20th anniversary of police bombing of MOVE
Published May 12, 2005 6:24 PM
On May 13, 1985, Philadelphia police dropped a bomb onto the headquarters of the MOVE organization in a residential Black neighborhood, starting a fire. City officials allowed it to burn, resulting in the murder of 11 people, five of them children, and the destruction of 61 homes.
MOVE bombed, 1985.
On the 20th anniversary of the state’s bombing of the MOVE organization house on Osage Avenue, there is still no justice for the victims of this horrific police assault. No state official was ever tried or convicted of murder.
A recent article in a Philadelphia newspaper opined that “the stigma has faded,” that “the ineptitude, the miscalculations, the miscommunications” of city officials on that day start “to pale” when compared to more recent events like “the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, May 8) Not once did the newspaper raise the racist nature of this abhorrent attack or point out the glaring injustice that no officials were charged with the murders.
Let us not forget.
The MOVE organization, started in the 1970s by John Africa, quickly earned a reputation for opposing social injustices. While often described as a “back to nature” movement, it was MOVE’s opposition to police brutality that led to confrontations with the state in the 1970s.
MOVE is not a pacifist organization. Its members believe in the right to bear arms in self-defense, and did so in 1977 after police jailed three members and attacked their home in the Powelton Village section of Philadelphia, killing a young child. A year-long siege by police came to a head on Aug. 8, 1978, when officers fired hundreds of rounds of ammunition into the basement of the MOVE house, where members had retreated.
Nine MOVE members were later convicted in connection with the shooting death of Philadelphia police officer James Ramp, even though evidence indicated that the bullet that killed Ramp could not have been fired from the MOVE house. Within 24 hours of the assault, police completely destroyed the MOVE home in Powelton Village, along with any evidence that would support the MOVE members’ defense. Three police officers who brutally and publicly beat MOVE member Delbert Africa after the shootout were acquitted.
Anticipating a renewed police attack, MOVE fortified the group’s new home in the 6200 block of Osage Avenue in a predominantly African-American area of west Philadelphia. They used a loud speaker system in an effort to educate their neighbors about the case of the MOVE 9 and the ongoing danger of police attack.
Saying they were responding to neighbors’ complaints, 500 police evacuated the neighborhood at dawn on May 13, 1985, then surrounded and attacked the house with over 10,000 rounds of ammunition in 90 minutes. Small explosive charges and water from fire department hoses were also used to attempt to penetrate the house. All the while, police and city officials were aware that several children were inside.
In January 1985, four months before the siege, a special agent of the FBI had given the Philadelphia police bomb squad 30 blocks of C-4, the most lethal of military plastic explosives. In the afternoon of May 13, a police helicopter dropped a bomb containing C-4 on the roof of the MOVE home on Osage Avenue, starting a fire.
The fire, which started on the roof of the house, was allowed to burn for 45 minutes before fire hoses were turned on. By then, the blaze was starting to devour the entire block. MOVE members who attempted to escape from the rear of the building were shot at by police. Only Ramona Africa and 13-year-old Birdie Africa escaped the fire. Eleven MOVE members were killed in the fire, and 250 area residents were left homeless.
Even though a special commission formed in 1986 to investigate the bombing concluded that police fired on MOVE members trying to escape, a grand jury denied this in 1988. No government official or police officer has ever faced criminal charges in connection with the MOVE deaths. All the Philadelphia bomb squad officers took the Fifth Amendment and refused to cooperate in any way with the commission.
Ramona Africa, however, was convicted of riot and conspiracy and served seven years in prison. After her release she won a federal civil-rights judgment against the city for $1.5 million. The only person to serve any prison time in connection with the bombing was Ramona Africa, the only adult member of MOVE to survive the fire.
More information on MOVE and the bombing is contained in an award-winning documentary produced by Cohort media called “MOVE.” It’s a must-see for any activist too young to remember the events of 20 years ago. Information on this documentary is available at http://www.movefilm.com.
On Saturday, May 14, MOVE and supporters will hold a rally and march to honor those killed on May 13, 1985, starting at 63rd and Osage. The march, from 10:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., will conclude at Malcolm X Park at 52nd and Pine, where speakers will give updates on the struggle to free the MOVE 9 and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
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