Let the Fire Burn:
The "Morally Reprehensible" Attack on MOVE
by Abby Zimet
In what many deem "the pinnacle of police brutality" - and the only time the U.S. has bombed its own citizens - Philadelphia police 30 years ago today fired 10,000 rounds and many tear gas cannisters at a house holding the Black Power group MOVE, dropped an explosive on them from a helicopter, then infamously decided to "let the fire burn." The ensuing conflagration killed 11 people, including 5 children, and destroyed over 60 houses. There were only two survivors: A woman who used the name Ramona Africa, and a 13-year-old boy Birdie Africa. A subsequent investigation and report called the police response "a criminally evil act." Marking what is often viewed as a case study in policy failures by police, prosecutors and judges whose bloody legacy lives on today, no law enforcement was ever held accountable.
The disastrous raid that incinerated the black working-and-middle-class neighborhood of rowhouses around Osage Avenue came after years of conflict between police and MOVE, a black radical "back to nature" commune formed in 1972; much of the antagonism stemmed from the 1978 killing of a cop in a shootout for which nine MOVE members were later and controversially convicted. Since then, the remaining MOVE members had holed up in a fortified house in West Philadelphia. When officials decided to evict them on May 13, 1985, over 500 police fired first teargas, then water hoses, then 10,000 rounds of ammunition before authorities ordered military-grade explosives to be dropped on the house from a helicopter. The bomb missed, and started a fire that quickly spread in the packed neighborhood. Despite the presence of the fire department and the reported 40,000 pounds of water they'd been blasting at the house, an executive decision was made to "let the fire burn." It ultimately destroyed 61 houses, leaving over 250 people homeless. Amidst the smoky inferno, Ramona and Birdie Africa staggered barefoot out of the wreckage; one officer recalled, “It was like he came out of fire.”
Much of what happened during the assault remains in dispute, including charges by the survivors that police fired on people trying to escape the flames. Not in dispute, according to hundreds of pages of documentation from both a MOVE Commission and subsequent Grand Jury investigation, was that the raid was an utterly disastrous "epic of governmental incompetence" perpetrated by all levels of law enforcement and government. Among the findings: "grossly negligent" police tactics, "excessive and unreasonable" firepower, "morally reprehensible behavior," along with "incompetence" and "cowardice," by the mayor and city officials, along with flawed intelligence, "an amazing leadership void," "terrible misjudgment," and the "unjustified homicides" of five children. “Dropping a bomb on an occupied rowhouse was unconscionable,” the Commission report concluded, with all but one member adding, "Police would not have done so, had the Move house and its occupants been situated in a comparable white neighborhood.”
Astoundingly, despite the blistering criticisms, the grand jury cleared everyone involved - that's everyone, from cops to mayor - of criminal liability. The city's lawyers reportedly worked hard to make that happen; one of their most infamous arguments was that bombing children was not illegal because the force of the bomb "was applied only against" the adults. In the end, nobody - that's nobody - was ever prosecuted. Oh, except one person: Ramona Africa was charged with conspiracy and riot, and served her entire seven years after she refused to renounce her MOVE membership. In 1996, she and other plaintiffs won a total $1.5m settlement from the city. Birdie, who became Michael Ward, died in 2013.
The raid's 30-year anniversary is being commemorated by a march and rally featuring Cornel West, Alice Walker and other activists on the still-black but now mostly abandoned block where it took place. A resident describes today's once thriving neighborhood as a war zone full of shootouts and drug dealers: “It’s hell living on Osage Avenue. We are ducking bullets and chasing prostitutes.” Again, the why is disputed. City officials say some residents have declined to accept the terms of a 2008 settlement, part of a class action suit against the city for sub-standard housing, so they can't rebuild; residents say the city just wants to get rid of them so it can gentrify the area with white, high-income residents.
The MOVE debacle continues to haunt many in the city. Jason Osder, a white filmmaker who made the 2013 documentary Let the Fire Burn using almost entirely archival footage, sees it as "a parable of how the unthinkable comes to happen...Everyone who was an adult in the city failed that day." Then as now, he says, it's about race and class “every single day of the week." Ramona Africa, now the only living MOVE survivor from that day, likewise links it to Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and all the rest. “These people that take an oath swearing to protect, to save lives – (the cops) don’t defend us. They kill us....It’s happening today because it wasn’t stopped in ’85. The only justice that can be done is people seeing this system for what it is.” And hopefully - see Baltimore - acting to change it.
