1985 MOVE bombing
|1985 MOVE bombing|
|Location||6221 Osage Ave, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States|
|Date||May 13, 1985|
|Airstrike with improvised explosive device|
|Perpetrators||Philadelphia Police Department|
The 1985 MOVE bombing refers to the May 13, 1985, incident in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, when the Philadelphia Police Department bombed a residential home occupied by the black group MOVE, and the Philadelphia Fire Department let the subsequent fire burn out of control following a standoff and firefight. A lawsuit in federal court found that the city used excessive force and violated constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Sixty-one homes were burned to the ground over two city blocks.
In 1981, MOVE relocated to a row house at 6221 Osage Avenue in the Cobbs Creek area of West Philadelphia. Neighbors complained to the city for years about trash around their building, confrontations with neighbors, and bullhorn announcements of political messages by MOVE members. The bullhorn was broken and inoperable for the three weeks prior to the police bombing of the row house.
The police obtained arrest warrants in 1985 charging four MOVE occupants with crimes including parole violations, contempt of court, illegal possession of firearms, and making terroristic threats. Mayor Wilson Goode and police commissioner Gregore J. Sambor classified MOVE as a terrorist organization. Police evacuated residents of the area from the neighborhood prior to their action. Residents were told that they would be able to return to their homes after a 24-hour period.
On Monday, May 13, 1985, nearly 500 police officers, along with city manager Leo Brooks, arrived in force and attempted to clear the building and execute the arrest warrants. Water and electricity were shut off in order to force MOVE members out of the house. Commissioner Sambor read a long speech addressed to MOVE members that started with, "Attention MOVE: This is America. You have to abide by the laws of the United States." When the MOVE members did not respond, the police decided to forcibly remove the people who remained in house, which consisted of seven adults and six children.
There was an armed standoff with police, who lobbed tear gas canisters at the building. The MOVE members fired at them, and a gunfight with semi-automatic and automatic firearms ensued. Police used more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition before Commissioner Sambor ordered that the compound be bombed. From a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter, Philadelphia Police Department Lt. Frank Powell proceeded to drop two 1-pound (0.5 kg) bombs (which the police referred to as "entry devices") made of FBI-supplied Tovex, a dynamite substitute, targeting a fortified, bunker-like cubicle on the roof of the house.
The ensuing fire killed 11 of the people in the house, six adults and five children. The names of those killed in the fire are as follows: John Africa, Rhonda Africa, Theresa Africa, Frank Africa, Conrad Africa, Tree Africa, Delisha Africa, Netta Africa, Little Phil Africa, Tomaso Africa, and Raymond Africa. The fire spread and eventually destroyed approximately 65 nearby houses. After the fire broke out, firefighters were held back and the high powered water cannons at their disposal, called "squirts", were not turned on until one and a half hours after the bomb was dropped. Mayor Goode later testified at a 1996 trial that he had ordered the fire to be put out only after the bunker had burned. Sambor said he received the order, but the fire commissioner testified that he did not receive the order. Ramona Africa, one of the two MOVE survivors from the house, said that police fired at those trying to escape.
Mayor Goode appointed an investigative commission called the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission (PSIC, aka MOVE Commission), chaired by William H. Brown, III. Commissioner Sambor resigned in November 1985; in a speech the following year, he said that he was made a "surrogate" by Goode.
The MOVE Commission issued its report on March 6, 1986. The report denounced the actions of the city government, stating that dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable. Following the release of the report, Goode made a formal public apology. No one from the city government was criminally charged in the attack. The only surviving adult MOVE member, Ramona Africa, refused to testify in court and was charged and convicted on charges of riot and conspiracy; served seven years in prison.
In 1996, a federal jury ordered the city to pay a $1.5 million civil suit judgment to survivor Ramona Africa and relatives of two people killed in the bombing. The jury had found that the city used excessive force and violated the members' constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Ramona was awarded $500,000 for the pain, suffering and physical harm suffered in the fire. In 1985, Philadelphia was given the sobriquet "The City that Bombed Itself".
In 2005, federal judge Clarence Charles Newcomer presided over a civil trial brought by residents seeking damages for having been displaced by the widespread destruction following the 1985 police bombing of MOVE. A jury awarded them a $12.83 million verdict against the City of Philadelphia.
In November 2020, the Philadelphia City Council approved a resolution to formally apologize for the MOVE bombing. The measure also established an annual day of "observation, reflection and recommitment" on May 13, the anniversary of the bombing.
Use of human remains from the bombings
Since the bombing, the bones of two children, 14-year-old Tree and 12-year-old Delisha, were kept at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. In 2021, WHYY-TV's Billy Penn revealed that according to the museum, the remains had been transferred to researchers at Princeton University, though the university was unaware of their exact whereabouts. The remains had been used by Janet Monge, an adjunct professor in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and a visiting professor in the same subject at Princeton University, in videos for an online forensics course named “Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology,” as case studies. Present-day MOVE members were shocked to learn this, with Mike Africa Jr. stating “They were bombed, and burned alive ... and now you wanna keep their bones.”
The city stated the remains had gone unclaimed by the families after the bombing, but in May 2021, the city of Philadelphia's Health Commissioner, Thomas Farley, resigned under pressure after it was revealed that in 2017 he ordered the cremation and disposal of victims' remains without either identifying them or contacting members of the family. A day after Farley's resignation staff at the Medical Examiner’s Office found the box labeled “MOVE” in a refrigerated area of their office containing the un-cremated remains. Mike Africa Jr stated that the Africa family have not yet decided what to do with the remains.
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The Move property on Osage Avenue had become notorious for its abundant litter of garbage and human waste and for its scurrying rats and dozens of dogs. Bullhorns blared forth obscene tirades and harangues at all times of day and night. MOVE members customarily kept their children out of both clothes and school. They physically assaulted some neighbors and threatened others.
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