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Mon, 05.13.1985

The MOVE Bombing in Philadelphia Occurs

*On this date in 1985, the MOVE bombing occurred. This incident happened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when the Philadelphia Police Department bombed a residential home occupied by the militant black anarcho-primitivist group MOVE.

After the bombing, the Philadelphia Fire Department let the fire burn out of control following a standoff and firefight. Sixty-one homes were burned to the ground over two city blocks. In 1981, MOVE relocated to a row house at 6221 Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. Neighbors complained to the city for years about trash around their building, confrontations with neighbors, and bullhorn announcements of political messages by MOVE members. The bullhorn was broken and inoperable for the three weeks before the police bombing of the row house. The police obtained arrest warrants in 1985, charging four MOVE occupants with crimes including parole violations, contempt of court, illegal possession of firearms, and making terrorist threats. Mayor Wilson Goode and the police commissioner classified MOVE as a terrorist organization.

Police evacuated residents of the area from the neighborhood before their action. Residents were told that they would be able to return to their homes after 24 hours. The bombing and subsequent fire killed eleven MOVE members, including their leader, John Africa; five other adults and five children died in the fire. The mayor appointed an investigative commission called the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission (PSIC, aka MOVE Commission), chaired by William H. Brown, III. The police commissioner resigned in November 1985; in a speech the following year, he said that Goode made him a "surrogate." Bruce Kauffman from Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission interviewed the Philadelphia Fire Commissioner William Richmond. He brought up that the water hoses were not turned on and the fires were deliberately left to burn, to which Richmond admitted.

The MOVE Commission issued its report on March 6, 1986. The report denounced the actions of the city government, stating that dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable. Following the release of the report, Goode made a formal public apology. No one from the city government was criminally charged in the attack. The only surviving adult MOVE member, Ramona Africa, was charged and convicted of conspiracy charges; she served seven years in prison. In 1996, a federal jury ordered the city to pay a $1.5 million civil suit judgment to survivor Ramona Africa and relatives of two people killed in the bombing. The jury found that the city used excessive force and violated the members' constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

In 2005, a civil trial was brought by residents seeking damages for having been displaced by the widespread destruction following the 1985 police bombing of MOVE. A jury awarded them a $12.83 million verdict against the City of Philadelphia. In November 2020, the Philadelphia City Council approved a resolution to apologize for the MOVE bombing formally. The measure also established an annual day of "observation, reflection, and recommitment" on May 13, the anniversary of the bombing.  Since the bombing, the bones of two children, 14-year-old Tree and 12-year-old Delisha, were kept at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

In 2021, WHYY-TV revealed that, according to the museum, the remains had been transferred to researchers at Princeton, though the university was unaware of their exact whereabouts. An adjunct professor had used the remains in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and a visiting professor in the same subject at Princeton in videos for an online forensics course as case studies. The city stated the remains had gone unclaimed by the families after the bombing. In May 2021, the city of Philadelphia's Health Commissioner, Thomas Farley, resigned after it was revealed that he ordered the cremation and disposal of victims' remains without identifying them or contacting family members. The remains were later found to have not been cremated.

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