Confronting UPenn on the bones of MOVE children that they stole, “studied” & mishandled
Over 300 outraged students, activists and community members protested at UPenn for their just-revealed desecration of the 1985 remains of murdered MOVE children. Beginning with a rally across the street from the Penn Museum, participants marched in the streets to the on-campus home of UPenn President Amy Gutmann where Mike Africa described his experiences growing up with MOVE children Delisha and Tree. Thank you, Joe Piette.
Watch Facebook video of same April 28th demo/march (thank you, Joe Piette):
See photos from same April 28th demo/march (thank you, Joe Piette):
1970’s- the City of Philadelphia begins to routinely beat, jail, and assassinate MOVE members, including Life Africa, the child of Janine Africa.
August 8, 1978– The City of Philadelphia fires 10,000 rounds of ammunition on unarmed MOVE members in an attempt to assassinate them. Miraculously all the MOVE members survived this vicious assassination attempt. Nine survivors were imprisoned for @ 40 years (Merle Africa (1998) and Phil Africa (2015) died suddenly and suspiciously in prison). A participating police officer dies in friendly fire.
May 13, 1985– MOVE Bombing; Coordinated City-State-Federal attempt to assassinate MOVE members by Philadelphia police (forced fire department hoses off; kept MOVE members inside house by fuselage of bullets; covered up original forensic reports identifying the 11 MOVE victims, including Tree Africa); Pennsylvania State (provided helicopter to drop bomb and logistics); and the federal government provided 2 military-grade bombs and logistics; six MOVE adults, and five of their children were assassinated; one adult, Ramona Africa and one child, Birdie Africa survived; and destroyed 65 homes were burnt down in the residential neighborhood.
1985 World-famous anthropologist, Dr. Ali Hameli, was hired by the MOVE Commission and officially identified the remains as those of 14-year-old Tree “Katricia Dotson” Africa and 4 other children and 5 adults, including John Africa. Dr. Hameli was a Consultant Forensic Pathologist famous for identifying the remains of Josef Mengele (fugitive top Nazi doctor/butcher at Auschwitz extermination camp).
1985-1986– The City of Philadelphia Medical Examiner Office gave remains of Tree Africa to Penn anthropologist, Dr. Alan Mann who conveniently declares the remains of Tree Africa were not her, but instead those of an unknown older woman, after only a day and a half work. When Dr. Mann retired he gave the remains of Tree Africa to his assistant Dr. Janet Monge. Neither professor nor their university’s, contact Tree’s mother, Consuewella Africa or MOVE.
Weds., April 21, 2021– The Philadelphia Inquirer publishes a bombshell editorial by Abdul-Aliy Muhammad exposing Drs. Alan Mann and Janet Monge’s body-snatching of the remains of Tree “Katricia Dotson” Africa since 1985-6! This is the first time mother Consuewella Africa and the MOVE family learn of the barbaric, heart-ripping disrespect of their loved one’s remains.
Friday, April 30, 2021, “Former Penn anthropologist gives remains of MOVE bombing victim, Tree Africa, to Terry Funeral Home in West Philadelphia.” By Vinny Vella and Ellie Rushing, The Philadelphia Inquirer (original).
Friday, April 30, 2021, VIDEO: “Penn Faces Backlash for Handling of MOVE Remains.” Video and editing by Lauren Schneiderman, The Philadelphia Inquirer (original).
Weds., April 28, 2021, “World-renowned MOVE Commission Forensic Pathologist Dr. Ali Hameli Identifies Remains of Tree Africa in 1985. Hack Philadelphia Medical Examiner Consultant Dr. Alan Mann steals Tree Africa’s remains anyways.” Speech by Abdul-Aliy Muhammad at today’s rally and march at the Penn Museum. Read more/see video (stay on-site). Very important!
Weds., April 28, 2021, “Penn Museum pledges to return remains of MOVE member to the Africa family, demonstrators visit residence of Penn President Amy Gutmann.” By Vinny Vella, The Philadelphia Inquirer (original).
Weds., April 28, 2021, “Photos of Penn Museum protest over non-return of MOVE family remains.” By Tom Gralish and Steven Falk, The Philadelphia Inquirer (original).
Tuesday, April 27, 2021, “Ivy League Secret Exposed: Classes Used Bones of Black Children Killed in 1985 MOVE Police Bombing.” By Amy Goodman, with Juan González interviewing Ramona Africa, Mike Africa Jr. & Penn Museum curator Janet Monge, Reprinted from Democracy Now (ext. site). Read more/see video (stay on-site). Contains info for Drs. Janet Monge and Alan Mann.
Monday, April 26, 2021, “Penn Museum apologizes for keeping remains of MOVE victim rather than returning them to family.” By Vinny Vella and Mensah M. Dean, Reprinted from The Philadelphia Inquirer (original). Read more [stay on-site]. Warning: this article contains many lies, in particular, it omits that the remains of Tree Africa were officially identified in 1985, nonetheless, the City of Philadelphia gave them to Dr. Mann anyways.
Sunday, April 25, 2021, “Decades After Police Bombing, Philadelphians “Sickened” by Handling of Victim’s Bones.” By Michael Levenson, Reprinted from The New York Times. Read more (stay on-site).
Friday, April 23, 2021, “A Mystery and a Scandal for Anthropology.” By Colleen Flaherty. Reprinted from Inside Higher Ed (original).
Friday, April 23, 2021, “Bones of Black children killed in police bombing used in Ivy League anthropology course.” By Ed Pilkington, Reprinted from The Guardian-U.S. edition (original). Most accurate coverage so far.
Weds., April 21, 2021, “Penn Museum owes reparations for previously holding remains of a MOVE bombing victim | Opinion,” Reprinted from The Philadelphia Inquirer (original). By Abdul-Aliy Muhammad. Read more (stay on-site).
Sign a petition authored by Mike Africa Jr. demanding Princeton University, The University of Pennsylvania, The Penn Museum, and Coursera that MOVE Children Deserve to Rest in Peace! Return our family’s remains NOW!
Learn more about the MOVE organization and family.
Speech by Abdul-Aliy Muhammad,
Weds., April 28, 2021,
Rally and March at Univ. of Penn Museum.
Ona move. Say the names: Tree Africa and Delisha Africa. Let’s take a moment of silence. This is heavy, right? Heavy.
It was beyond enough when we found out that Penn had the remains of 53 people, believe to have been enslaved, 51 of them from Cuba, from a plantation […] and 2 of them from Black people from the U.S. And they had some of these encrania from enslaved people, indigenous people, in a glass display case in an anthropology course at the museum.
At that moment when I heard that information I was so upset.
… transcription coming soon …
Dr. Alan Mann worked with the Philadelphia’s Medical Examiner’s office (his assistant was PhD. student Janet Monge). He worked one and a half days for a total of $300. That work was supposed to end and his official engagement with these remains be over.
