by Steve Buschbacher
Right around the time that I was marking two months as a resident of Philadelphia, the city passed an anniversary of one of it’s most tragic events. May 13, 1985, the day the city dropped a bomb on its own people…the MOVE bombing. I remember reading about this in a Chicago newspaper the next day and feeling saddened and outraged.
MOVE was a Philadelphia-based radical movement dedicated to black liberation and a back-to-nature lifestyle. Originally called The Christian Movement for Life, they advocated living communally and were strong supporters of animal rights. They were no saints, however.
In 1978, they had occupied a home in the Powelton Village neighborhood of Philly in proximity to the University of Pennsylvania. They frequently engaged in speeches at all hours through bull horns. Not only were they wearing their neighbors’ patience thin, they had the same effect on city government which was lead at that time by Mayor Frank Rizzo, former chief of police. There was a shootout and one police officer was killed. Two years later, nine MOVE members were found guilty of third degree murder and sentenced to 100 years in prison.
By 1981, MOVE had situated themselves in a home at 6221 Osage Street in the Cobbs Creek neighborhood. Their messages, delivered, again by bullhorn, continued for years. Their neighbors complained to the city. It is interesting to note that, according to some reports, their bullhorn was inoperable for three weeks prior to the events of May 13.
By May of 1985, city government was in new hands. Mayor Wilson Goode had become the first African-American mayor of the city. Did the city’s police have it in for MOVE since nine of their members were convicted of killing a police officer? One can conjecture but not prove it categorically. We might also guess to what extent Mayor Goode had any influence or part of the decision to drop the bomb. Many people think he had very little influence even though many held him responsible.
On May 13, 1985 the police moved on the home with arrest warrants for four MOVE members. Police commissioner, Gregore Sambor announced into his megaphone, “Attention, MOVE…This is America. You have to abide by the laws of the United States.” Someone in the MOVE house began firing at the police. The police returned fire with over 10,000 rounds of ammunition. But the members were barricaded in a structure built on the roof of the house. They remained untouched.
It was then that Gregore Sambor gave the order to drop a bomb made up of C4 and Tovex TR2, a dynamite substitute, on a 45-second timer. Within minutes, the MOVE house was engulfed in flames. Firefighters, claiming to be afraid of being shot, did nothing to put out the fire. It continued to jump from house to house until 65 homes were destroyed. Eleven people died in that fire, five of them children. It took weeks for their remains to be identified.
An independent commission then began an investigation into the city’s actions that day.Among their conclusions –
“The hasty, reckless and irresponsible decision by the Police Commissioner and the Fire Commissioner to use the fire as a tactical weapon was unconscionable.”
“Police gunfire in the rear alley prevented the escape from the fire of some occupants of the MOVE house.”
This happened more than thirty years ago. I’m told that some younger people in Philadelphia haven’t heard of it. It is almost certain that many people outside of Philly, regardless of age, haven’t heard of it either.
Had this happened now, can you imagine the videos that would be shown over and over again becoming infamously viral? We’d have heard endless rants by all sides about it.
Many people would like to forget it. But we need to remember so no one ever thinks that dropping a bomb on their fellow citizens can, in any way, be deemed responsible.
Look at the picture that accompanies this story. This is what happens when you bomb your own people. Imagine this in Chicago or in Boston or in Houston. Imagine this hitting home.
This is what happens when you bomb your own people.
Steve Buschbacher –
In March of this year, my wife and I moved to Philadelphia from Chicago. Not a big change for her since she was raised in Philadelphia. She had lived in Philly or the immediate area until we got married a few years ago and initially set up housekeeping in Chicago. This was a big change for me as I was a lifelong Chicago resident. I had only spent 18 months of my life having a zip code that did not start with “606”.
We now live in the Roxborough section of Philly. The hilliest section of town. The one that looks more like a town in Vermont than a neighborhood in a major U.S. city. Roxborough was, in fact, an independent town until the 1850s when it was annexed by the city of Philadelphia. We still have our own “downtown” which includes our own Main Street. (really, that’s what the street signs say “Main Street”.)
I loved growing up and raising my children in Chicago. Like a friend has said, I may leave Chicago but Chicago will never truly leave me. But, I now live in Philadelphia and I plan on living here the rest of my life. I am learning more and more about its residents and its history. I like the people that I’ve met and I like my new city.
And then there’s Jersey …