The Time Police Bombed An American Neighborhood
Sep 26, 2013
By Christina Coleman
On May 13, 1985, a bomb was dropped on a row house in Philadelphia, unleashing a relentless fire that eventually burned down 61 houses, killed 11 people (including five children) and injured dozens.
The fire department stood by idly. The Philadelphia Police Department did the same. The fire raged on, swallowing up home after home until more than 200 were without shelter in an entire community distrustful of the individuals responsible for the blaze.
It’s a shameful part of recent American history that’s somehow been buried under 28 years and other destructions that have fallen on the city of Philadelphia. But in the wake of Birdie Africa’s death this week, the only child to survive the bombing, GlobalGrind decided to take a trip back in time to explore what happened the day American bombed its own people.
– The MOVE Organization is a Philadelphia-based black liberation group that preached revolution and advocated a return to nature lifestyle. They lived communally and vowed to lead a life uninterrupted by the government, police or technology. They were passionate supporters of animal rights and members adopted vegan diets. Members also adopted the surname “Africa.” Often times they would engage in public demonstrations related to issues they deemed important.
– MOVE did, however, have a past with the police. Since inception in 1972, the group was looked at as a threat to the Philadelphia Police Department. In 1978, police raided their Powelton Village home and as a result, one police officer died after being shot in the head. Nine MOVE members were arrested, charged with third-degree murder and sent to prison. They argued that the police officer was shot in the back of his head on his way into the home, challenging the claim that he was shot by members inside the house. Eventually the group relocated to the infamous house on 6221 Osage Street.
– There are differing reports about the group and how troublesome they actually were. According to AP, neighbors complained about their house on Osage, which was barricaded with plywood and allegedly contained a multitude of weapons. It has been said that the group built a giant wooden bunker on the roof and used a bullhorn to “scream obscenities at all hours of the night,” which angered those living in nearby row houses. Eventually, they turned to city officials for help, which put into motion the events of May 13, 1985.
– On that day armed police, the fire department and city officials gathered at the house in an attempt to clear it out and arrest MOVE members who had been indicted for crimes like parole violation and illegal possession of firearms. When police tossed tear gas canisters into the home, MOVE members fired back. In turn, the police discharged their guns.
– Eventually a police helicopter flew over the home and dropped two bombs on the row house. A ferocious blaze ensued.
– Witness and MOVE members say that when members started to run out of the burning structure to escape a fiery death, police continued to fire their weapons.
– The fire department delayed putting out the flames. After the blaze, they claimed they didn’t want to put their men in harms way, as MOVE members were still firing their guns. But MOVE members and witnesses say the wait was deliberate.
– In the end 11 people, including MOVE’s founder John Africa, were dead. Five children died in the home.
– This is the only child survivor (see picture below). His name is Birdie Africa but it was later changed to Michael Ward. He ran out of the burning house naked and covered in flames. He survived his third-degree burns and went on to live a normal life, although he was forever with the lifelong burn scars on his abdomen, arms and face.
– Michael Ward was found dead on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 in the jacuzzi aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean. He was on vacation with his family. Initial autopsy reports say he drowned.
– In the end, no one from the city government was charged criminally.
SOURCE & PHOTO CREDIT: AP, Philly, Independent research
Exclusive: Mumia Abu-Jamal Releases New Prison Radio Commentary on Walter Scott Shooting
Apr 10, 2015 | STORY
Wisconsin Activists to Continue Protests After Cop Avoids Charges in Killing of Tony Robinson
May 13, 2015 | STORY
As Feds Probe Baltimore Police, Cops in Freddie Gray Case Seek Removal of Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby
May 11, 2015 | STORY
"30 Years After MOVE" by Linn Washinton (The Root)
30 Years of Philly Bombing & Imprisonment of the MOVE
11, 2014 By onamove
May 13, 2015 marks 30 years since the unconscionable bombing and murder of my MOVE family by the US government. We don’t intend to allow officials or anybody else to forget what happened that day or what is really behind it- our unrelenting fight for the release of our innocent family members known as The MOVE 9. For this reason, we are asking our supporters, and anybody who understands the need to take a stand for justice, to be at our program here in Philadelphia on May 13, 2015.
