Process and Possibilities of the GTCTP” that was used to kick start the TRC process to the wider community. From the beginnings of this campaign a central goal was to allow the survivors to tell their own, authentic version of the events to the Greensboro community. After all the CWP survivors of 1979 were the ones who initiated the Greensboro Truth & Reconciliation process. The founding group the Greensboro Truth & Community Reconciliation Project and their main arm the Local Task Force had many dedicated and sincere members but as disagreements arose basically those with different points of view left the process.

The GTRC has presented itself as a very democratic and grass roots process, however, it cannot be denied that the deck was stacked because the survivors were involved at every point. It was their process. They were the ones who brought in the fledgling International Center for Transitional Justice as the core advisor for the process. The commission was never sufficiently independent and outside the sphere of influence of those that created them. One cannot help but sense a little of the old CWP’s democratic centralism (described well by Sally Bermanzohn) at play within the Local Task Force. At times it was in play with the structure of the meeting agendas, time allotted to open discussion for different items, the hostile firing of GTCRP Director Henry Sholar, the awkward planning of the 25th Anniversary march in the midst of the TRC process, the planning of the activities of the GTCRP before the Greensboro City Council and the Greensboro Human Relations Commission and the planning of the program on April 10th 2005 at the First Baptist Church.

If one plans to research the true nature of the Local Task Force and the revolving chair membership policy of “don’t let the screen door hit you in the ass as you leave” be sure to speak to many of the members who left or drifted away.

The GTRC never achieved sufficient truth, community reconciliation or community healing. Some of us who participated were drawn into the process because this was its original worthy claim. Obviously many in the community were skeptical about the TRC from the beginning and most of the community ignored the process. Even the Andrus Family Fund, who paid for most of the GTRC process, also financed independent polling research by Dr. Jeffrey Sonis who showed that the Greensboro community was never committed or engaged with the GTRC process. In fact at a presentation at UNCG he stated that his follow up phone polling indicated that several months after the release of the TRC Report those few who had followed the process felt that the CWP shared an increased degree of blame for the tragedy.

Perhaps the most inaccurate statement made in the report is on page 309 (a statement that has been quoted on many occasions by the TRC loyalist): “Therefore, although the city’s stated reason for settling was to put an end to the litigation, the city’s decision to pay the judgment for both Klan/Nazis and police officers gives the appearance of support for the Klan and Nazi defendants.” Elizabeth Wheaton has already pointed out in her afterword in her new paperback edition of Codename GREEKIL: “The settlement agreement says no such thing. Cited in a dozen footnotes in the report and legally agreed to by each of the plaintiffs in 1985, the settlement released only the city of Greensboro and thirty-seven police and city defendants. Not one Klan member, not one Nazi, not even informant Ed Dawson was named in the settlement. Nothing in that document prevented the plaintiffs from pursuing monetary claims against the Klan and Nazis held liable by the jury.”

There is, however, a lot of helpful information and history in the TRC Report and buried deep inside are some very important points but generally the report’s conclusions and especially the Executive Summary are abysmal. After all of the work and effort of the GTRC that at times had its appeal and integrity we are left in the end with little more than political theatre. I understand now that some leaders of the process came to the table without any real concerns or any plans for community reconciliation.

I was deeply impressed by a visit made by John Harris to the GTRC’s Community Dialogue, held at Mount Zion Baptist Church on Nov. 2005. I was near the door as he entered the room and Mr. Harris told me he had come to speak to Nelson Johnson and to tell his story. His story sadly never made it into the TRC Report. Mr. Harris was maybe in his late 70’s with a very powerful handshake and a wonderful warm smile. He had been a roofer and lived very near the Morningside Homes community in 1979. On Nov. 3rd 1979 he and his roofing crew were putting on a roof and could see part of the activities from his roof top view. When someone passing by yelled and told him that a Death to the Klan March was forming and the Klan were on their way he sent a worker to grab his gun at his house nearby. He said he knew violence was going to occur and wanted some protection. But most importantly he came to the Community Dialogue to tell Nelson Johnson that Nelson had been terribly in the wrong that day. That he and the CWP should never have brought a violent confrontation with the Klan into the Morningside Homes community. He said that he had wanted to say that for over 25 years and felt that the true victims of Nov. 3rd were the community residents in the Morningside Homes area including him, his employees, and his family.

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