The History of the Greensboro Police Department

Naima Said

Staff Writer

GREENSBORO, N.C — Marcus Deon Smith, a 38-year-old African American man, was a victim of police misconduct that ultimately led to his death. He was hogtied by eight Greensboro Police Department officers in 2018 at the Greensboro Folk Festival. 

Thousands of protesters took to the streets criticizing the City of Greensboro’s response to the ruled homicide after the Department of Justice gave warning about the use of hogtying as a form of restraint. 

PC: “File:Greensboro massacre march.jpg” by The Romero Institute is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

American civil rights attorney, George Flint Taylor, who is defending Marcus Smith’s court case is also known for his work on the trial related to the death of Illinois Chairman of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton. 

On December 4th, 1969, Hampton along with another Black Panther activist, Mark Clark, were killed by police during a raid, wounding four others in the process. After filing a civil rights suit with his colleagues at the People’s Law Office, Taylor sued The Chicago Police Department and other officials for $47.7 million, but the case was settled at $1.85 million in 1982. 

Taylor is also recognized for being one of the top trial counsels for another high-profile case, The Greensboro Massacre. On November 3rd, 1979, five protesters who were part of the Communist Workers Party were shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Party. The Communist Workers Party’s “Death to the Klan” march took place in a predominantly black housing project, Morningside Homes. 

In 1984, Taylor accused the GPD of racial hatred relating to their failure to intervene in the shootout or apprehend the assailants. Ultimately, the judge dismissed the case and all nine defendants were acquitted. 

When a rally takes place, police are normally present and intervene if necessary. The GPD was mysteriously absent when five citizens were shot in the middle of a local community. A lack of police at the scene enabled the KKK to murder five people and successfully flee.

Edward Dawson, who was a Klansman and informant for the police, was at the scene leading the caravan. He was followed by a police photographer and detective, who did not intervene when violence broke out. 

Dr. Sally Bermanzohn is a professor of political science who survived the Greensboro Massacre. In her book, “Through Survivor’s Eyes: From the Sixties to the Greensboro Massacre”, she revealed that police were warned by a Klansman about the organized shootout and were even given a layout of the march. 

That same behavior is still alive in the GPD today.

“Help me” is what Marcus Smith said before he stopped breathing, as seen on the officer’s body cam. Smith voluntarily got into a cop car after wandering the streets in obvious distress. He became agitated and tried to exit the vehicle when police used excessive force by placing his head down on the pavement and began binding him. 

Hogtying is also known as being “maximally restrained.” Smith was neither committing a crime nor under arrest. He carried no weapons on him and yet the officers violated department standards by not extending Smith’s knees greater than 90 degrees in order to prevent positional asphyxiation. 

The city of Greensboro, which is supposed to serve the public interest, has instead spent $414,000 on private lawyers to get the case dismissed of any misconduct. Rather than compensating the Smith family for his death or making an effort to retrain how their police department engages with civilians; Greensboro decided that money was better spent fighting Smith’s parents.

Within a timeframe of over 40 years, we have noticed a pattern in our city. We continue to put people in charge that are supposed to protect us, yet the police still exhibit reckless behavior by inflicting harm on the very people they are paid to protect. In the case of the Greensboro Massacre, the police knew what was about to happen and chose not to stop it. As for Smith, eight GPD officers looked on at a man hogtied on the ground, slowly and painfully choking, and chose not to intervene when the homicide occurred. None of the officers in either of the cases were reprimanded. As a city, we continue to choose willful ignorance and create cultural scapegoats, and until we fix that, history will continue to repeat itself.

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