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Smoke Rising from Destroyed Homes

An aerial view of smoke rising from smoldering rubble from multiple homes in a Philadelphia neighborhood following the police bombing of MOVE headquarters on May 13, 1985. | Source: Bettmann / Getty

Families of victims from the decades-old deadly police bombing of a Black liberation group’s headquarters in Philadelphia experienced a whirlwind this week with reports of a new injustice from the city-sanctioned violence.

Partial human remains from the bombing against the MOVE organization discovered a few years earlier have were destroyed by a city official, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced on Thursday.

But in a turn of events, a city employee said they defied the order to destroy the remains. Late Friday evening it was revealed the remains thought to be destroyed by the Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley were actually still intact.

Earlier in the day, the Associated Press reported that Farley learned of the remains in 2017. According to a city statement, Farley claims to have acted without the knowledge of any other city leadership.

Instead of contacting survivors or families of the bombing victims, Farley simply destroyed the remains. Local news reported the mayor said Farley’s actions lacked empathy and demanded his resignation effective immediately.

Kenney said he only learned of the destructive action Tuesday. He informed the families of MOVE members in a private meeting before making a public statement.

MOVE Protesters Holding Placards

Protesters demand justice for the MOVE bombing on the one-year anniversary. | Source: Bettmann / Getty

On May 13, 1985, a bomb was dropped on a row house in Philadelphia, unleashing a relentless fire that eventually burned down 61 houses, killed 11 people (including five children) and injured dozens of others. The fire department stood by idly. The Philadelphia Police Department did the same. The fire raged on, swallowing up home after home until more than 200 were without shelter.

Thirty-six years after Philadelphia dropped bombs on a Black neighborhood, survivors continue to grapple with the heinous actions of local officials and law enforcement. One of two survivors of the bombing, Ramona Africa previously described trying to escape the building but being pinned down by police. 

Before the remains were discovered Friday, Kenney apologized to remaining MOVE members and their families. But some say more than an overdue apology is needed.

Ernest Owens, editor-at-large for Philadelphia magazine, challenged Kenney to put his money where his mouth is and called on the city to pay reparations.

Owens called the MOVE bombing modern Philadelphia’s “original sin.” He also noted Kenney had a change of tune from an interview a year earlier. Prior to learning of Farley’s breach of public trust, Kenney expressed no desire to apologize for anything.

Owens further challenged the city to be more transparent and agree to community demands of a new commission for an honest review of the bombing and the city’s handling since then.

Many questions still remain, including why the city held on to remains for over three decades, let alone why remains landed in the hands of the Penn Museum. As Owens pointed out, it’s past time for the city of “Brotherly Love” to atone for the inhumane brutality levied at the Africa family ever since.


Philadelphia Police Assault MOVE House

Source: Leif Skoogfors / Getty

This news in Philadelphia comes about a month after reports of children’s remains from the MOVE bombing used as part of a forensic anthropology course. The Guardian reported the remains of a teenage girl were a part of the anthropological collections of the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton. The remains were on display as a part of a “case study” using the events of the bombing as a backdrop.

While not shocking, the treatment of Black children and their families postmortem is disappointing. Black bodies on display for studying and examining seem like something from a bygone era where questionable medical ethics was rampant.


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