Visit MOVE website here:
MOVE Children Led Thousand on Spirited March Through Philadelphia
May 10, 2015 by onamove
Shortly after noon on Weds. May 13, 2015, a crowd of about 500 activists where gathered at 62nd Street and Osage Avenue to remember the date 30 years ago when the Philadelphia police and FBI dropped a bomb on the main MOVE home, killing 11 and destroying blocks of home. MOVE children (children and grandchildren of imprisoned MOVE members) led a march of activists that steadily grew as it walked through Philadelphia.
Watch video of march: http://www.ustream.tv/search?q=mumia-abu-jamal. Also check out this live feed for a concert and cultural performances tonight from 4 – 9pm. Or stop by and see it live at First District Place at 3801 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA. There is a great line up planned including Cornel West, Rebel Diaz, Amina Baraka, Impact Theater, call-ins from Mumia Abu-Jamal, Delbert and Janine Africa among others.
we can see the extremes to which 'they' will go to keep the disadvantaged from becoming disruptive...
30 Years Ago Today, Philadelphia Police Dropped a Bomb on a Black Liberation Group
By Zaid Jilani / AlterNet -- May 13, 2015
You can watch a documentary about the extraordinary events here.
Today is the 30th anniversary of the day American police units used an unprecedented tactic to ferret out a group it sought for arrest: an aerial bombing.
In 1981, the black liberation group MOVE had relocated itself into a row house in West Philadelphia. MOVE soon faced complaints from neighbors about its boisterous political activities, which included loudly airing political messages during all times of the day.
By 1985, a number of MOVE members faced arrest warrants for charges including parole violations and illegal possession of firearms, and Philadelphia police moved to evict the group from their building and arrest their members.
MOVE resisted the arrest, and refused to leave their row house. Police responded with tear gas, and some in MOVE retaliated by firing at police.
This was when Philadelphia police commissioner Gregore Sambor made a radical call: he ordered a helicopter to drop an explosive device on top of the building to blow open the bunker at the top.
The bomb set off a fire that quickly spread, eventually burning down 61 homes and leaving 250 people homeless. 11 people in the MOVE rowhouse died, including five children.
In the aftermath of the bombing, Mayor Wilson Goode tasked a commission with investigating the actions of the police; they produced a report condemning the bombing, although no one was ever charged for their actions. In 1996, a federal jury did order the city to pay $1.5 million to Romona Africa, the only adult survivor of the bombing, and relatives of two others who were killed in the attack.
A local Philadelphia news crew produced a documentary about the bombing, which would the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1988. Watch it:
Zaid Jilani is an AlterNet staff writer. Follow @zaidjilani on Twitter.
Thirty years of police excess
by Fred McKissack ---- Progressive Media Project
On May 13, it will be 30 years since a Pennsylvania state police helicopter dropped explosives on the house of MOVE, an anarchist, black liberation group. This killed 11 people inside, including five children, destroying 65 other homes in the process. This anniversary comes as Baltimore endures massive protests and riots over the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police. It’s a savage reminder of how little trust there is between the black community and those who claim to protect it.
MOVE and the Philadelphia police had a violent history, including a 1978 raid by what some witnesses say was hundreds of armed police officers that ended with one officer dead, 16 cops and firefighters wounded, a MOVE member beaten by police in front of TV cameras as he tried to surrender, and nine MOVE members in jail.
In 1981, the organization moved to a row house in a black, middle-class neighborhood in west Philadelphia. Tensions rose quickly between residents and MOVE, as the latter composted human feces, boarded up windows, and blared revolutionary rhetoric on bullhorns. And there was, police believed, evidence of a growing cache of guns.
The neighbors — who had tried talking with MOVE, but to no avail — wanted action against a problem neighbor. After years of letting the crisis fester, the police launched a military operation, and that’s how a section of west Philadelphia turned into a war zone.
By the evening of May 13, 11 people were dead, the neighborhood was in flames, and Americans, like me, were trying to sort out the truth. We would learn, from a commission that looked into the bombing, that the city acted irresponsibly, some would even say criminally, in its handling of MOVE. No one was arrested for the bombing.
