Revolution #202, May 30, 2010

A Great Crime

1985 Bombing of MOVE: Never Forget, Never Forgive

It was May 13, 1985, when hundreds of police surrounded the MOVE house in the 6200 block of Osage Avenue on Philadelphia’s west side. This was not the first police attack on members of the Black radical organization MOVE. This came after a lengthy campaign aimed at its eradication.

The timing was calculated. Police made sure the children, who went out on a daily schedule, were still at home. At 5:30 in the morning Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor shouted arrogantly through a bullhorn: "Attention MOVE! This is America!"

Police then proceeded to prove that this was indeed America, shooting thousands of bullets into the MOVE house. A confidential police report obtained by the media listed the ammunition expended by the police: 4,500 rounds from M-16s, 1,500 from Uzis, and 2,240 rounds from M-60 machine guns.

Police demolition teams next used explosives to try to blast holes in the walls of the MOVE house from adjoining buildings. Finally, in the late afternoon, a helicopter swooped low and dropped a bomb with a C-4 military explosive. The explosion started a fire. Now, stop and think about what happened next: The police ordered the fire department not to put the fire out. And people trying to flee the house were fired on and repeatedly driven back—people trying to escape the fire were gunned down in cold blood, others were devoured inside by flames.  Then the fire spread to neighboring houses.

When the inferno was over, 11 people who had been in the MOVE house were dead, including five children. An entire city block of houses was burnt down, making 250 people homeless. From the MOVE house, there were only two survivors, Ramona Africa and a 13-year-old boy, Birdie Africa. Investigations showed the basic outline of this massacre had been well planned in advance by top police and government officials.

Why were the rulers so threatened by this group of unrepentant Black rebels living in a communal compound? 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 to life on this planet, particularly through the use of modern technology and the killing of animals. 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.

In particular, MOVE vigorously exposed the prior police assault on their house in 1978 and fought against the resulting imprisonment of nine MOVE members who were sentenced to 30 years to life in prison. One of the cops attacking their house was shot, but it was never established by whom. The trial judge openly admitted that he had no idea who had killed the cop, but that didn’t stop him from handing out collective imprisonment to all those in the house who refused to renounce their allegiance to MOVE. (The political nature of all the cases against MOVE is starkly revealed by the fact that renouncing MOVE has always been made a condition for leniency or parole.)

There is a mountain of hypocrisy at work when U.S. officials today decry "terrorist bombers." America has a history of brutal violence, up to and including bombing, against its own ghettos. In 1921 local cops flew six planes to attack the Black community of Tulsa, Oklahoma (26 Blacks killed and most of the Black community burned down). The 1960s saw the police and National Guard gun down hundreds in the vicious repression of Black rebellions such as 1967 in Detroit (with 43 killed and a particularly vicious police massacre at the Algiers Motel). And the Black Panther Party was made a special target of assassinations and military-style assaults on their offices (several dozen dead, including the police assassination of Fred Hampton in Chicago).

In the aftermath of the bombing of MOVE, capitalist law took its normal course. Were the police officers who dropped the bomb sent to jail? No. Were the police officials who ordered the bomb sent to jail? No. Was the Fire Commissioner who deliberately allowed the whole neighborhood to burn down sent to jail? No. Was the Black mayor who okayed the plan sent to jail? No.

Only one person was sent to jail: Ramona Africa, who served seven years in prison. Charged with conspiracy, riot, and multiple assaults, her real "crime" was that she survived the MOVE bombing, which had been intended to wipe out the MOVE organization.

Around the time of the bombing of MOVE, many people had placed their hopes in the election of Black officials around the country. Wilson Goode had been elected in 1984 as Philadelphia’s first Black mayor. This was after the long reign of the notorious white racist mayor Frank Rizzo and many expected Goode to defend the interests of the Black community. In reality, Goode’s role was to paralyze resistance of Black people and provide cover for the system’s further attacks. Goode did not hesitate to give the order to drop the bomb.

Some people in Philadelphia tried to oppose the police massacre and some were arrested in the neighborhood just for verbally denouncing the assault. However, taken in by an unending media and police campaign against MOVE and shocked by the scale of violence unleashed against MOVE, too many people stood by paralyzed and did not rise up in response. A "Draw the Line" statement, initiated by Carl Dix and others, was signed by more than 100 prominent Black figures and others denouncing the collusion of Black elected officials in the repression of the Black community. The statement read, in part: "When Black elected officials use their positions of power to attack Black people, or to cover up for or excuse such attacks, they are no friends of ours."

Twenty-five years after the bombing of MOVE, Black and Latino communities are still continuously subjected to raids, brutality, and outright police murder—and building resistance against these attacks must be part of the movement for revolution we are building.

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