Mayor Goode establishes a MOVE Commission that hires another forensic pathologist from Delaware, Dr. Hameli. Dr. Hameli took the remains from the MOVE bombing and identified all five children and six adults [all the victims]. [However,] Dr. Mann thought Tree’s remains were those of a young adult, not a 14-year-old, and he couldn’t identify Delisha’s remains either. [Tree and Delisha were the daughters of imprisoned MOVE member Consuewella Africa.]
Mann contradicts Hameli’s claims in the press thus stopping the giving of these sacred remains to family.
Then, Dr. Hameli re-examines the remains and re-affirms his initial report, and that the bones Dr. Mann could not identify were definately those of Delisha and Tree Africa. The MOVE Commission tells the Philadelphia medical examiner’s office to “release these bons according to your regular procedures.”
The mom’s of the children were in prison, so non-MOVE outside families were given remains–except for Tree’s family, which had a symbolic ceremony in November 1985, because the City of Philadelphia had yet to give them the remains.
Tree’s remains were finally released in December 1985. The Medical Examiner’s office was supposed to hand over all the remains.
The funderal for Tree, and her sister Netta, was a joint funeral held on Dec. 14, 1985, by outside family [the mother, Consuewella Africa, was in prison]. The family believed they buried Tree on December 14, 1985.
No one claimed the remains of Delisha Africa because family were incarcerated [said the City], so the City of gave the remains of Delisha Africa to a politician who owned a funeral home. He buried these remains in 1986.
Why is it @ 35 years after Tree’s murder by the State that Dr. Janet Monge is holding up the remainns of Tree in a Coursera class on anthropology (in 2019)?
Parts of their [Delisha and Tree’s] sacred bodies were held n a lab in a box! And Drs. Mann and Morge carried their remains like a game of academic hot potato [to different universities they worked at].
This is disgusting. This is gross. This is not normal. This is not right. This is not okay. [pause]
Monge has to be fired. I stand firm in the demands of MOVE. Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Additionally, like Mike Africa Jr. said, some type of restitution has to happen. There must be payment. There must be accountability. There will be accountability. Because Tree Africa and Delisha Africa deserve sacred rest.
We’re talking about people. Children who were closely held and loved.
By Amy Goodman, with Juan González, who interview Ramona Africa, Mike Africa Jr., and Janet Monge, Princeton University & University of Pennsylvania professor and Penn Museum curator.
August 27, 2020,
Republished from Democracy Now! (original).
Outrage is growing in Philadelphia after explosive revelations that the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University have been in possession of remains thought to belong to two children who were among 11 people killed in the 1985 police bombing of the Philadelphia home of the radical, Black liberation and anti-police-brutality group MOVE. We show an excerpt of a training video — now removed from the internet — by an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University who has been using the bones of at least one of the young bombing victims for the past 36 years — without the knowledge or consent of the families — and get a response from a MOVE family member. “It makes you wonder: What else do they have?” says Mike Africa Jr., a second-generation MOVE member who grew up with the children whose remains have now been located. “What else are they covering up? What else are they lying about?”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. If you’d like to get our daily email digest, go to — text the word “democracynow” — one word — to 66866.
We turn now to shocking revelations that two Ivy League schools — the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University — have been in possession of bones thought to belong to children who were killed in the 1985 police bombing of the Philadelphia home of the radical, Black liberation, anti-police-brutality group MOVE.
In a minute, we’ll show you video of the remains being used in an online teaching course, and get response from Mike Africa Jr. But first, we go back to that day, May 13, 1985, when the Philadelphia police killed six adults and five children, destroyed over 60 homes, burning an entire block to the ground by bombing the MOVE house. In a 2010 interview on Democracy Now!, Ramona Africa, the sole adult survivor of the 1985 attack, described what happened after the bomb was dropped on their house.
RAMONA AFRICA: 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.
Now, at that point, we didn’t know exactly what they had done. We heard the loud explosion. The house kind of shook. But it never entered my mind that they dropped a bomb on us. But the bomb did in fact ignite a fire. And not long after that, it got very, very hot in the house, and the smoke was getting thicker. At first we thought it was tear gas. But as it got thicker, it became clear that this wasn’t tear gas, that this was something else. And then we could hear the trees outside of our house crackling and realized that our home was on fire. And we immediately tried to get our children, our animals, our dogs and cats, and ourselves out of that blazing inferno.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ramona Africa describing the police bombing of the MOVE house in Philadelphia in 1985. In November, the Philadelphia City Council formally apologized for the police bombing, which killed six adults and five children and destroyed the surrounding 60 homes.
Memories of the attack that killed the 11 people were resurfaced last week, when the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University acknowledged that for the past 36 years anthropologists have been using the bones of at least one of the bombing victims, 14-year-old Tree Africa.
In a video course posted online called “Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology,” Penn Museum curator Janet Monge, a visiting Princeton University professor, holds bones thought to be of Tree Africa. The video is no longer available for public viewing, but anyone who already registered for the course can still access it. Democracy Now! obtained a copy from the Africa family.
JANET MONGE: This is one of these cases where the material has some flesh on it, which, you know, is not uncommon, actually, in forensics, in forensic anthropology. In this case, there is some soft tissue which is actually remaining. And the bones were actually burned, as well. So, it’s got quite a complicated history.
So, I’ll pick up just for a moment and show you that this is really the tissue which is present on the specimen. It’s not a lot, but absolutely it’s there. This is the tendon that goes to rectus femoris, that’s actually intact, and it’s there. The femur is with much less tissue associated with it, but you still have in the fovea capitis the anchoring ligament which is present in the head of the femur.
The bones are, I mean, we would say, like, juicy, you know, meaning that you can tell that they are of a recently deceased individual. They have a lot of sort of sheen to them. At least this one does. And that is because, of course, there’s still marrow in the marrow cavity, and it’s sort of leaching basically out and into the bone, so it gives that kind of slick sort of appearance. If you smell it, it doesn’t actually smell bad, but it smells like just kind of greasy, like in older-style grease.
AMY GOODMAN: Since this video was reported on last week, the Penn Museum and the University of Pennsylvania have apologized to the Africa family for allowing human remains recovered from the MOVE house to be used for research and teaching and for retaining the remains for far too long.
The bones are reportedly now in the possession of Alan Mann, a professor emeritus at Princeton, who apparently received them from the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office for forensic analysis in 1985. Mann told the outlet Inside Higher Education he’s working to return, quote, “the upper end of a thigh bone and a small part of one pelvic bone” to the examiner’s office and that he was, quote, “sorry to learn that there is a perception that what I did with the MOVE human remains was wrong,” he said. The Medical Examiner’s Office has said that if the remains are returned to their office, they would attempt to locate next of kin to claim them.
This controversy comes as the Penn Museum just apologized last week for holding more than 1,000 stolen skulls of enslaved people in its Morton Collection. Samuel Morton was a 19th century white supremacist researcher who directed workers to pull the bones from unmarked graves.
For more, we go to Philadelphia, where we’re joined by Mike Africa Jr., a second-generation-born MOVE member and host of the podcast On a Move with Mike Africa Jr. He’s the co-author of the upcoming book, Fifty Years ona Move, out next month.
