The MOVE Anniversary: What They’re Saying

It was a local tragedy, but the story still reverberates nationally.

It was a local tragedy, but the 30th anniversary of the MOVE bombing has prompted some recollections and other thoughts in national and even international media outlets. A sampling:


Sadly, the MOVE bombing provided a preview of police state tactics that are commonplace today, and a militarization of local police forces, brought about by the wars on drugs and terror and funded by asset forfeiture and the feds. Indeed, law enforcement is using weaponry utilized by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under the Defense Department’s 1033 program, along with similar Department of Justice and Homeland Security programs, the cops receive free surplus military arms, aircraft, Humvees, mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, you name it.

Give wannabe soldiers with no training all the military hardware they want. What could possibly go wrong?

The Guardian:

A recent Justice Department review of Philadelphia’s use of force – requested by current police commissioner Charles Ramsey in 2013 – found systemic, unresolved deficiencies similar to those analyzed by the Move commission in 1986, said Greg McDonald, the attorney who was deputy director and legal counsel for the commission.

“I was struck how many DoJ recommendations were right out of the assessments from the commission, and not just the police but the city government and services,” McDonald said, listing some shared findings: “federal authorities supplying military equipment to urban police departments, the lack of preparation and training”.

“We’ve got a lot of real tinderboxes in large cities now,” he said. “Move was certainly not a normal neighborhood problem, but the police reaction to it was so overdone that it reminded me of the way that police actions taking place at a much smaller scale are also overreactions.”

At NPR, Philly native Gene Demby visits the neighborhood and talks to resident Gerald Renfrow:

Still, when he talks about the bombing, he can sound a bit conspiracy-minded, particularly about the city’s initial decision to let the fire burn to scare the MOVE residents off the block. “I believe that the reasons these homes, once they caught afire, with an army of firemen and fire engines surrounding the whole area was allowed to burn was that the city could take over this area so that they could redevelop it and gentrify this area,” he said.

The theory doesn’t hold together; for one thing, the city, which has seen its leadership change a lot in the 30 years since the fire, would have to be playing a mighty long game of resident removal. But it’s easy to see how paranoid musings might take root given what’s happened in the decades since: One of the nation’s biggest cities dropped a bomb on a middle-class black neighborhood on live television, watched it burn to the ground as 11 people, including five children, died, and no one involved in any of those decisions was ever punished for it.

At The Root, Linn Washington Jr. says that failure of punishment helped contribute to a larger culture of police brutality:

Incredibly, an aerial bombing in an American city by police rarely makes the lists of worst police-abuse incidents, despite its gruesome death toll and extensive destruction.

Many “worst lists” include the 1991 shooting of Amadou Diallo, who died during a 41-bullet fusillade from New York City police officers. Yet during the assault on May 13 that began at 5:50 a.m., Philadelphia police fired thousands of bullets into the MOVE house using a range of firearms, including machine guns. The confrontation went on until police dropped the bomb at 5:27 p.m.

The infamous 1985 bombing is far from an isolated incident in a dim past. The failure to hold Philadelphia authorities accountable for that deadly, destructive episode contributed to t he impunity that drives the persistence of police brutality—brutality that has triggered massive protests across America since last year, after prosecutors in St. Louis and New York City manipulated grand juries away from indictments against the police officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

The libertarian Reason magazine is shocked the incident doesn’t reverberate more in Philly politics:

The pressure to be tough on crime, whether it comes from voters or special interest groups like police, still exists. One of the candidates in next week’s primary for the Democratic nomination for Philadelphia mayor, Lynne Abraham, served as district attorney from 1991 to 2010, touting her tough on crime credentials throughout her tenure. She was also the judge who signed the warrants on which the police action against move on May 13, 1985 was based. Abraham, who has largely avoided critical questions about her tenure as DA at a time of widespread police brutality and her role in the Philadelphia police’s controversial history, instead complains the media treats her differently because she’s a woman. Another Democrat, Jim Kenney, a former councilmember who worked to decriminalize marijuana in Philadelphia last year, is a big friend of the police unions. In 1997, in a bid to shore up the tough on crimes credentials many politicians believe they need to win in big, Democrat-majority cities, Kenney lamented cops couldn’t use clubs on the head or shoot anybody anymore. With Democrats so thoroughly internalizing “tough on crime” politics they often simultaneously blame Richard Nixon on, perhaps there’s room for Republican alternatives that look a lot different than the Frank Rizzos (or Wilson Goodes) of the political world after all.