15 Years Since the Police Bombing of MOVE
Never Forgive, Never Forget
Revolutionary Worker #1057, June 4, 2000
By dawn, May 13, 1985 hundreds of police armed with automatic weapons had surrounded 6221 Osage Avenue, the home of Philadelphia's radical MOVE organization. Police Commissioner Sambor shouted through a bullhorn: "Attention, MOVE! This is America! You have to abide by the laws of the United States!" In the hours that followed, Philadelphia's police wrote an ugly new chapter in America's history of brutalizing and murdering Black people.
Over many years Philadelphia's power structure earned itself a reputation for brutal treatment of radical and revolutionary Black movements. In 1966 the Philadelphia police, under their notorious chief Frank Rizzo, raided four meeting places of the civil rights organization SNCC, planting dynamite in one of the locations to justify further repression. In 1970 Rizzo's men raided three offices of the Black Panther Party. Many people still remember with anger how Philly police beat the arrested Panthers, then forced them to strip off their clothes and line up naked in public.
In the 1970s then-Mayor Rizzo attacked a new organization, MOVE, that was emerging from Philadelphia's Black community. MOVE refused to respect present-day America and its prevailing values. Its members openly defied official power and tirelessly preached against a system they considered utterly corrupt and destructive of life on this planet, particularly through the use of modern technology. And when threatened and confronted by the authorities, they did not back down. From its beginning, MOVE has exposed the rulers of this society for the liars, racists and murderers that they are.
Confrontations escalated between MOVE and the Philadelphia power structure. MOVE members were constantly arrested and harassed. In late 1977 the police launched a siege of the MOVE house in the neighborhood called Powelton Village. After ten months of continuous conflict, 600 police attacked MOVE's house. Gunfire erupted. MOVE members were brutalized and arrested. Nine MOVE members were railroaded to long prison sentences--supposedly for killing a cop who most likely died from police gunfire. In 1981 the authorities attacked Mumia Abu-Jamal, a well-respected radio reporter and MOVE supporter. Mumia was shot, beaten, and framed for murder by the police.
In the face of all this repression, MOVE continued to fight to free Mumia and its imprisoned family members called the MOVE 9. After MOVE moved into a new house on Osage Avenue, police agents worked with conservative elements in the surrounding community to create a new confrontation with MOVE.
On May 13, 1985, after months of planning, the police moved into Osage Avenue. For hours the police pounded the MOVE house with thousands of bullets. Then, at 5:25 in the afternoon, a police helicopter dropped a bomb onto MOVE's roof---packed with C-4 military explosive provided by the FBI. The explosion ignited a firestorm. The MOVE house burned, and flames spread to the surrounding row-houses. Firefighters were ordered to let the fire burn.
The whole surrounding block of homes--61 houses in all--were destroyed. Over 200 people were suddenly homeless. It was a hard lesson for neighborhood residents who had collaborated with the police against MOVE.
Only two MOVE family members survived: Ramona Africa, age 30, and Birdie Africa, age 13. Intense police sniper fire stopped the other MOVE members from escaping. Several were shot. Those forced back into the burning building died in the flames.
In 1985, Ed Rendell and Lynne Abraham provided legal cover for this attack by providing last-minute warrants to the police. Ed Rendell is the former mayor of Philadelphia (and current head of the Democratic Party National Committee), and Lynne Abraham is the city's district attorney. Both are actively involved in pushing for the execution of the revolutionary prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Six adults and five children died in this infamous police massacre of May 13, 1985:
Conrad Africa, age 36
Thomaso Africa, age 9
Theresa Africa, age 26
Katricia "Free" Dotson, age 14
Raymond Africa, age 50
Zenetta Dotson, age 13
Rhonda Africa, age 30
Delicia Africa, age 11
Frank James Africa, age 26
Phil Africa, age 11
Vincent Leapheart, age 54"The message is supposed to be one of invincibility and utter brutality. But even this act itself shows their inner and ultimate weakness. Why are the rulers so threatened by a group of unrepentant Black rebels in a handful of communal compounds?"
Revolutionary Worker, May 20, 1985"Those who carried out and sanctioned this massacre obviously fear such a rebellious spirit and are aware of its infectious quality and how rapidly it can spread, especially among this society's most downtrodden. For all its horror, then, the MOVE massacre points to a future without such horrors. It therefore must be learned from, and the eleven who fell on that spring day in the city of the Liberty Bell must be honored and not forgotten."
Margot Harry, author of
"Attention, MOVE! This is America!"
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)