Mike, welcome back to Democracy Now! We offer you our condolences on this news about the remains of two MOVE children, it’s believed, not only Tree Africa, but Delisha Africa, as well. Can you explain how you found out about this, and what you are demanding right now?
MIKE AFRICA JR.: Thanks for having me, Amy. I found out about this because a friend called me and told me that they heard about it. And when they told me, I was, shortly after, contacted by a local reporter, who was about to release a story about it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mike, I wanted to ask you — you knew Tree Africa and Delisha Africa. You were friends with them. What do you remember about them?
MIKE AFRICA JR.: You know, we spent years together in Virginia. See, back in the day, in the ’70s, when the confrontational atmosphere in Philadelphia was extreme for MOVE, members of the organization, John Africa sent the children to a place in Virginia to get away from this confrontational atmosphere, so Tree and Delisha and many other children were sent there. And when I was born in the jail, after I was born, my grandmother took me to Virginia, too, to be away from the crime and violence. And so, we were there together for years.
And then, when the house in Virginia was raided, too, and we were taken, all of us were put in an abusive orphanage, where we spent 11 days with our hair being combed out of our scalp. Some of us were pushed down steps. It was very, very abusive. And we were rescued from that situation, and we were brought back to Philadelphia, where we were reunited with other members of the organization. And we were living together. We were always together. And then we, you know, bounced around from house to house.
All of us — all of us were, I guess, unconventional orphans. Like, we were all together because all of our parents were in prison. Tree’s mother was in prison. Delisha’s, both her parents were in prison. And, of course, my parents were in prison, too. Delisha’s father is Delbert Africa. He’s best known for the beating he took from police on August 8th, 1978, where they kicked him and lifted him up off the ground with blows to his body as he was on the ground trying to cover his defenseless body.
And so, Tree and Delisha, I knew them both. Tree was the oldest of all the kids. She was very kind, and she was very responsible, and she was always being called on to help with the other kids because she was the oldest. And Delisha was like — she was like our little general. You know, she was like our leader almost. A lot of things went through her. As children, a lot of things, decisions that were made, the simple decisions, like how to sneak some cooked food that we weren’t really supposed to be eating, you know, came from her. And she was very, very, very strong and very clear-visioned. And, you know, we had our own plans that we wanted to do when we got older, and we’d talk about these things together.
And to know that this is happening now after all these years, and we’re so close to what happened May 13th, another anniversary gone by where we think about our families, is just devastating.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you — I was a young reporter in Philadelphia during the 1985 MOVE bombing. I was there that day, most of the day spent with my good friend and fellow colleague at the Philadelphia Daily News, Linn Washington, as we were covering that event. We were astonished, as in the — late in the afternoon, as we saw the helicopter, that Pam Africa described, descending over the house, suddenly dropping the bomb. And what astonished us most was not only the bomb and the fire, but that then the fire trucks, for more than an hour, would not turn any water on. They would let the house burn to force everyone out of the house. And then, of course, as they came out, we later learned, police attempted to shoot them down as the people came out the burning house. I’m wondering your reaction to, more than 30 years later, an apology by the Philadelphia City Council, but yet no one has ever been held accountable or was ever indicted for what happened there that day.
MIKE AFRICA JR.: Yeah. You know, the apology came from a city councilwoman by the name of Jamie Gauthier, who put that apology in because we asked — I asked her to. And I asked her to because, you know, there is still a lot of unresolved issues here with our family and close members of our family, close supporters of our family, who are still involved in these unjust situations, people like Mumia Abu-Jamal.
And now that we found out that these — that the Penn and Princeton have the remains of our family, you know, it makes you wonder: What else do they have? What else are they covering up? What else are they lying about?
I mean, to have an apology is valuable, because that’s kind of like an admission. And we’re going to use that to flush out more, to prove the more injustices. And, you know, the system is controlled by pressure. John Africa said the system is controlled by pressure. And if you don’t keep the pressure on, they will do whatever they want to do. They’re not going to return the thousand skulls that they have. They’re not going to just stop killing people, unless they are pressured. And we have to find a way to apply that pressure. So, I don’t think the apology is a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing.
AMY GOODMAN: This so — Mike, this so reminds me of Henrietta Lacks, the African American woman whose cancer cells are the source of the HeLa cell line, the first immortalized human cell line, one of the most important cell lines in medical research. At the time that she was dying, she never knew they were using her cancer cells. Her family, for years, did not know this. And now we see that these bones of the children of the MOVE bombing, one child, two children — as you said, you don’t know what happened to the remains of the 11 people killed in the MOVE house. But you also mentioned Mumia Abu-Jamal, in prison for life in Pennsylvania. We’ve just gotten word in the last days that he has survived serious open-heart surgery. Do you know about his condition, that he has congestive heart failure? And what are the causes of this?
MIKE AFRICA JR.: Yeah, I mean, what’s happening with Mumia’s health situation, it definitely is not just because he’s 67 years old. You know, many members of the organization and other people that are victims of the mass incarceral system in Pennsylvania and around the country are — they’re coming down with all kind of illnesses because of the treatment and the way that the system itself is set up to give them poor medical care and very, very low-quality food. You know, so, that’s just another issue. And that’s why it’s important to expose these injustices, so that we can use this exposure to get the people — arm the people with information, so that the people can use the information to pressure the system.
You know, we definitely want an investigation, as a collateral descendant of some of the people in the house May 13th. John Africa was my granduncle. And, you know, I don’t trust the Penn Museum. I don’t trust Princeton. I definitely want to say that there is more to come with this. From my point of view, from where I’m standing, I feel that there needs to be done — there needs to be accountability, because the reaction, the people — Penn’s reaction to this is totally unprofessional, making an apology through a statement through someone else. And, you know, the whole thing just is egregious. People are suffering and have been suffering for over 36 years just because of the bombing, but —
AMY GOODMAN: You’re calling for the bones back?
MIKE AFRICA JR.: The bones to the children — That will be decided by their parents.
AMY GOODMAN: Mike Africa, I want to thank you so much. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
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The museum said the remains should have been returned, and pledged to reassess its practices.
Monday, April 26, 2021,
By Vinny Vella and Mensah M. Dean
Reprinted from The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The University of Pennsylvania apologized to members of MOVE on Monday for using the remains of one of the group’s members as a case study in its anthropology classes, rather than returning them to the family.
“We understand the importance of reuniting the remains with the family and we are working now to find a respectful, consultative resolution,” a university spokesperson said. “… We are reassessing our practices of collecting, stewarding, displaying, and researching human remains.”
Members of MOVE, the West Philadelphia-based radical organization whose compound was bombed by the city in 1985 in a conflagration that killed 11, accused the city and the Penn Museum of mishandling and disrespecting the remains of at least one child who died in the blast.
They rejected the museum’s apology at a news conference Monday at the group’s West Philadelphia office, calling it empty words offered by an untrustworthy institution 36 years late. As part of its demands, the group called for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.
Pam Africa, one of the group’s most vocal and prominent members, called the museum “body snatchers” and “grave robbers.”
