Philadelphia City Council members have issued a formal apology for the MOVE bombing of 1985. Thirty-five years ago, the Philadelphia Police Department bombed a West Philadelphia row home occupied by MOVE, a Black liberation organization whose mission was to expose the white supremacist corruption at the core of the city’s leadership.
“Today, on the 35th anniversary of the MOVE Bombing – a brutal attack carried out by the City of Philadelphia on its own citizens – we offer an apology for the decisions that led to this tragic event and announce our intent to introduce a formal resolution to this effect later this year.
“We call upon the City of Philadelphia to declare May 13th an annual day of reflection, observation, and recommitment to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Additionally, we call on all people of the City of Philadelphia to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society,” the statement read.
MOVE is a political organization founded in 1972 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by John Africa and Donald Glassey, a social worker. MOVE had become known for calling out Frank Rizzo, who served as the city’s police commissioner, and later mayor, and the injustice system characterized by his administration.
On May 13, 1985, a largely black Philadelphia neighbourhood witnessed as two bombs were dropped from a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter onto a residential building in the Cobbs Creek neighbourhood, killing 11 people including five children, and destroying more than 60 homes.
The children ages 6 to 13 were: Tree Africa, Netta Africa, Phil Africa, Delisha Africa, and Tomaso Africa. The adults killed were Raymond Foster Africa, Conrad Hampton Africa, Frank James Africa, Rhonda Harris Ward Africa, Theresa Brooks Africa, and MOVE founder John Africa. More than 250 people were displaced.
According to ESSENCE, there were only two survivors: Ramona Africa, then 29, who is currently battling cancer that she believes was caused by chemicals in the four pounds of C-4 military explosives that the police used to bomb the MOVE house and then 13-year-old Birdie Africa, who unfortunately died by accidental drowning in 2014 at the age of 41.
The official apology comes days after W. Wilson Goode, who was mayor at the time of the bombing, wrote an op-ed piece for The Guardian apologizing for his own role in the heartbreaking incident. He called on representatives for the city of Philadelphia to do the same.
“The event will remain on my conscience for the rest of my life. I was the mayor of Philadelphia at the time. Although I was not personally involved in all the decisions that resulted in 11 deaths, I was chief executive of the city. I would not intentionally harm anyone, but it happened on my watch. I am ultimately responsible for those I appointed,” Goode wrote.
Goode suggested that “After 35 years it would be helpful for the healing of all involved, especially the victims of this terrible event, if there was a formal apology made by the City of Philadelphia.”
However, the 1985 bombing was not the Philadelphia Police Department’s first time brutalizing MOVE. Seven years prior to the bombing on August 8, 1978, nine MOVE members were reportedly incarcerated following a police raid of their home in Powelton Village. Police showed up allegedly to remove them because they had been squatting.
According to Washington Post, during the raid on the MOVE family, police officer James Ramp was reportedly struck by a bullet. Consequently, Chuck Africa, Debbie Africa, Delbert Africa, Eddie Africa, Janet Africa, Janine Africa, Merle Africa, Mike Africa Sr., and Phil Africa were convicted of third-degree murder in Ramp’s death and sentenced to up to 100 years in prison.
It took about four decades to free them. Unfortunately, Phil and Merle died in prison before the rest were freed. “I started working on freeing my family when I was 13-years-old, and now I’m 41,” Mike Africa Jr., son of Debbie and Mike Sr., who was born five weeks after his mother was incarcerated told ESSENCE.
“I met with investigators. I met with local and state politicians. I met with street activists and we marched for countless miles and protested countless times,” he said. “The time that it takes for Black people to get released, even if they’re innocent, is much longer than other people. And, sometimes, it didn’t seem like it would happen.”
A two-year investigation by The Guardian reveals that Debbie was the first to be released in June 2018. Then Mike Sr. in October 2018. Janine and Janet were set free in May 2019; one-month later Eddie was freed; Delbert was released in January 2020; and Chuck, the youngest of the group when he went in at just 18 years old, was finally released in February.