Photo credits: Tom Gralish/The Philadelphia Inquirer
In a long-overdue act of accepting responsibility, the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania chose to own up to massacring a Black neighborhood 35 years ago.
Any Black American person who is old enough traumatically remembers the May 13, 1985 siege of West Philadelphia, which targeted MOVE, a naturist Black liberation organization. On that day, the city of Philadelphia sought to evict MOVE from its headquarters; a property located at 6221 Osage Avenue in West Philly.
MOVE’s membership refused to leave the property after a daylong confrontation with the city over what it called an illegitimate eviction service. The Philadelphia Police Department was then summoned and eventually, a standoff situation unfolded as the nation witnessed. Local and national media outlets were reporting as the situation progressed.
After the collapse of peaceful negotiations came to end the standoff, Philadelphia’s predominantly white police department resorted to absolute savagery in its efforts to crush MOVE’s anti-eviction campaign once and for all.
What happened next mirrored the mind-blowing images from Israel’s stifling siege of Beirut, Lebanon in July 1982, or the massive U.S. bombardment of Baghdad, Iraq in March 2003. However, this militarized West Philly struggle was not an internationally-declared warzone. It was a deliberate attack against U.S.-born Blacks on American soil.
Philadelphia police summoned one of their helicopters to hover above 6221 Osage where MOVE was holed up. A bomb was dropped from the police chopper on the roof of the property, which leveled the compound and caused a huge explosion. The flames from the bomb blast quickly spread and torched many other homes in the predominantly Black neighborhood.
In the end, 61 residences were burned in flames. There were also 11 dead mostly Black victims, including five children. This obviously caused a public outcry in Philadelphia and all across the nation. For the first time ever in America, a locally-elected government was responsible for the massacre of its own citizens.
Decades later, on November 12, 2020, Philly’s city council drafted a resolution, which paved the way for the municipality to formally apologize after its blitzkrieg of a Black neighborhood during the infamous 1985 MOVE eviction dispute.
“The resolution, approved almost unanimously (Councilmember Brian O’Neill said he opposed it), represents the first formal apology offered by the city for the May 13, 1985, bombing. It also establishes the anniversary of the bombing as ‘an annual day of observation, reflection, and recommitment,’” reads a Monday (November 16) report by the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper.
“My MOVE Bombing resolution passed unanimously today. Thank you to all my Council colleagues for your support. This resolution serves as recognition for the pain and trauma that these events have brought upon the Cobbs Creek community and Black people in our city as a whole,” wrote Philly Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier in a November 12 tweet.
Though Gauthier (a black woman and elected official) made a legislative move to form solidarity and make her city accept responsibility for its incorrigible brutality, the eventual passage of a symbolic ordinance comes, unfortunately, too late and does not deliver too much.
The next step (which should have been implemented decades ago) is to provide tangible forms of reparations for the Black Philadelphia families who suffered and continue to suffer as a result of their city’s wanton act of militarized violence.
Black America will never and must not ever forget what happened.