The remains — a pelvic bone and part of a femur — have been shuttled back and forth between Penn and Princeton University. Their current location is unclear, though the executive director of the Penn Museum told The Inquirer last week that they have been returned to Alan Mann, a retired anthropologist who was hired by the city to examine them after the bombing.*
Mann, who lives in a rural area outside Princeton, N.J., has not responded to numerous requests for comment.
Custody of the remains was brought to light in an opinion article published online last week by The Inquirer and written by freelancer and activist Abdul-Aliy Muhammad. Muhammad has also advocated for the Penn Museum’s swift repatriation of the skull collection gathered by 19th century white supremacist Samuel George Morton.
When the city failed to identify the remains, they were turned over to Mann, then a University of Pennsylvania professor, by an official investigative commission for additional forensic examination. *lie
The remains were initially subjected to detailed analysis by Mann and kept at the Penn Museum. Mann then took the remains with him when he joined Princeton in 2001, but returned them to the Penn Museum in 2016 so its experts could again seek to identify them using a new anthropology lab, a museum spokesperson said. No identity was determined.
In recent years, another Penn anthropologist, Janet Monge, has shown the remains in instructional videos offered online by Princeton. The videos had been available for viewing in classes that began last week, but were taken down as controversy around the remains swirled.
At their news conference Monday, members of MOVE said the museum had never contacted them about attempting to identify the remains. Statements to the contrary are lies, they said.
Janet Africa, who spent 41 years in prison for the 1978 slaying of a Philadelphia police officer during a standoff at MOVE’s Powelton Village compound, accused the museum of treating the bones like an amusement park exhibit.
Another member, Janine Africa, said the museum’s handling of the remains was “the most disrespectful, hateful thing you can do to anybody.” She was in prison at the time of the bombing for her role in the 1978 clash with police that left Officer James J. Ramp dead.
One of those killed in the 1985 bombing was her son.
”This is a very hard thing for me to talk about, because I feel like I am reliving 1985, when they told me my son is dead,” she said.
Consuewella Dotson Africa, the mother of the two oldest children killed in the 1985 bombing, became emotional during the news conference and left the room. She later returned. A pathologist, Dr. Ali Hameli, hired by a commission set up to investigate the disaster said the disputed remains likely belonged to her 14-year-old daughter Katricia, but Mann, the Penn anthropologist, vehemently disagreed. [* like all pathologists who find out a police officer kills a civilian, the city usually hires a new ‘investigator’ — in this example, The City of Philadelphia paid the compliant Dr. Mann to deliver their desired verdict. Katricia’s actual name is Tree Africa.]
“Some 36 years later they come to us and say they got some bones of our children. You go to hell with that bullshit,” Consuewella shouted. “Mother’s Day is coming up soon. We will never be able to hug and embrace our children.”
Mike Africa, whose parents were imprisoned for the 1978 slaying and who was born in prison, said the group would be holding a protest in front of Penn Museum at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to continue exposing the “injustice.”
”I could not imagine, in my worse nightmare, that the government would drop a bomb on us and kill my brothers and sisters. And I could not have imagined 36 years later that they would be displaying parts of our family as if they’re some dinosaur relics that they dug up,” he said. “Our family has been through so much, and the abuse and the trauma continues. But we are strong, and we ain’t never giving in.”
While the femur and pelvic bones have been in the possession of the anthropologists, the remains of Katricia, and of her sister, Zanetta, 13, were given to [non-MOVE] family members in 1985 by the city Medical Examiner’s office. A burial service was held on December 14, 1985, at Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, PA.
Katricia’s father, Omar Galloway, attended the service, as did an aunt and uncle of the slain sisters. Their mother was not present. She was in prison at the time, one of nine MOVE members serving 30-year terms for third-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Ramp, who was killed in the 1978 confrontation. She was released from prison about two years ago.
Two sisters of MOVE founder John Africa said at the time that the burial was a “hypocrisy” that violated the beliefs of the group.
- Note by editor of Onamove.com who is a volunteer sympathetic to MOVE but NOT a MOVE member or speaking for MOVE:
- Consuewella Africa named her daughter Tree Africa, not just Katricia. Say her name.
- Writers Vinny Vella and Mensah M. Dean are police apologists. The Philadelphia Inquirer has already reported that The City of Philadelphia hired Alan Mann after the original pathologist, Dr. Ali Hameli, determined that the bones belonged to Tree Africa, child of Consuewella Dotson Africa. Philadelphia police stationed at the rear of the home shot fusillades of bullets at MOVE members attempting to escape the inferno and the City of Philadelphia was determined to hide that sickening criminality by snatching the body of this MOVE child, giving other remains to non-MOVE members, and bulldozing over the rest of MOVE remains. Tell the truth, The Philly Inquirer.
Sunday, April 25, 2021,
By Michael Levenson,
Reprinted from The New York Times.
The disclosure that anthropologists at two Ivy League universities had kept bones from a victim of the 1985 MOVE bombing infuriated its members as well as city leaders.
In the early evening of May 13, 1985, the police flew a helicopter over a crowded West Philadelphia neighborhood and dropped a bomb on the rowhouse where members of the communal, anti-government group MOVE lived.
The bomb started a fire, and the police ordered firefighters to let it burn. Eleven people, including five children, were killed, and more than 60 nearby homes were destroyed.
The pain of that day never left for many Philadelphians, a scarring memory of how the police caused a middle-class, mostly Black neighborhood to burn.
This week, the anguish came surging back when officials at two Ivy League universities acknowledged that anthropologists had been passing the bones of a young bombing victim between them for the last 36 years. The bones were also featured in a video for an online course, “Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology,” [editor: course since removed] taught by a University of Pennsylvania professor and offered by Princeton.
“I was sickened and almost in shock,” said Jamie Gauthier, a member of the Philadelphia City Council, which apologized for the bombing last year. “It’s just an unbelievable amount of disrespect for Black life and an unbelievable amount of disrespect for a child who suffered trauma, a child who was killed by her own government.”
Mike Africa Jr., an activist, writer and member of MOVE who was 6 when the bomb was dropped, said he and others in the group did not know the bones — parts of a burned femur and a pelvis — had been used in the video and kept for decades by anthropologists.
He said he learned about the bones only days ago from an activist, Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, who wrote an opinion piece published on Wednesday by The Philadelphia Inquirer calling for the bones to be returned to MOVE. The same day, the news site Billy Penn reported that the remains had been kept in a cardboard box on a shelf.
“Anger, fury, disappointment, sadness,” Mr. Africa said, describing his reaction. “It’s like this never ends and no matter how much time passes, and you hope that things can get to a place where you can begin to heal some, it’s right back up in your face. I haven’t cried this many consecutive days since 1985.”
The bombing has for decades been held up as an example of the city’s mistreatment of Black people. In 1988, a grand jury cleared officials of criminal liability for the death and destruction resulting from the bombing.
“It remains a festering injustice because there was no accountability for those who dropped the bomb,” said Linn Washington, a journalism professor at Temple University who covered the bombing as a reporter.