In 1996, a federal jury ordered the city to pay $1.5 million, for the city’s use of excessive force, to Ramona Africa, the only surviving adult member of MOVE, and relatives of two of the victims.
Thirty years ago, as a 19 year old, I dared to dream that when I reached my parents’ age, America would be a more inclusive place. I am now 49, with a son, and the future looks murky.
Baltimore is the latest chapter in the long, brutal story of black America. Those assigned to protect black neighborhoods from criminals are seen as protectors of privilege. A kid is arrested and badly beaten for mouthing off while Wall Street bankers crash the global economy and not one of them goes to jail. Blacks continue to stare at an expansive gap in education, employment and income that hasn’t narrowed in 50 years.
In 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., speaking in Grosse Pointe, Mich., then and now a white suburban enclave of Detroit, observed then what we should observe now.
“I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard,” he said. “What is it America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
MOVE was born of that failure. Ferguson and Baltimore were born of that failure. Are we doomed by racism or can we ever, finally, overcome?
Writer and editor Fred McKissack lives in Fort Wayne, Ind. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright Fred McKissack
Without hope, inner-city residents will take to the streets
by Alvaro Huerta --- Progressive Media Project
Those of us who grew up in ghettoes and barrios are all too familiar with police misconduct and government negligence. The response from inner-city Baltimore residents comes as no surprise to us.
Long before I became a professor, studying cities and the disenfranchised communities that inhabit them, I was raised in East LA’s notorious housing projects, where I experienced abject poverty, violence and a deep sense of hopelessness.
Two entities ruled the projects: the neighborhood gang and the police.
While I never joined the gang — not because I felt morally superior, but because I lacked the necessary physical attributes — I didn’t experience any abuse or pressure from gang members. This is mainly because we all attended elementary school together, played street ball, and took different paths in our teens without any conflict.
However, I only had negative encounters with the police. Growing up, it was clear to me that in the eyes of the police, we — poor project kids — all looked alike and were up to no good.
We are taught from a young age that we must be responsible for our actions and pay the consequences when we do something wrong. Thus, when no one is held accountable for the deadly and abusive behavior by the same people enlisted to “protect and to serve” the public, there comes a point where those on the receiving end of injustice demand to be heard on the streets.
This is not a new phenomenon. A full 50 years ago, we had the Watts riots. More than 20 years ago, we had the riots in Los Angeles. And now we have Baltimore. These are not isolated incidents, but collective expressions of despair and hopelessness.
While it’s politically convenient for the media and politicians to scapegoat the victims of racial segregation and government neglect by referring to Baltimore protesters as “thugs” and “criminals,” it’s more difficult to look at the root causes that led to the recent disturbances. Why don’t those in power also use these pejorative terms when describing the civic leaders, politicians, government officials and business leaders who have played a major role during the past century in creating impoverished ghettos and barrios through racist and anti-worker policies, such as race restrictive covenants, redlining, residential segregation, dysfunctional public schools, white flight and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to foreign countries?
We must stop blaming the victims of an unequal society and strive to create a more just society for all. No other child should have the same experience that I did growing up.
Alvaro Huerta is an assistant professor of urban and regional planning and ethnic and women’s studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is the author of “Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Towards a Humanistic Paradigm,” published by San Diego State University Press (2013) and can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright Alvaro Huerta
Why the Baltimore uprising happened
by Eddie Conway
and Dominque Demetrea Stevenson
--- Progressive Media Project
The Baltimore uprising was a long time in the making.
For years, the African-American community has been subjected to constant abuse at the hands of the Baltimore City Police Department. In 2010, the city was forced to settle a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union in which the organization alleged that police was engaging in a pattern of false arrest. Between 2011 and 2014, the city paid out $5.7 million to victims of police abuse.
These are known instances; many others go unreported. And in the memory of the black people of Baltimore, there is an endless stream of people who have experienced abuse, too numerous to name: a mother, a son, a neighbor or an uncle.
The other constant in Baltimore has been the absence of justice. There is no way to deliver true justice in all these cases of abuse, since the experience — be it murder, a beating, or simply the threat of violence — cannot be reversed. Neither can the loss of humanity experienced by the victim be easily or fully restored.
