The cowardly murderous attack on innocent and defenseless men, women and children at the Boston Marathon on April 15th was terrorism. Accordingly, if preliminary reports prove correct, then Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his dead brother Tamerlan, who killed three people and wounded about 170, are terrorists, and the survivor should be tried and, if found guilty, punished harshly—like all terrorists.
But punishment of the most egregious terrorists hasn’t happened in America, and it’s still not happening anywhere in this country—including in Philadelphia.
It was 28 years ago, on May 13, 1985, when a Philadelphia police officer—with the official approval of Mayor W. Wilson Goode, and at the insistence of Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor—dropped a bomb from a helicopter onto 6221 Osage Avenue, in a black, middle-class neighborhood that was then allowed to burn to the ground. The so-called MOVE Bombing, in the words of special investigation commission member Charles Bowser, was a “criminally evil” act that led to the death of 11 human beings, including five innocent and defenseless children, and the hellish destruction of 61 homes.
More than 500 cops fired more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition in less than 90 minutes, and many of those shots were fired at and into children and adults who were fleeing the flames and surrendering.
The overkill police presence, the military-style assault, the malicious bombing, the callous burning, and the evil shooting at fleeing victims were not just “grossly negligent” and “unconscionable,” as the MOVE Commission noted in its conclusions. They were also murderous. But more important, they constituted “terrorism” because they were premeditated (designed to get rid of social iconoclasts), politically motivated, violent, with noncombatant targets, and committed by local cops and city officials—or sub-national groups and individuals.
So why didn’t America demand that the terrorists who attacked the MOVE neighborhood be treated like it wants Dzhokhar Tsarnaev dealt with? (By the way, there’s no statute of limitations for terrorism resulting in murder, especially when kids are killed.)
It was 175 years ago on May 17, 1838, near Sixth and Race streets, that Pennsylvania Hall was burned to the ground by racist terrorists. Opened to the public by the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society just three days earlier, the building was called “one of the most commodious and splendid … in the city.” John Quincy Adams wrote: “I learnt with great satisfaction that the Pennsylvania Hall Association … (has) erected a large building in your city, wherein liberty and equality of civil rights can be freely discussed, and the evils of slavery fearlessly portrayed … I rejoice that, in the city of Philadelphia, the friends of free discussion have erected a Hall for its unrestrained exercise.”
Liberty in Philly? Equality of civil rights in Philly? Unrestrained exercise of free discussion in Philly? Sorry, Mr. President—but no goddamn way! Not in Philly. Not then. And not now.
More than 3,000 black and white and male and female abolitionists had attended a full day of dedication events on May 16th, and they remained—despite a bigoted mob’s increasingly violent threats from outside. The next day, the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women was scheduled to meet, but Philly’s racist mob confronted the hall’s occupants. The Mayor intervened by asking the convention members to restrict the gathering to white women only. But the members refused. The building’s managers, growing increasingly alarmed by the increasing threats, gave the keys to the Mayor who immediately locked all the doors. He then told the expanding mobsters that all scheduled meetings in the hall had been canceled. They began dispersing while declaring victory. But for many of them, that just wasn’t sufficient, and they turned and broke into Pennsylvania Hall savagely and wantonly laying waste to everything in sight.
By the time the police arrived, it was too late. The majestic facility had been completely wrecked. Then the thugs went from wholesale vandalism to sinisterly gleeful arson. By the time firemen arrived, fires had spread throughout the entire building. The so-called firefighters didn’t do much anyway, except for spraying nearby structures while ignoring the hall. And the few dedicated ones who did the right thing in trying to save Pennsylvania Hall were maliciously soaked by a water canon from their racist-mob-supporting fellow firefighters.
The racist rioting continued over the following days, with an arson attack on an orphanage for black children—a fucking orphanage!—along with a black church. If this wasn’t terrorism, then nothing is. So why isn’t America demanding that its history books treat those terrorists just like it’s treating Dzhokhar and Tamerlan now?
Learn all the sordid details about the terrorism against Pennsylvania Hall by attending a panel discussion (in which I’ll be a participant) at Temple University’s Paley Library on April 23rd at 2 p.m. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.