Christopher Woods, the director of the Penn Museum, said that museum workers knew for years that the bones of a MOVE bombing victim had been kept there. Those people told him about the bones last Friday, he said, in the context of another controversy involving different bones at the museum.
This month, the museum and the University of Pennsylvania apologized for the decadeslong possession of hundreds of skulls, including those of enslaved people, that had been collected by a 19th-century physician whose research was used to justify white supremacist views.
The museum said it would repatriate the skulls whenever possible.
The bones of the bombing victim had been repeatedly analyzed over the years in an effort to positively identify the person they belonged to, Dr. Woods said.
“I would apologize for any trauma this has reintroduced,” Dr. Woods said. “That certainly wasn’t our intention. Our intention was to help solve this case and restore the personhood and identity and dignity of this individual.”
Some MOVE members and city leaders said the bones of the bombing victim should have been returned years ago. Professor Washington said Penn should offer a “profuse apology” and compensation.
“This was a homicidal act and now this homicidal act has been compounded by the behavior at Penn,” Professor Washington said. “I saw this as a repeat of colonialism, where people’s lives were misappropriated.”
Two anthropologists who analyzed the bones — Alan Mann, now a professor emeritus at Princeton, and Janet Monge, the curator-in-charge of the Penn Museum’s Physical Anthropology Section — were not able to positively identify the victim, according to the museum.
The bones, according to the museum and Princeton, are currently in Dr. Mann’s possession. Dr. Woods said the museum returned the bones to him on Sunday because the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office had originally given them to him for forensic analysis in 1985.
Dr. Mann and Dr. Monge did not respond to messages this week.
Dr. Woods, who became director of the Penn Museum on April 1, said he hopes the bones can be returned to MOVE. “We are working on it now,” he said. “It’s a complex issue. We all want to do the right thing.”
According to the museum, Dr. Mann was originally acting as an “independent forensic anthropologist,” when he received the bones in 1985. At the time, he was also a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
After the medical examiner failed to make a positive identification, the office gave the bones to Dr. Mann in the hopes that he could eventually link them to a victim, the museum said. In 2001, when Dr. Mann became a professor at Princeton, the bones were moved there, the museum said.
In 2016, a year after Dr. Mann retired from Princeton, the remains returned to the Penn Museum for testing with new technology by Dr. Monge. She was unable to make a positive identification, the museum said.
Dr. Monge also used the bones in a video for the online forensics course offered by Princeton. In the video, she describes the history of the bombing and signs of damage on the bones, and a student says she concluded that the bones belonged to a preteen or teenage girl.
Princeton said in a statement on Friday that “out of respect for the victims of the MOVE bombing and their families we have suspended the online course.”
The university said, “We have no reason to believe that anything improper is currently taking place at Princeton.” It added, “We are reviewing our protocols and policies for the handling of any human remains in teaching and research to ensure they are consistent with the highest professional practice and ethical standards.”
A spokeswoman for Jim Kenney, the mayor of Philadelphia, said he was recently made aware of the “unfortunate situation” involving the bones. “He is extremely disturbed by the mishandling of the victims’ remains,” said the spokeswoman, Deana Gamble.
She said “any future placement of these remains should be determined in concert with the victims’ families.”
The bones, Mr. Africa said, may belong to Delisha Africa or Tree Africa, who were 12 and 14 when they were killed, according to city officials. He said that Delisha taught him how to be mischievous and to get away with it. And Tree, he said, loved climbing trees.
“I knew those kids,” Mr. Africa said. “They’re not an imagination or a hallucination. There are memories.”
Two bones from 1985 bombing, never ID’d, have shuttled between Penn and Princeton.
Thursday, April 23, 2021.
By Craig R. McCoy, STAFF WRITER,
Reprinted from The Philadelphia Inquirer.
More than 35 years after 11 bodies were found in the rubble of the MOVE rowhouse, new questions have emerged over how two universities treated the remains of one victim.
The remains, never conclusively identified, were turned over to a University of Pennsylvania professor by an official investigative commission for additional forensic examination shortly after the 1985 disaster on Osage Avenue. Ever since, the material has been shuttled back and forth between Penn and Princeton University.
The remains — a pelvic bone and part of a femur — were initially subjected to detailed analysis by Penn anthropology professor Alan Mann and kept at the Penn Museum.
Mann took the remains with him when he joined Princeton’s faculty in 2001, but returned them to the Penn Museum in 2016 so its experts could again seek to identify them using a new anthropology lab, a museum spokesperson said. No identity was determined.
In recent years, another Penn anthropologist, Janet Monge, has shown the remains in instructional videos offered online by Princeton. Most recently, the Coursera videos were available for viewing in classes that began this week. Monge, a curator at the Penn Museum, titled her class “Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology” and spoke of a MOVE “case study.”
The remains were kept at the Penn Museum for the last five years. They were just returned to Professor Mann — on Saturday. The new director of the Penn Museum, Christopher Woods, ordered them returned after hearing concerns about them, the museum spokesperson said.
The museum said Woods declined to talk to The Inquirer. In a statement, the museum said no one had ever come forward to claim the remains. Without providing any details, it said it had made several failed attempts to contact MOVE about them.
The decades of custody of the remains was brought to light in an op/ed article published online Wednesday by the Inquirer and written by freelancer and activist Abdul-Aliy Muhammad. Muhammad has also advocated for the Penn Museum’s swift repatriation of the skull collection gathered by 19th-century white supremacist Samuel George Morton.
In the Wednesday piece, Muhammad calls for the Penn Museum to apologize and give “restitution to the MOVE family for this egregious act.” Local news outlet Billy Penn also posted an article Wednesday about the matter.
City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, whose West Philadelphia district includes the area of the MOVE bombing, said she learned about the remains recently from Mike Africa Jr., a son of MOVE members. She said she had complained on Tuesday to a Penn official.
“I was in disbelief that Penn as an institution would have so little regard for Black life that they would treat a little girl who was already killed by our government as property, as someone to be studied,” Gauthier said Wednesday.
Mike Africa Jr. declined through an intermediary to talk to a reporter for this story.
The new focus on the remains follows the Penn Museum’s apology earlier this month for its “unethical possession of human remains” it held as part of the 1,000-skull Morton collection.
Woods, who started April 1 as the museum’s director, said then that it would seek to rebury the skulls and other remains.
“It is time for these individuals to be returned to their ancestral communities, wherever possible,” he said, “as a step toward atonement and repair for the racist and colonial practices that were integral to the formation of these collections.”
In the MOVE bombing on May 13, 1985, police laid siege to the group’s fortified house after neighbors complained of harassment by the organization. After a gun battle, police dropped a bomb on the home to dislodge a rooftop bunker.
The city let the resultant fire burn to destroy the bunker after the fire commissioner promised his firefighters could get the blaze under control. The commissioner was wrong. The fire spread and destroyed MOVE’s building and 60 other houses. The badly-burned bodies of six MOVE members and five of their children were found in the group’s basement.
