GREENSBORO, N.C. – The city of Greensboro should not apologize for its role in the 1979 Klan-Nazi shootings that resulted in the deaths of five people, the mayor said, despite a commission's recommendation that the city issue an apology.
Mayor Keith Holliday pointed to city leaders' previous expression of "regrets" for the shootings at a Death to the Klan march on Nov. 3, 1979, at which five members of the Communist Workers Party were killed. Ten others were injured.
"We've all said that there were mistakes made and that the police department would do it differently now," Holliday said. "How much more can you do than regret it ever happened and keep it from happening again?"
In a nearly 400-page report issued last week after two years of study, the Greensboro Truth & Reconciliation Commission called on the city and police department to apologize to victims and the community "for their failure to protect the public."
Under those conditions, "we would issue an apology for every crime in Greensboro that occurred when we weren't there to protect the citizens," Holliday said. "The problem with an apology is it makes it look like all the police department is at fault."
The report concluded that the lack of police presence at the march was the "single most important element" that contributed to the violence. It also blamed the Klansmen and Nazi shooters, adding that that the march's organizers — Communist Workers Party members — share some responsibility, "albeit lesser."
No one was convicted of criminal charges in the shootings. Six people were acquitted of murder charges at a state trial in 1980. A Klan leader was acquitted in 1984 of federal charges of conspiracy to interfere with a federal investigation.
Interim Police Chief Tim Bellamy declined to comment, saying he has read the executive summary but not the full report.
City council member Goldie Wells said she believes an apology would help ease the pain that some in the community still feel. "I just think when you acknowledge something, you can easily move on," she said.
Council member Tom Phillips, who said he has read most of the executive summary, said he doesn't support an apology.
"We've got more important things to do," he said.
City attorney Linda Miles said she doesn't know if an apology would leave the city or police department open to a lawsuit.