11 Things You Didn’t Know About The Time Police Bombed An American neighborhood.
Written by a Newsone staff member.
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 Neighborhood.
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.
It’s a shameful part of recent American history that’s somehow been buried under 31 years and other destructions that have fallen on the city of Philadelphia. NewsOne decided to take a trip back in time to explore what happened the day America bombed its own people.
Here are 11 things you should know about the MOVE Philadelphia bombing:
– Move is a Philadelphia-based Black liberation group that preached revolution and advocated the return to a natural lifestyle. They lived communally and vowed to lead a life uninterrupted by the government, police, or technology. They were passionate supporters of animal rights. Members adopted vegan diets and 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 homes 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 their infamous house on 6221 Osage Street.
– There are differing reports about the group and how troublesome they actually were. According to the 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,” angering 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 followed.
– Witnesses 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 harm’s way, because 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 scarred forever by the lifelong burns 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 criminally charged.
Phill, Independent research | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Museum
MORE ASTOUNDING FACTS:
Pennsylvania State Police helicopter took off from the command post at 63rd and Walnut, flew a few times over 6221 Osage Avenue, and then hovered 60 feet above the two-story house in the Black, middle-class West Philadelphia neighborhood. After radioing firefighters on the ground and lighting the bomb’s 45-second fuse — and with the official approval of Mayor W. Wilson Goode and at the insistence of Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor — Lt. Frank Powell, chief of Philadelphia’s bomb disposal unit, tossed the bomb onto the roof of the bunker.
The resulting blast, lead to a large, bright orange ball of fire that reached 7,200 degrees Fahrenheit. The aftermath left 11 dead (including five completely innocent and defenseless children) and the incineration of 61 homes. Among the dead were, 7-year-old Tomasa, 9-year-old Delicia, 10-year-old Phil, 11-year-old Netta, 13-year-old Tree, and 25-year-old Rhonda.
Once the bomb was dropped on the MOVE house, the city’s fire department that was already on the scene, was instructed to stand down and let the resulting fire destroy the building. The fire department stood idly by, as the intense fire spread and destroyed a total of 61 homes, most of them owned by residents who were forced to watch helplessly as their houses were consumed by fire. Although many of the block’s residents had complained about being besieged by MOVE members spreading their beliefs using a bullhorn, these same residents tried to stop the police siege of their community when they saw the police force that was deployed.
In the wake of the bombing, the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission (better known as the MOVE Commission) was formed to investigate
the bombing. After extensive interviews, many of which were of police officers, the Commission said what took place was “criminally evil.” There is eyewitness testimony and evidence, to indicate that the people fleeing the burning building were shot at and shot by the police, as they exited into the back alley of the building. The Commission also stated on record, that this would never had happened “had the MOVE house and its occupants been situated in a comparable white neighborhood.” MOVE Commission Chairman William Brown, stated, “I firmly believe that more people got out than Birdie and Ramona and that’s something that still nags at me. I believe that someone, someday will deliver a deathbed confession …” And the Commission itself noted in Finding Number 28 of its official report that “police gunfire in the rear alley prevented the escape from the fire of some occupants of the MOVE house.”
Even though the city of Philly had a Black mayor, Wilson Goode, and a Black city Managing Director, Leo Brooks, this atrocity was still allowed to occur. Even after the mayor had a meeting with 5 influential Black political leaders at his home on the morning of the bombing, he still gave the go-ahead to the police department to execute the dropping of the bombs.
“Were we wanted for rape, robbery, murder? No, nothing,” Ramona Africa, the only living MOVE survivor of that day, told the Guardian newspaper. Africa linked the bombing to the recent police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray: “These people that take an oath that swear to protect, save lives – the cops don’t defend poor people, poor white, black, Latino people. They don’t defend us, they kill us.
“All you have to do is look at the rash of police murders and the cops not being held accountable,” she added. “That should really alarm and outrage people, but the thing is that 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.”
ABOUT MOVE: Belief and Practice
The MOVE Organization is a family of strong, serious, deeply committed revolutionaries founded by a wise, perceptive, strategically minded Black man named JOHN AFRICA. The principle of our belief is explained in a collection of writings we call “The Guidelines,” authored by JOHN AFRICA. To honor our beloved Founder, and acknowledge the wisdom and strength He has given us, we say “LONG LIVE JOHN AFRICA!”