A medical examiner hired by a special commission set up by the city to investigate the disaster bought in Mann to examine the bones of one victim. But the pathologist and Mann ended up sharply disagreeing.
Dr. Ali Hameli, who had previously won attention for identifying the remains of Nazi war criminal Dr. Joseph Mengele, said the remains were those of a 14-year-old girl, Katricia Dotson, who is called Tree Africa by MOVE members. However, Mann said they were those of a young adult woman, raising the unsettling possibility of a 12th victim of the tragedy.
Katricia and her younger sister, Zanetta, 13, were the oldest children to die that day. Their mother is MOVE member Consuewella Dotson Africa. Dotson was in prison during the 1985 bombing, one of nine MOVE members serving a 30-year term for third-degree murder in the 1978 death of a police officer. Dotson, who has since been released, could not be reached for comment.
Mann, 81, now a professor emeritus at both Princeton and Penn, could not be reached for comment. He did not return messages seeking comment from the Inquirer, relayed to him by the chair of the Princeton anthropology department and by a former relative. Monge, who has also worked as an adjunct professor at Princeton, didn’t reply to a similar message.
Michael Hotchkiss, a spokesperson for Princeton, would only say “no remains of the victims of the MOVE bombing are being housed at Princeton University.” Asked if that meant retired professor Mann had the remains, Hotchkiss said he could add nothing to the statement.
In an interview Wednesday, Carolyn Rouse, the chair of Princeton’s anthropology department, said her colleagues had acted properly.
“This is no controversy. This is a problem to be solved,” she said. “There’s no racism. This was a forensic investigation and nobody came to claim the remains.”
She added about the two academics: “They were traumatized by working on the case. They were advocates for these people, and they were horrified by what the city did.”
Of the educational videos, Rouse said the remains were used as an instructional aid to teach a discipline with ramifications for history, epidemiology, and archaeology, among others. “How would you teach forensic anthropology, otherwise?” she asked.
In its statement, the Penn Museum made the same point. However, it cited its new policy regarding the skull collection and added: “We will be reassessing our practices of collecting, stewarding, displaying and researching human remains.”
It also defended its work over the years to identify the remains, saying the intent was to “restore the individual’s personhood, help solve this painful case in the city’s history, and bring resolution to the community.”
Craig R. McCoy, STAFF WRITER
Penn has not publicly addressed Philadelphia’s Black communities for the holding of remains from someone who died in a state murder.
by Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, for the Inquirer
Published Apr 21, 2021
This month, Penn Museum affirmed a commitment to repatriate the remains of Black Philadelphians warehoused in the Morton Cranial Collection — yet the museum has announced no plans for reparations around its past holding of the remains of someone killed in the 1985 MOVE bombing, which resulted in the death of 11 people and destroyed a city block.
Thirty-six years later, the scars of the West Philly bombing continue to devastate Philadelphia’s Black community. Just as Penn has apologized for its unethical collection of human skulls, the university must also apologize for holding these MOVE remains and agree to make restitution.
In 1985, under the custody of professor Alan Mann, Penn received the remains for examination through the city medical examiner’s office.* The MOVE Commission, a group of independent members, was separately appointed by the mayor to investigate the event. Following a dispute over whether specific remains belonged to Tree Africa, who was 14 when killed in the MOVE bombing, Penn kept those remains until 2001 when Mann transferred to Princeton University, taking them with him. In 2016, Penn brought back the remains for a temporary investigation that lasted until 2019, and they were later returned to Princeton, per the museum’s account.
In a 2019 Coursera video, presented on Princeton University’s online learning platform, curator-in-charge of the physical anthropology section at Penn Museum, Janet Monge, who, in 1985, worked under Mann as a doctoral student, explores “restoring personhood” in forensic anthropology while handling and examining the remains of a Philadelphian who died in the MOVE bombing — a femur and pelvic bone that were badly burned. This is included in a series entitled “REAL BONES: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology” that addresses MOVE as a case study.
Looking back on the history of the MOVE bombing brings a disturbing reality to the fore. On May 13, 1985, after days of prolonged issues and under instructions from Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr., police shot water cannons and deployed tear gas and 10,000 rounds of ammunition, claiming they were responding to shots from MOVE members. Around 5 p.m., a police helicopter dropped a bomb onto the MOVE property, triggering the explosion and fire that killed 11 people and destroyed the block.
The state violence against Black Philadelphians represented by the MOVE bombing, which City Council apologized for last November, overlaps with the violence of academic institutions keeping the remains of Black people rather than relinquishing those remains for burial.
Amy Sadao, former director of Penn’s Institute of Contemporary Art, said that when she worked at Penn remains of a MOVE bombing victim being housed at the museum was like “an open secret” that troubled some staff. Arielle Julia Brown, the former public programs developer in the then-public programs department at Penn, worked as a cultural planning consultant for the Penn & Slavery Project. Upon hearing of the possession of the remains, Brown said it reflects to her that “Black people [are still] dispossessed of their own material future after death, after wrongful death, after violent death at the hands of white supremacy.”
In the aftermath of the MOVE bombing, the city showed neglect in assuring proper handling of the remains of the people who were killed. Richard Kent Evans, visiting professor at Haverford, states in his book MOVE: An American Religion that “for six months the bodies of the MOVE people … decomposed in a city morgue,” instead of being returned to family members for proper burial. Evans also notes that “machine operators crushed bones and mangled skeletons.”
Despite touting its work on the Morton Cranial Collection, Penn has not publicly addressed Philadelphia’s Black communities for holding remains from a MOVE bombing victim — someone who died in a state murder.
The remains of murdered Black people were mishandled then, but as Penn continues their reckoning with past practices around human remains, there is an opportunity here for them to make amends to West Philadelphia. Although Princeton must also grapple with their handling of these remains, it’s especially important for Penn to do so since they are located just blocks away from where the MOVE bombing took place. People should not have to fight to discover that remains of Black people have been used as instruction when the family had no idea.
In response to learning how long the museum held the remains of a MOVE victim, Mike Africa Jr., the son of Debbie Sims Africa and Michael Africa Sr. of the MOVE 9 (who were incarcerated for the 1978 killing of Officer James Ramp, though Mayor Goode in the documentary 40 Years a Prisoner stated he believed Ramp died of friendly fire) asked: How “would they feel if somebody got one of their babies and studied it? Think about that for a second — somebody just burned the baby up and now they put it in a drawer.” Africa demands that the surviving family members be notified by Penn immediately, that Monge be fired, that Penn makes a public apology for this egregious act, and that there is “some kind of restitution.”
If “[t]he Penn Museum and the University of Pennsylvania apologize for the unethical possession of human remains in the Morton Collection,” as shared in an April 14 press release, the museum must make a public, specific apology with plans for restitution to the MOVE family for this egregious act.
Abdul-Aliy Muhammad is an organizer and writer born and raised in West Philadelphia. @MxAbdulAliy
*Editor’s note: This post has been corrected to state that Mann was hired to examine the MOVE victim remains by the city medical examiner’s office, not by the MOVE Commission.
