On Oct. 6, the Greensboro City Council voted to issue an official apology for the events of the Greensboro Massacre on Nov. 3, 1979. That is the infamous date when labor organizers Cesar Cauce, Dr. James Waller, Dr. Michael Nathan, William Sampson and Sandra Neely Smith were murdered in broad daylight by a caravan of white supremacists. The murderers were led to their victims, who were taking part in a Communist Workers Party “Death to the Klan” march, by Klansman and police informant Edward Dawson.
The vote on the historic resolution was 7-2, with District 4’s Nancy Hoffman and Representative At-Large Marikay Abuzuaiter the dissenters. Unlike the seven members of the city council who voted for the resolution, Hoffmann and Abuzuaiter declared their belief that the Greensboro Police Department should not be blamed for the massacre.
As reported in the 2019 YES! Weekly article ‘A North American Death Squad,’ on the morning of the murders, Edward Dawson informed his GPD handler, Detective “Rooster” Cooper, that a heavily-armed Klan/Nazi convoy was heading towards Morningside Homes, where the march was scheduled to begin. Dawson knew the location from the parade permit, which had been shared with him by the GPD. He then shared that information with the white supremacists, whose caravan he led.
Having learned from Dawson that Klansmen and Nazis were loading weapons into vehicles, Detective Cooper and GPD photographer J. T. Matthews located and followed the caravan, but stopped several blocks from its destination, and did nothing to prevent what is now known as the Greensboro Massacre.
In Nancy Hoffmann’s statement of why she voted against a formal apology, she compared herself to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and quoted Abraham Lincoln. Abuzuaiter cited her (and Hoffmann’s) work on the Greensboro Human Relations Commission’s 2008 report on the massacre, and stated that the 2009 city council vote to issue an expression of regret rather than an apology was a sufficient response.
Both Hoffmann and Abuzuaiter took issue with the second paragraph of the resolution, which stated:
WHEREAS, Greensboro’s police department in 1979 (the “GPD”) along with other city personnel failed to warn the marchers of their extensive foreknowledge of the racist, violent attack planned against the marchers by members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party with the assistance of a paid GPD informant.
The full text of the Resolution of apology by the Greensboro City Council for the events that have come to be known as the “November. 3, 1979 Massacre" is available on YES! Weekly's website. It includes the announcement that the City will award annual $1,979 scholarships to five graduating seniors of Dudley High School, given in the names of the five people killed in the massacre, during the Annual Citywide Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast.
Neither Abuzuaiter or Hoffmann expressed an objection to that part of the resolution. It was the declaration of the well-documented GPD complicity that caused their dissent.
“While the loss of life is tragic at any time,” Abuzuaiter said, “I believe the city administration and police department acted as best they could with the information they had. I cannot therefor vote in favor of the resolution in its current form.”
Abuzuaiter is a longtime fierce defender of the police. In 2013, Eric Ginsburg reported for YES! Weekly that GPD emails named Abuzuaiter as one of the department’s most trusted confidential informants. Hoffmann’s statement was more nuanced, but also rejected the notion of police complicity.
“I find myself this evening in the difficult and almost impossible position of being in support of a formal resolution of apology, but unable to support this resolution based on its language indicting the Greensboro police department and other city personnel for an event that occurred 41 years ago and which really has been exhaustively investigated.”
Hoffmann stated what she called “legitimate reasons why the Truth and Reconciliation Process and its final report were rejected by former city councils in 2005 and 2007.” She then described the 1979 murders in terms that seemed to suggest the victims were also to blame, and that apologizing for their deaths then could undermine support for the current administration and police department.
“When angry, politically-motivated, inflammatory groups who spew hate and fear on both the left and the right choose to confront each other in a setting that puts others and a neighborhood in danger,” said Hoffmann, “it's not only unacceptable, it's despicable.”
On Thursday afternoon, this writer emailed Hoffmann the following question:
“As you may be aware, people on social media have cited this as an example of victim-blaming. To choose one example, do you think that Sandra Neely Smith, the former Bennett College student body president shot in the head as she tried to get children to safety, was someone ‘spewing hate and fear’?”
To date, Hoffmann has not responded. To a previous question, asking if she had considered the involvement of GPD informant Dawson before deciding to vote against the resolution, Hoffmann emailed:
“My public statement is part of the record of the October 6, 2020 meeting of the Greensboro City Council that voted on a Resolution of Apology. You may request a copy of that from the City Clerk.”
