AMERIKA: ‘May 13, 1985’, The Day When Police Dropped a Bomb on a Quiet Philly Neighborhood – By Alex Q. Arbuckle (Flashback)

Source – mashable.com

“…The black liberation group MOVE was founded in 1972 by John Africa (born Vincent Leaphart). Living communally in a house in West Philadelphia, members of MOVE all changed their surnames to Africa, shunned modern technology and materialism, and preached support of animal rights, revolution and a return to nature….”Drop a bomb on a residential area? I never in my life heard of that. It’s like Vietnam’.- Steve Harmon, neighborhood resident”

1985: MOVE bombing: May 13, 1985, When the police dropped a bomb on a quiet Philly neighborhood – By Alex Q. Arbuckle

1978 – MOVE members in front of their original headquarters in the Powelton Village area of Philadelphia.
Image: Leif Skoogfors/CORBIS

‘Drop a bomb on a residential area? I never in my life heard of that. It’s like Vietnam’.- Steve Harmon, neighborhood resident

The black liberation group MOVE was founded in 1972 by John Africa (born Vincent Leaphart). Living communally in a house in West Philadelphia, members of MOVE all changed their surnames to Africa, shunned modern technology and materialism, and preached support of animal rights, revolution and a return to nature.

Their first conflict with law enforcement occurred in 1978, when police tried to evict them from their house. A firefight erupted, killing one police officer and injuring several more on both sides.

Nine members of the group were sentenced to 100 years in prison for the officer’s killing. In 1981, the group moved to a row house on Osage Avenue.

May 14, 1985
The three blocks destroyed by the fire.
Image: Bettmann/CORBIS

The city administration discounted negotiation as a method of resolving the problem. Any attempted negotiations were haphazard and uncoordinated. – Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission, March 6, 1986

At their new headquarters, MOVE members boarded up the windows, built a fortified rooftop bunker and broadcasted profanity-laced political lectures with bullhorns at all hours, drawing complaints from neighbors. Members continued to rack up violations from contempt of court to illegal possession of firearms, to the point where they were considered a terrorist organization by the mayor and police commissioner.

On the morning of May 13, 1985, the police moved on the house.

Arriving with arrest warrants for four residents of the house, the police ordered them to come out peacefully. Before long, shooting began.

In response to gunfire from inside the house, more than 500 police officers discharged over 10,000 rounds of ammunition in 90 minutes. The house was hit with high-pressure firehoses and tear gas, but MOVE did not surrender.

Despite pleas for deescalation to the mayor from City Council President Joseph Coleman and State Senator Hardy Williams, Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor gave the order to bomb the house.

May 13, 1985
The fortified MOVE headquarters is hit with a deluge of water by firefighters.
Image: Amy Sancetta/AP

The Mayor’s failure to call a halt to the operation on May 12, when he knew that children were in the house, was grossly negligent and clearly risked the lives of those children.- Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission, March 6, 1986

The Mayor abdicated his responsibilities as a leader when, after midday, he permitted a clearly failed operation to continue which posed great risk to life and property.- Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission, March 6, 1986

At 5:28 p.m., a satchel bomb composed of FBI-supplied C4 and Tovex TR2, a dynamite substitute, on a 45-second timer was dropped from a state police helicopter, detonating near the fortified pillbox on the roof of the house.

Within minutes, a fire had consumed the roof and begun to spread.

Firefighters, already fearful of being shot at by MOVE members, were told to let the fire burn.

The blaze raged out of control, spreading down the block of row houses and hopping the narrow streets.

May 13, 1985
Smoke billows from the spreading fire after the bombing.
Image: Bettmann/CORBIS

We tried to get our children, our animals, ourselves out of that blazing inferno. And as the cops saw us coming out, they opened fire.
Ramona Africa, bombing survivor

May 13, 1985 – Image: AP

The plan to bomb the MOVE house was reckless, ill-conceived and hastily approved. Dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable and should have been rejected out-of-hand .- Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission, March 6, 1986

May 14, 1985
Dozens of houses continue to smolder the day after the bombing.
Image: Bettmann/CORBIS

The hasty, reckless and irresponsible decision by the Police Commissioner and the Fire Commissioner to use the fire as a tactical weapon was unconscionable. – Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission, March 6, 1986

May 16, 1985
Investigators use a screen to sift through debris.
Image: George Widman/AP

By the time it was extinguished four hours later, 61 houses had been razed. Apart from a woman and 13-year-old boy who escaped when the fire started, everyone in the MOVE house was dead.

The 11 deaths included MOVE founder John Africa, five adults and five children between the ages of seven and 13.
Despite investigations and formal apologies, neither the mayor, nor the police commissioner, nor anyone else from the city was criminally charged.

Dec. 5, 1985
Mourners stand in front of the former MOVE headquarters as the funeral procession of John Africa passes.
Image: Bettmann/CORBIS

Curation: Alex Q. Arbuckle

https://mashable.com/2016/01/10/1985-move-bombing/

 

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