Tuesday, February 16
6pm EST / 5pm CST / 3pm PST.
The event will include welcoming and discussion with Michael Africa, Jr. himself!
Please register for the Zoom event at tinyurl.com/ILPS40Years
The Committee to Stop FBI Repression is a member group of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS).
Film also showing on December 3, 2020, at 9pm on HBO. More film events will be listed on this, the MOVE website (run by Friends of MOVE).
For more info: Mobilization4Mumia@gmail.com and (215) 724-1618
What can apologies do for the kids who died, or for their parents, who were unjustly imprisoned while they burned?
By Mike Africa, Jr.,
Reprinted from Salon (original).
On May 10, 2020, former Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode made a formal apology, in the form of an op-ed in The Guardian, for an atrocity that happened on his watch. It had been almost 35 years to the day since Philadelphia police flew a helicopter over the headquarters of MOVE, a revolutionary civil liberties organization, and dropped a bomb on the roof of the building. The bomb sparked a fire that would kill 11 people inside, including five children who were under the age of 15. These people were my family.
I was six years old when the bomb was dropped. From more than four miles away at my Grandmother’s house, I could see the thick black cloud in the air. I remember playing outside when a neighborhood kid told me, “They dropped a bomb on MOVE.” When I said, “No they didn’t,” he pointed to the sky to show me billowing smoke. I ran back in the house to find my grandmother, my aunt and other adults watching a raging fire on the television, with a woman screaming uncontrollably. When I said that looked like our home and our family, my aunt said, “It is.”
Fear and wonder bounced around my mind like ping pong balls. Who was in the house? Was it the children I knew? Would they survive the blaze? The trauma left me numb and, for decades, fearful of the sound or sight of helicopters.
The MOVE Organization surfaced in the early 1970s, lead by an uneducated, poor, yet wise and strategic-minded Black man named John Africa. John Africa created the organization to fight against the systemic oppression of people. The group was much like many other radical Black groups opposed to societal ills, but unlike those other groups, MOVE believed that people will never achieve true freedom for oppressed people if the slave mentality was allowed to exist. The same system that enslaved African people is the very same system that enslaves animals in zoos and circuses. The same is true for the environment. Bartering the water for money, sacrificing the health of people for environmentally pollutant industries. For our stance against the entire re-formed world system we became targets of the establishment’s most notorious gang, the police department — much like the Black Panthers, Earth First, and The Animal Liberation Front.
To this day, no city official—not the mayor, not the police commissioner, not any one of the officers involved—has been charged or punished for dropping a bomb on their own citizens. Not even the fire commissioner or the police commissioner who, together, deliberately let the fire burn. Instead, the lone adult survivor of the bombing, Ramona Africa, was the only person to be punished for the incident. She served seven years in prison for “riot.”
But Goode, the mayor who let this happen in his city, apologized in his Guardian op-ed. That’s supposed to be a good thing, right? He apologized and urged other officials and even the city itself to apologize as well, saying, “it would be helpful for the healing of all involved.” But I know for a fact that these apologies are not for my healing, or for my family’s healing.
Apologies are not for the victims. They are to ease the minds of the offenders. Goode has apologized for the bombing of MOVE no less than four times, but even his most recent apology served mostly to deflect the very blame he was claiming to accept. He wrote: “I am ultimately responsible for those I appointed…I apologize for their reckless actions that brought about this horrific outcome, even though I knew nothing about their specific plan of action.”
This is why apologies without action are meaningless—they are not catalysts of change, but rather a means of placating the public so that those in power can continue carrying on as they always have. Far from ever facing punishment for the bombing of my family, Goode actually had a Philadelphia street named after him in 2018. Public apologies allow officials like Goode to give the appearance of taking responsibility without facing any real punishment or repercussions. It is all part of a carefully constructed machine, the same machine that allows a police chief to apologize away the shooting of a young unarmed Black man without making any changes to his department, or for the officer who shot that young man to go on “administrative leave” rather than being fired or arrested.
I know how this machine works from first-hand experience. I was born in a prison cell after my mother and father were wrongfully convicted as a result of an earlier attack on MOVE, committed by Goode’s predecessor, Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo.
Rizzo is most known for his brutal treatment of blacks in the city. As police commissioner, Rizzo was accused of ordering motorcycle cops to intentionally run over Black protestors and telling his officers to “get their black asses.” It was Rizzo’s cops who mercilessly beat MOVE member Rhonda Africa, who at the time was 8 months pregnant and days later bore her stillborn baby, only to discover his tiny body covered in black and blue bruises. As mayor, Rizzo faced multiple lawsuits for discriminatory practices in hiring for the police and fire departments. He openly employed and supported anyone that had the same type of hate for Black people as he did, and infamously told supporters to “vote white.” From cops to firemen, judges to politicians, district attorneys to public defenders, Rizzo had an assembly line of injustice in place to send as many Black people to prison as he could. The brutality of Rizzo and his police are best documented in a Pulitzer-Prize award-winning Philadelphia Inquirer series by William K. Marimow and Jon Neuman if you want to read that full story.
Rizzo’s most famous attack, the event that would unjustly put my parents behind bars for more than 40 years, came against The MOVE Organization in 1978. In the wee hours of the morning on August 8, 1978, hundreds of heavily armed Philadelphia police and firemen came out to MOVE’s home and headquarters. Police cleared the streets of cars and residents in order to assume a combat formation in the residential neighborhood of Powelton Village. Then Police commissioner Joseph O’Neill ordered MOVE members to surrender over a loudspeaker: “Attention MOVE, this is America.”
When MOVE refused to come out of the house, or “barricaded themselves inside” according to some reports, a violent siege began. A bulldozer was used to knock down MOVE’s fence, a hydraulic cherry picker knocked out the home’s windows. Firefighters and police entered the residence and found all MOVE members in the basement. Firefighters cut a hole in the floor to gain optimal positioning for their water cannons that were used to blast MOVE members who were trapped in the cellar. Tear gas, smoke bombs and hundreds of rounds of ammunition from police rained down on MOVE members as they shielded their babies and each other. My parents were in that basement—my mom was eight months pregnant with me and holding my 2-year-old sister.
The suffocating effects of the tear gas and smoke forced MOVE to flee the home. Police awaiting their exit violently snatched babies from the women’s arms and dangled them above the ground like rag dolls. With an already battered body and multiple bullet wounds, my uncle Chuck Africa got out of the building, only to be beaten to the ground by waiting police officers. On the other side of the house, separated from the other MOVE members, Delbert Africa was ordered at gunpoint by police to exit the building from a secluded side window. Although he had already been shot and was exiting the basement bare-chested with his hands up, officers still smashed Delbert over the head with a steel helmet and broke his jaw with a rifle butt before arresting him.
Rizzo’s justification for attacking our home? Serving an eviction notice for the property having “housing code violations.” Since when has it been okay to answer a housing code violation with a military siege?
