Thirty years ago today in Philadelphia, police dropped a bomb on a residential area in a misbegotten effort to force members of MOVE, a black radical liberation/back-to-nature group founded in 1972 with which local authorities had a long history of getting into confrontations, out of their homes so that they could be arrested.
Talk to some of the folks who lived through the bombing of 62nd and Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia 30 years ago, and you’ll notice that they refer to the event by its full date. May 13, 1985.
That’s how Gerald Renfrow refers to it when we talk about the inferno. His house is about 30 yards from the compound on which the bomb was dropped — practically ground zero. He’d been living there since long before the bombing, and now he’s the block captain, trying to hold on to the home where he grew up and raised his own family.
That’s how Perry Moody refers to it, too. His house is on the north side of Pine Street. On that day three decades ago, he had been evacuated from the block but watched as the houses on the other side of the street were swallowed up by flames.
So does Ramona Africa. She was actually inside the targeted house at 6221 Osage as it was battered by police bullets and deluge guns and, eventually, brought down by a makeshift bomb dropped from a police helicopter. She managed to escape the burning building. Her fellow members of MOVE, the radical organization to which she belonged that was standing off against the City of Philadelphia, were not as lucky.
“Were we wanted for rape, robbery, murder? No, nothing,” Ramona Africa, the only living Move survivor of that day, told the Guardian. 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.
In terms of the bombing, after being attacked the way we were, first with four deluge hoses by the fire department and then tons of tear gas, and then being shot at—the police admit to shooting over 10,000 rounds of bullets at us in the first 90 minutes—there was a lull. You know, it was quiet for a little bit. And then, without any warning at all, two members of the Philadelphia Police Department’s bomb squad got in a Pennsylvania state police helicopter and flew over our home and dropped a satchel containing C4, a powerful military explosive that no municipal police department has. They had to get it from the federal government, from the FBI. And without any announcement or warning or anything, they dropped that bomb on the roof of our home.