In many cities across the United States, police are given free rein to rule over black and brown communities, and they impose a presumed criminality upon the residents, especially the youth in these communities. Freddie Gray, a young man who had previously been invisible to so many people, has suddenly become a symbol for the injustice that African-Americans suffer at the hands of those paid to keep people in poorer communities out of view.
The Sandtown-Winchester community where Gray lived has the highest incarceration rate in the state of Maryland. This is the result of the aggressive style of policing in the area. For instance, while the protests around Gray were happening, another man, not one of those protesting, was stopped by police for jaywalking. According to him, the situation escalated quickly. Before he knew it, he was on the ground and the cops were using a stun gun on him. He was arrested and later released.
Police abuse is a symptom of something larger. The median household income in Sandtown-Winchester is $24,412. The few businesses that exist in this and the surrounding communities are mom-and-pop corner stores and carry-outs, owned almost exclusively by people who are not from these communities. Most often, they don’t employ residents, and even if they did, it would not be enough to create viable economic development. The vast majority of people from this community who find work obtain it in the service occupations. An estimated 43 percent of residents live below the poverty level. There are thousands of Freddie Grays in this community and throughout Baltimore.
The uprising was a moment, and like a vehicle running hot, loosening the valve may temporarily take the pressure off. But there is still lots of work to be done.
Eddie Conway, a former Black Panther, is a producer for the Real News TV network, the author of two books and a community organizer. Dominque Demetrea Stevenson is currently the director of the American Friends Service Committee – Friend of a Friend program in Baltimore. She is the co-author of “Marshall Law: The Life and Times of a Baltimore Black Panther” and has written a novel, “Blues Before Sunrise.” The authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright Eddie Conway and Dominque Demetrea Stevenson
FREE THE MOVE 9
Almost 35 years after the Aug. 8, 1978 confrontation in Philadelphia, the eight remaining “MOVE 9″ prisoners are still being denied parole, after becoming eligible in 2008. MOVE is asking for support in building public pressure for the MOVE 9′s release.
Linn Washington, award-winning journalist and former columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune who has covered MOVE since 1975. He teaches journalism at Temple University.
Mumia Abu-Jamal, imprisoned journalist held at SCIMahoney. He reported extensively on MOVE before he was convicted of killing a police officer, a crime he maintains he did not commit.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of a massive police operation in Philadelphia that culminated in the helicopter bombing of the headquarters of a radical group known as MOVE. The fire from the attack incinerated six adults and five children, and destroyed 65 homes. Despite two grand jury investigations and a commission finding that top officials were grossly negligent, no one from city government was criminally charged. MOVE was a Philadelphia-based radical movement dedicated to black liberation and a back-to-nature lifestyle. It was founded by John Africa, and all its members took on the surname Africa. We are joined in Philadelphia by Linn Washington, an award-winning journalist, professor and former columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune who has covered MOVE since 1975.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Today marks the 30th anniversary of a massive police operation in Philadelphia that culminated in the helicopter bombing of the headquarters of a radical group known as MOVE. The fire from the attack incinerated six adults and five children, and destroyed 65 homes. Despite two grand jury investigations and a commission finding that top officials were grossly negligent, no one from city government was criminally charged. Here is how the bombing was initially reported in Philadelphia on WCAU [TV].
WCAU ANCHOR: I’ve just been advised that we have new videotape of the episode that apparently ended—we think ended—the MOVE situation tonight: the dropping of an incendiary device. And let’s take a careful look at this. 5:27 p.m., state police helicopter drops it. There is the explosion. As you can see, a very dramatic explosion that occurs 30 seconds and really rips into the MOVEcompound. There you see the bunker, which soon will go up in flames. And that was the explosion close-up. Now, if there’s anybody there standing there, it’s obvious they couldn’t survive that explosion.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was WCAU TV, actually. We saw some video there. MOVE was a Philadelphia-based radical movement dedicated to black liberation and a back-to-nature lifestyle. It was founded by John Africa, and all its members took on the surname Africa. In 2010, Ramona Africa, the sole adult survivor of the attack, told Democracy Now!what happened as the bomb was dropped on her house.