During the gunfire and confusion of the siege, a police officer was shot (by a single, fatal bullet) and nine members of MOVE, including my parents, my uncle Chuck, and Delbert, were charged with the murder. How nine people can shoot one officer with one bullet, I cannot tell you. The trial judge even admitted during the trial that he didn’t know who actually killed the officer, but that did not keep then District Attorney Ed Rendell from pushing for the maximum sentence. My parents and the rest of the MOVE 9 were sentenced to 100 years each in prison.
Despite all the subsequent public apologies for the obvious mishandling of this case, including apologies from Ed Rendell himself, it would still take 40 years before I was able to get my parents released from prison. It was not until February of this year that my uncle Chuck, the last of the MOVE 9 to still be incarcerated, was finally released. By that time, two of the MOVE 9 had already died in prison.
Back in the 1980s, by the time election season rolled around, the Black community was desperate for a change. So when there was a chance to finally vote out Rizzo, and a Black candidate by the name of Wilson Goode was running, Black voters flocked to give Goode their support. Goode promised that, if elected, he would look into the case of the imprisoned MOVE members and even went so far as to say that he believed they were innocent. This was almost 40 years ago.
Between the MOVE 9, Mumia Abu-Jamal (a young journalist who was also arrested on blatantly false charges) and a number of other high-profile injustices at the time, protests and demands for justice were reaching a fever pitch. The pressure from MOVE and the community was so intense that city officials dubbed it “rioting,” an arrestable offense, in order to put an end to it. This was the decision that would lead to the 1985 bombing.
When heavily militarized police came to the row house on Osage Avenue on May 13, 1985, under the guise of serving arrest warrants on charges of “terroristic threats,” “riot,” and “disorderly conduct,” a series of fatal decisions would show, with terrifying clarity, just how deeply embedded racism and hate were in the Philadelphia fire department, police department, and the court system.
When MOVE members found themselves once again confronted with fabricated charges and a militarized police siege at their door, they refused to leave the house, and police, seeing “no other way” to get in or force them out, then flew a helicopter over the house and dropped a bundle of C4 on the roof of the building. When the bomb sparked a roaring inferno, police commissioner Gregore Sambor told the firemen on the scene to stand down, reportedly telling them to “let the fire burn.” When the 13 people in the house tried to escape the inferno, they were met with police gunfire, forcing them back into the blaze. When the fire consumed 61 homes in the largely Black neighborhood before it was finally extinguished, it would take years for the city to make what were ultimately pretty shoddy repairs. The District Attorney who ensured that the bombing’s lone adult survivor, Ramona Africa, was sentenced to 7 years for “riot,” was, again, none other than Ed Rendell.
But now, 35 years after the bombing of an American residential home and 42 years after the wrongful conviction of nine innocent people resulting in 100-year prison sentences each, Goode and Rendell are making apologies. Their apologies have been published in local Philadelphia newspapers and in The Guardian. Goode apologized for his role in the bombing, saying that he would now support MOVE in their mission for the rest of his life, just like he said during his election campaign, years before the bombing. Yes, Goode eventually wrote letters of support for releasing the MOVE 9, but that was not until 2018, after my mother had already been released and we were receiving media attention. Rendell was quoted recently saying he regretted pushing for so much time to be served in prison for the MOVE 9, but he still has not pushed for commuting my parents’ parole, which they are still serving.
What can apologies do for the two members of MOVE who died in prison after serving 20 years and 37 years each? What can apologies do for the children who died in the bombing, or for their parents who were in prison on false charges while their children burned? While an apology may seem noble to some, it’s hard to accept an apology when you’re watching your parents grow old in prison. When my parents went to prison, my oldest sister was five years old. By the time my parents came home, my sister was a grandparent. All of these apologies make it sound like this was some kind of mistake, but it was deliberate. Every step of the way, actions were taken to shore up a system designed not just to oppress Black people, but to kill us. How can I accept an apology from the people who deliberately killed my family? How can an apology, empty words, be all there is?
With the recent uprisings around the world calling for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and too many others to name on one page, we have seen some cops joining the protesters, kneeling in solidarity, making statements against police brutality. And this is a positive step, but we have to move past this symbolism and into action, reform. What will this symbolism do to stop the brutality if the system itself has been built, in too many layers to count, to subjugate the people and protect the enforcers?
In Buffalo, NY, for example, the world saw 75-year-old white protester Martin Gugino shoved to the ground by police. Those same police, just 24 hours earlier, had been kneeling with protesters. The shove knocked Gugino to the ground causing him to hit his head and crack his skull. The impact of the fall was so severe that the hit caused blood to leak from his ears. Witnessing the fall, other cops tried to aid Gugino and they too were shoved away from providing aid by their fellow officers. The Buffalo Police Department later issued an apology for the offense, which no one complained about, but when the two officers involved in the shove were actually arrested for the assault, 57 other police officers resigned from the unit “in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders.”
This system, a system in which officers feel more empowered to take action for the violent offenders within their ranks than they do for an elderly man who is bleeding out in front of them on the concrete, this is the system we must fight to change. Apologies and shows of symbolic solidarity are not enough to fix this system on their own. They are only the pleasantries at the beginning of what needs to be a very tough and action-oriented national conversation.
On June 3, 2020, the city of Philadelphia finally removed Frank Rizzo’s statue from where it stood across from City Hall, but the echoes of his brutal policy decisions are still shaping our police force and our government. There is still a street named after Wilson Goode.
Is it possible for people to actually feel sorry for their roles in an atrocity, and at the same time do nothing for the people who are affected by it? Can you feel sorry about a heinous crime while also defending the people who committed it? If Philadelphia officials can recognize that Rizzo was a racist and remove his statue, why force the victims of his racism to stay in prison? If Ed Rendell is so sorry for my parents spending so many years in prison, why is he not pushing to commute their 60 years of parole? To visit a dying brother one town over, they need approval by a parole officer, to visit a daughter who just came out of surgery is denied due to area restrictions.
Apologies, statue removals, repainting the streets … these are forced responses due to pressure from the public, for fear of the people’s uprising. But removing a statue of one brutal, white fascist does not change the racist treatment of Black people in America. Renaming a street to Black Lives Matter will not stop police from kneeling on our necks in other streets. A few police officers symbolically kneeling with protesters will not fix a nation-wide system that allows for the brutal attacking of Black people without fear of repercussions. It is a system that must be dismantled with as much intention and effort as it took to build it. It is a system built around decades of racism and hatred, with a determination to institutionalize that hatred, and if you are not willing to do the hard work of actual reform, you will not be able to fix that with any number of apologies.
Written with Salon’s Editor at Large D. Watkins, New York Times bestselling author of “The Cook Up,” “The Beast Side” and “We Speak for Ourselves.”
Mike Africa, Jr. is a public speaker, writer, hip hop artist, and member of MOVE. Born in prison after the wrongful conviction of his parents, Mike worked from age 14 until he was in his 40s to free them and the other members of the MOVE 9. He succeeded in freeing his parents in 2018, after they each served 40 years in prison. The rest of the MOVE 9 soon followed. Mike be found @MikeafricaJr on Instagram, and more information is available at www.MikeAfricaJr.com.