Philadelphia City Council Formally Apologizes for the 1985 MOVE Bombing



The Philadelphia City Council unanimously voted November 12 to formally apologize for a horrific crime committed over 35 years ago by the city and its police and authorized by its first Black mayor, Wilson Goode. On May 13, 1985, Philadelphia police carried out an “eviction” of members of the Black political organization MOVE and their children. After firing 10,000 bullets into the Osage Avenue home in 90 minutes, they dropped two bombs on the roof. The bombs sparked a fire which they let burn, killing five children and six adults trapped in the MOVE house, and destroying 61 other houses in the surrounding area of Cobbs Creek. (See American Crime #99 below.)

The City Council’s vote on the resolution comes after the Black Lives Matter uprising against police murder shook this country this summer. The protests brought millions of young people into the streets across the U.S. and around the world to condemn the systemic racism in this country. The resolution also establishes May 13 as “an annual day of reflection, observation and recommitment.”

The resolution was sponsored and drafted by Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, who grew up in and represents the district that includes the neighborhood destroyed in the police assault on MOVE. She introduced the resolution just days after the October 26 police killing of Walter Wallace Jr. within a mile of the site of the MOVE bombing. In her speech to the Council, Gauthier linked the two events: “We can draw a straight line from the unresolved pain and trauma of that day to Walter Wallace Jr.’s killing earlier this week in the very same neighborhood, because what’s lying under the surface here is a lack of recognition of the humanity of Black people from law enforcement.”

In an earlier statement in May, 11 members of the Philadelphia City Council said: “We apologize for the decisions leading to the devastation of that day, and acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of the MOVE bombing.” Yet not one person has ever been prosecuted for these depraved acts. What kind of a system is this?

And it should be remembered that soon after that atrocity 35 years ago, a group of prominent Black people and others did speak out, in the “Draw the Line” statement initiated by Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party. The statement, signed by more than 100 people, said in part: “Over the past 35 years, we have witnessed significant increases in the number of Black elected officials. It is often said, and some of us signing this statement do in fact believe, that such increases represent advances in the struggle of Black people. But all of us agree on this basic truth: When Black officials use their positions of power to attack Black people, or to cover up for or to excuse such attacks, they are no friends of ours and don’t speak for or represent the interests of Black people. In the past, lines were clearly drawn on this question. Those who attacked Black people were counted among our enemies. This line must be firmly drawn again. Murder is murder, no matter whether those responsible are Black or white.”

As the neighborhood around Osage Avenue burned, hundreds gathered in the street, indicting the police and chanting "Murderers! Murderers!"

American Crime

Case #99: May 13, 1985: The MOVE Massacre

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Members of MOVE driven out of their home at gunpoint.

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