In that public record, Hoffmann also made the following statement:
“I wish this event had never occurred. We always grieve the loss of life. But I find nothing in the contemporaneous reporting of this event that convinces me of collusion or malicious action or inaction on the part of the Greensboro Police Department or city personnel. I unequivocally reject the thinking that, while this resolution indicts a police department 41 years ago, that it does not impact our current police department and chief. The words of this resolution continue to place our police department and our city under a cloud of negativity as we strive to continue moving forward and making progress in all areas, particularly this year, which has been very difficult and challenging.”
Hoffmann concluded that statement by invoking two revered figures, one recently deceased, the other a famous president explaining why he did not believe in punishing the defeated Confederacy.
“The late Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s dissents became as meaningful as her majority opinions. While I do not come close to the brilliance of Justice Ginsburg, it is my sincere and heartfelt hope that my minority opinion is reflective of a great deal of study and reflects the positions of many of our citizens in this city and is in the best interest of the city. Finally, I think we would be wise to recall and heed the words of Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address. ‘With malice towards none, charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see right, let strive on to finish the work that we are in.’”
Greensboro mayor Nancy Vaughan told YES! Weekly that the resolution was drafted by District 1’s Sharon Hightower, District 2’s Goldie Wells, District 5’s Tammi Thurm and herself over a period of weeks, and that “every council member had an opportunity for input.” Vaughan also said “I hope it gives some small comfort to the families of those killed and those injured that 41 years later the City recognizes the role the lack of police presence played in the outcome of that deadly day.”
When asked by YES! Weekly if the role played by Edward Dawson had been explicitly discussed by Council, Vaughan answered in the affirmative.
“We did. We acknowledged his existence in paragraph two. Since this wasn’t a report, we didn’t go into great detail about his role, but we knew that he had a copy of the parade permit. We knew that he was in conversation with the police. We knew that he had been in town in the days leading up to the March. He was one of the people found guilty in the civil trial.”
That last sentence was a reference to the 1980-1985 Federal Civil Rights lawsuit in which a Winston-Salem jury found two Klansmen, three Nazis, two Greensboro police officers, and police informant Dawson liable for the wrongful death of Dr. Michael Nathan, the one victim who was not a communist, and for injuries to survivors Paul Bermanzohn and Tom Clark (the jury refused to find any liability for the deaths of the four Communist Workers Party members). It was, to date, the only penalty to come out of the massacre.
The plaintiff attorneys who litigated that case included Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office of Chicago, who is currently on the team suing the city, eight GPD officers and two paramedics for the fatal hogtying of Marcus Deon Smith at the 2018 NC Folk Festival. It also included now-retired civil rights attorney Lewis Pitts, Jr, a longtime critic of the GPD and City Council.
Pitts gave YES! Weekly the following statement condemning what he described as false statements made by Hoffmann and Abuzuaiter.
“Both dissenters espoused sheer nonsense. Abuzuaiter several years ago was exposed as working as a confidential informant for the GPD. She lied and claimed her computer had been hacked. She always votes to coverup police misconduct. Hoffman cited old, outdated ‘reports’ that were part of the coverup of the police having extensive prior knowledge of the planned violent attack. She ignored the vast amount of undisputed evidence of that prior knowledge, much from the words of police officials themselves, that the federal civil rights trial revealed in 1985 and that has been well-documented by the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other sources. She tried to hide her nonsense by wrapping herself in the names of RBG and President Lincoln. Abuzuaiter and Hoffmann should be recused from any council votes dealing with police accountability, if not removed from council, because of their blinding biases.”
Guilford for All steering committee member Casey Thomas also told YES! Weekly she was appalled by Abuzuaiter and Hoffmann’s statements.
“The city council apologizing for the Greensboro Massacre is an important step because the truth matters, and because our elders have been fighting for a simple ‘we’re sorry’ for so long. This was an apology owed not only to the victims and survivors of the Greensboro Massacre, but also to the people of this city, whose relationship to the police department and local government has been damaged by the violence in 1979 and dishonesty since. The council people who decided to make the apology did a good and necessary thing. Apologies are the first step towards healing, when followed by changed behavior, which I very much hope to see in the form of increased police accountability. Marikay Abuzuaiter and Nancy Hoffmann, the two hold-outs, told us a lot about themselves, their values and the weight Black lives hold with them. Nancy Hoffmann said that the truth lies between two sides- when the two sides are the survivors of the Greensboro Massacre, and the Klan and Nazis. She called the victims and survivors of the massacre despicable, and blamed them for the Klan’s violence, implying that they shouldn’t have been as confrontational. We cannot have people making decisions about policing, or anything else that impacts Black people in Greensboro who think like that.”