Civil Rights Lawyer Flint Taylor Reflects On 40 Years Since Greensboro Massacre

Nov 1, 2019

As a law student in 1969, Flint Taylor wanted to make a difference in the fight for civil and human rights. He and other young lawyers teamed up and formed a law practice that went on to represent clients in high profile fights, including a civil suit that challenged the official story of slain Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton and a case that uncovered systemic use of torture by the Chicago Police Department to coerce confessions from African American men.

In his new book “The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago” (Haymarket Books/ 2019), Taylor reflects on his career of civil-rights-related cases. He joins host Frank Stasio to discuss the new book as well as his work on the 1979 Greensboro Massacre case, a violent clash between white supremacists and members of the Communist Workers’ Party that left five people dead. Taylor will be at Bennett College in Greensboro on Saturday, Nov. 2 for a series of panels and workshops commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre.

Interview Highlights

Flint Taylor on witnessing the bloody aftermath of a police attack on the Black Panthers:

As we got to the apartment … After the initial shock of seeing all the bullet holes that came from machine guns and shot guns from the police and the blood on the floor where Fred Hampton had been dragged after he was shot in his bed, it was clear that it was not a shootout, but it was a murder scene. … Over 13 years of legal and political and activist struggle, we were able to change — through exposure of the evidence and fighting in the courts — the narrative from it being a “shoot out” to being a “shoot in.” In fact, there were 90 or more bullets fired by the police, and at most one by the Panthers.

It was clear that it was not a shootout, but it was a murder scene.

On uncovering systemic use of torture by the Chicago Police Department:

The torture regime was brought to Chicago from a former Vietnam veteran. [He] was a military policeman on the POW camp in Vietnam where they were using torture techniques on the Vietnamese that they had in their custody, including using electric shock. And when he came back to Chicago and became a detective on the South Side … He had a gang of midnight detectives working with him who would interrogate suspects — selected suspects in serious cases — by using torture techniques. And the torture techniques that he and his men used included electric shock out of a black box using a generator and wires and clips and also other kinds of torture techniques, such as what they call dry submarino, suffocating or simulating suffocation with bags or typewriter covers over men’s heads and also mock executions by putting either shotguns or pistols into the mouth of the people that they were interrogating [and] pulling the trigger but not having any shells in the gun.

On the deadly 1979 conflict at an anti-Ku Klux Klan rally in Greensboro:

The Klan and the Nazis had formed an alliance during that period of time. And they plan to come to Greensboro because the Communist Workers' Party was having a demonstration that was based in part on anti-Klan rhetoric as well as anti-Klan activities … And the Klan very openly — with the knowledge of the Greensboro police and also of the FBI — planned to come in a caravan into Greensboro with many guns in their trunks and to violently attack that demonstration.

The Greensboro police had an informant who was participating in this, in fact, was in the caravan and was one of the agitators … But the police, who knew all about what might and most likely would happen, were absent. There was one police officer who was watching it and didn't do anything to stop it even though he had all sorts of information that the Klan was going to attack. The rest of the officers in the department were having coffee at the time. And so in broad daylight in front of the TV cameras who were filming this event, the Klan got out with shotguns, rifles and other weapons and mowed down five of the demonstrators and wounded many of the others. And that led to many years of struggle to try to expose the truth.

Archival images courtesy Greensboro News & Record.