RAMONA AFRICA: In terms of the bombing, after being attacked the way we were, first with four deluge hoses by the fire department and then tons of tear gas, and then being shot at—the police admit to shooting over 10,000 rounds of bullets at us in the first 90 minutes—there was a lull. You know, it was quiet for a little bit. And then, without any warning at all, two members of the Philadelphia Police Department’s bomb squad got in a Pennsylvania state police helicopter and flew over our home and dropped a satchel containing C4, a powerful military explosive that no municipal police department has. They had to get it from the federal government, from the FBI. And without any announcement or warning or anything, they dropped that bomb on the roof of our home.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Ramona Africa, the sole adult survivor of the attack on MOVE 30 years ago today. Today, a memorial will take place at the site of the bombing on Osage Avenue.
Well, for more, we’re joined in Philadelphia by Linn Washington, award-winning journalist, former columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune who has covered MOVE since 1975. He teaches journalism at Temple University. Both he and Juan were there that day covering MOVE, the MOVE bombing, for the Philadelphia Daily News.
We welcome you back to Democracy Now!, Linn. Talk about that day, and Juan, too, your memories.
LINN WASHINGTON: Good morning, Amy. Good morning, Juan. The one word that I would use to describe that day is "surreal," to have witnessed a police firing 10,000 bullets within a 90-minute period—the bullets were so intense that they were raining from the sky like hail—and then, later in the afternoon, to see a bomb dropped on a house occupied by children. And then the very callous decision of the authorities to let the fire burn was just unreal. It’s a sight and a memory that I can’t get out of my mind.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Linn, I remember it was on Mother’s Day, 1985, and we were out there most of the day and saw that helicopter suddenly hover over the house and drop something. And I remember saying to you at the time, "What’s going on?" until the explosion occurred. But the most fascinating thing, as you said, and most people are not aware, is how long before—after the bomb dropped before the firefighters even attempted to douse the flames that erupted.
LINN WASHINGTON: It was almost an hour, because we were sitting there on Cobbs Creek Parkway, and you and I were both talking, and actually talking to some of the firefighters as to why they weren’t doing it, and the firefighters didn’t know. What they didn’t—what they were told was to not fight the fire, which is unbelievable. And we could watch—or, actually, we saw the fire go from what looked like the beginning of a backyard barbecue grill fire to a blazing inferno. And we just literally watched it jump across the rooflines and also across the street. So by the time that the decision was finally made to fight the fire, it was a blazing inferno, and it was totally out of control.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about who was in government, Juan, at the time. Who was the police commissioner? Who was the mayor? How did this bombing take place? The police bombed not just the MOVE house; it ended up burning down two blocks, city blocks, in Philadelphia.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, yeah, since the—because they didn’t fight the fire, and it spread and destroyed the entire, you know, square block area. But, obviously, the mayor at the time, Linn, was Wilson Goode, the first African-American mayor of the city, and the commission report later indicated that Goode really wasn’t in control of the situation, was he? It was the police commissioner and the fire commissioner.
AMY GOODMAN: So, it was Rizzo entirely?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: No, it wasn’t Rizzo. It was the—who was the police commissioner? It’s been so long ago, I’ve forgotten.
LINN WASHINGTON: The police commissioner at the—yes, I’m sorry, the police commissioner at the time was a guy named Gregore Sambor. And he—Mayor Goode appointed him because they were trying to purge the department, in some way, of the influence of Frank Rizzo, who had been the police commissioner and then the mayor during the '70s, when police brutality reached epidemic levels in Philadelphia. One of the things that gets lost in all of this is that, yes, there was this horrific bombing in the middle of May, May 13th, the day after Mother's Day in 1985, but weeks—actually, a few days before the bombing, Sambor had ordered a anti-drug sweep that ended up arresting hundreds of people who were innocent, had nothing to do with drugs. The city ended up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle that. And two weeks later, there was a dragnet in a Hispanic neighborhood where they were arresting people from six to 65 years old in an investigation involving the death of a police officer. And that death was initially reported as a domestic dispute between a police officer, another police officer and a policewoman who was married to one of the police officers.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Ramona Africa, the sole adult survivor of the attack, describing what happened after the bomb was dropped on her house.
