Applications closed for the job of police chief in Greensboro on Monday ... Nov. 4.

One day after the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of what is now called the Greensboro Massacre.

On Nov. 3, 1979, heavily armed Klansmen and Nazis clashed with protesters at an anti-Klan rally in a Greensboro public housing community, Morningside Homes.

Eighty-eight seconds later, five people were dead, 10 wounded.

Why bring that up again? After all, it’s ancient history, right?

In a word, no. Because November 1979 still informs where we are in 2019.

In 1979, relations were strained between police and particularly the African American community. And they still are today.

Police tragically arrived on the scene only after the shooting had ended. In a civil judgment, a jury found members of the Greensboro Police Department, the Klan and the neo-Nazi group jointly liable for the wrongful death of one of the Nov. 3 victims.

So, on Tuesday, Nov. 5, some speakers at a City Council meeting were still demanding an apology for what happened in 1979. A previous council apologized two years ago, but some local black clergy told the council recently that the 2017 did not go far enough.

So, what is past is neither really past nor forgotten.

And whoever becomes the next chief will have to deal with that — in addition to the myriad other challenges that come with the job.

What is encouraging is the size of the field: Thirty-seven people want to be the new chief of police in Greensboro.

“That’s very promising to me,” Assistant City Manager Trey Davis told the News & Record’s Danielle Battaglia. “That lets me know we are getting strong candidates with diversity among the candidates.”

It is a good number to start with, down a little bit from the field of 44 who applied the last time the job was open, but still a big enough field, we hope, to offer a variety of good choices.

And they come from all over, including here. Davis said Tuesday that “a few” are internal candidates.

Most have advanced to key leadership positions in their present jobs. Twenty-seven hold the rank of deputy chief or higher.

What also is encouraging is the selection process itself. It began with a series of community meetings to seek input on the qualities residents want in the next chief. When turnout at some of those sessions fell short of expectations — and after some complaints that the times of the meetings weren’t convenient — the city added more times and more meetings. (Good to see a quick correction when the process veered off course.) The feedback from the public then was incorporated into the job description.

So here we are. Now consultants and city staff will winnow the field to 18 — then, with input from the council, to 16 candidates who will be evaluated by professionals and community members.

From there will emerge two or three finalists whose identities (and this is important) will be revealed to the public. Davis, the council and the consultants are hoping a new chief will be named before current Chief Wayne Scott retires on Jan. 31.

Obviously, this is one of the most critical jobs in the city. So it will be essential to get this right.

Thus far, the process has been painstaking and, most important, as open as possible.

If the city wants to build public trust in police, then it must trust the public to help pick the new chief.

Make sure you never miss our editorials, letters to the editor and columnists. We’ll deliver the News & Record's Opinion page straight to your inbox.

Load comments