MOVE Bombing 25 Years Later – John Leslie
originally published in Socialist Action in 2010
25 years ago this week, the City of Philadelphia dropped a bomb on a house occupied by members of the MOVE organization. It’s the crime that city officials and the capitalist media want you to forget.
What happened: Cops surrounded the house at 6221 Osage Avenue in West Philly on May 12, 1985 following alleged complaints by neighbors. At dawn on May 13, cops forced the evacuation of the neighborhood and attacked the house – firing more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition in 90 minutes. Fire trucks deluged the house with 450,000 gallons of water. Later that day, a police helicopter dropped a bomb, made of the explosives C-4 and Tovex, on the roof of the house in order to get rid of what cops and the media term as a”bunker.” The “bunker” remained intact, but a fire broke out. Police Commissioner Gregore J. Sambor and Fire Commissioner William C. Richmond decided to let the fire burn in order to take out the alleged bunker. The fire burned out of control destroying the neighborhood.
The result being the deaths of 6 adult members of MOVE, including founder John Africa, and 5 children. 61 homes were destroyed and more than 250 people were left homeless. Not one of the cops or city officials who perpetrated this crime served a day in jail. One of the survivors, Ramona Africa, is the only person to serve any jail time in this whole catastrophe.
The bombing of the MOVE house can’t be understood in isolation from events of past years. The MOVE organization had been targeted by racist Philly cops since its inception. In 1977 cops attacked MOVE members, killing a small child. In 1978, a year-long seige of the MOVE house in Powellton Village was ended when cops fired hundreds of rounds into the house. 9 MOVE members were convicted of killing a cop, James Ramp, in spite of evidence indicating that the cop was killed by “friendly fire.” Within 24 hours of the 1978 attack on MOVE, the house was razed by bulldozers destroying any evidence that may have freed the MOVE 9. The surviving MOVE 9 members remain in prison
It was after this attack that MOVE members moved to Osage Avenue and fortified the house there.
Capitalist Media Hack Job This past Sunday the Philadelphia Inquirer published a retrospective on the 25th anniversary of the MOVE bombing. The way it is written is such that it’s really a justification of the MOVE bombing disguised as “impartial and balanced” journalism. The article makes numerous references to MOVE as a cult. The implication in a companion article by Monica Yant Kinney (The madness of MOVE continues) is that MOVE murdered John Gilbride (ex-husband of a MOVE member) – even though the cops have never made a case against anyone. Kinney writes that MOVE members are living high on the hog on their settlement money and that the children of MOVE are neglected and abused. The main article says that Mumia was an “acolyte” of John Africa. All language designed to make the reader think that MOVE had it coming.
The (not so) hidden message? That the members of MOVE and their supporters are all crazy, and hypocrites, and that the bombing of the MOVE house, while unfortunate, should be blamed on the “crazy cult.” How easily and seamlessly our bourgeois press justifies the killing of people with a bomb and the burning of an entire neighborhood. In order to justify state murder of people you first have to demonize and objectify the victims.
Marking the anniversary: Supporters of justice for those killed and for survivors, held a series of events on Wednesday, May 12. At 9 AM, attorneys for MOVE delivered murder charges agaisnt the officials involved in this crime to the court. In Pennsylvania, unlike some other states, private individuals have the right to bring criminal complaints in case the District Attorney fails or refuses to do so. Of course, no one should have any illusions that workers and the oppressed will get any real justice from capitalist courts.
At 10 am, lawyers and supporters, including Dr. Suzanne Ross of the NY Free Mumia Committee and Fred Hampton, Jr., spoke at a press conference at the American Friends Service Committee. The press conference was chaired by Ramona Africa, one of two survivors of the MOVE bombing. At 3 PM a “honk against police terrorism” at City Hall was followed by a march to the African-American Museum at 8th and Arch.
At 6pm, two films were shown at the African-American Museum; the first about the 1978 confrontation with police and the other about the 1985 bombing. Speakers included Fred Hampton Jr. (son of assassinated Black Panther Party leader, Fred Hampton) and journalist Linn Washington.