RAMONA AFRICA: And without any announcement or warning or anything, they dropped that bomb on the roof of our home. Now, at that point, we didn’t know exactly what they had done. We heard the loud explosion. The house kind of shook. But it never entered my mind that they dropped a bomb on us. But the bomb did in fact ignite a fire. And not long after that, it got very, very hot in the house, and the smoke was getting thicker. At first we thought it was tear gas. But as it got thicker, it became clear that this wasn’t tear gas, that this was something else. And then we could hear the trees outside of our house crackling and realized that our home was on fire. And we immediately tried to get our children, our animals, our dogs and cats, and ourselves out of that blazing inferno.
AMY GOODMAN: Ramona Africa, sole adult survivor of the attack. So talk about who died, Linn, how people tried to escape, and what happened.
LINN WASHINGTON: Yes, the—inside the house were, at that point, five children aged seven to 13 years old. They perished, along with six adults. One of the six adults was the founder of the MOVE organization, John Africa. A number of MOVE members tried to escape, and as you’ve indicated, Ramona was the sole surviving adult. There was a child named Birdie Africa, who later became Michael Ward. They were able to escape. When they were coming out, we heard gunfire. And it was later determined that the police fired on the escaping MOVE members, driving some of them back into the house. But in the convoluted logic that many of us have seen over the last year from grand juries in St. Louis County and in New York and in southern Ohio, where the guy was shot in a Wal-Mart, the grand jury, under the control of Philadelphia prosecutors, determined that MOVE members ran back into the house not because police were firing at them, but because they mistakenly believed that police were firing at them and/or they ran back to intentionally commit suicide.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Linn, what did the—what were the main conclusions of the MOVE Commission that was established subsequent to that tragedy?
LINN WASHINGTON: Well, the MOVE Commission, which was a panel that the—Mayor Goode had set up to investigate it, but had no power to do anything other than make recommendations, found monumental incompetence on the part of all city officials, from the mayor through the managing director to the police director—or, should I say, the police commissioner. One of the findings, though—I think one of the most prominent findings was that the deaths of those children were unjustified homicides, and they recommended a criminal investigation and also charges to be brought. The grand jury determined that they were not unjustified homicides, that the deaths were as a result of this proposed or presumed suicide. And they came to many startling conclusions, one of which was the bomb that was dropped on the children, there was no illegality there because the force of the bomb only applied to the adults in the house, as if the bomb could blow up and the fire could burn, and it wouldn’t impact the children. It was absolutely ridiculous, but it’s the kind of convoluted reasoning we see too often with grand juries involving issues of police abuse.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to imprisoned journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who’s being held at SCI Mahanoy. He reported extensively on MOVE before he was convicted of killing a police officer, a crime he says he did not commit. Last month, he recorded a new essay for the 30th anniversary of the MOVE bombing from prison.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: May 13th at 30, why should we care what happened on May 13th, 1985? I mean, seriously, that was 30 years ago, a long time ago, way back when. Know what I mean? Most people won’t say that, but they think that. Why, indeed? I’ll tell you why. Because what happened then is a harbinger of what’s happening now all across America. I don’t mean bombing people—not yet, that is. I mean the visceral hatreds and violent contempt once held for MOVE is now visited upon average people, not just radicals and revolutionaries like MOVE. In May 1985, police officials justified the vicious attacks on MOVE children by saying they, too, were combatants. In Ferguson, Missouri, as police and National Guard confronted citizens, guess how cops described them in their own files. "Enemies." Enemy combatants, anyone? Then look at 12-year-old Tamir Rice of Cleveland. Boys, men, girls, women—it doesn’t matter. When many people stood in silence, or worse, in bitter acquiescence, to the bombing, shooting and carnage of May 13, 1985, upon MOVE, they opened the door to the ugliness of today’s police terrorism from coast to coast. There is a direct line from then to now. May 13, 1985, led to the eerie robocop present. If it had been justly and widely condemned then, there would be no now, no Ferguson, no South Carolina, no Los Angeles, no Baltimore. The barbaric police bombing of May 13, 1985, and the whitewash of the murders of 11 MOVE men, women and children opened a door that still has not been closed. We are today living with those consequences. From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
AMY GOODMAN: Mumia Abu-Jamal recorded that commentary in prison. Last night, a prison nurse called Abu-Jamal’s wife and told her he had been moved to the hospital for a second time this year. His supporters say they’re concerned he had a fever, and open wounds and sores on his leg. That does it for our show on this 30th anniversary of the MOVE bombing. Thanks so much to Linn Washington in Philadelphia.