February 20, 1986,
Reprinted from The Workers’ Advocate,
Vol. 2, #2.
Last May 13, the Philadelphia police carried out a murderous assault on the black group MOVE. After hours of firing ammunition, tear gas, and water cannon on the MOVE house on Osage Avenue, the police dropped a powerful bomb on the roof. The inferno which resulted was allowed by city officials to destroy 61 houses in the west Philadelphia neighborhood, leaving over 250 people homeless. Eleven people in the MOVE house, including five children, were incinerated.
Outrage among the masses has not let the MOVE massacre fade away. And the police and city officials, with black Mayor Wilson Goode at their head, continue to feel the heat for their responsibility for this atrocity. To relieve the pressure and whitewash the massacre, the government is holding a string of official inquiries. In November the Philadelphia Special Investigative Commission (PSIC) concluded 18 days of televised hearings. The finds of the hearings are soon to be released. And four more investigations are yet to come: by the Philadelphia district attorney, the Pennsylvania Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Justice Department.
The 11-member PSIC was appointed by Mayor Goode to “investigate” himself and. his cronies. It included big time lawyers, bankers, and FBI men. Some of its members were also big contributors to Goode’s election campaign.
Although its official “findings” have not yet been released, one thing is clear: in no way will this inquiry condemn Goode and company for the cold-blooded, premeditated murder of the MOVE people, and the destruction by fire of a black working-class neighborhood. Quite the opposite. The whole thrust of the hearings was that it was quite necessary and correct to stamp out the MOVE people. At the same time, it was unfortunate that the assault suffered from “miscommunications” and “mistakes”. In fact, the capitalist authorities are using these hearings to sum up how the SWAT and police assault teams can do their jobs more neatly, with better equipment, better communications, and better planning in future assaults on groups the government may want to eliminate.
The Murderers Point the Finger at Each Other
The commission hearings saw a parade of, some 88 witnesses including the four key figures in the assault: Mayor Goode, then city Managing Director Leo Brooks, Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor, and Fire Commissioner William Richmond. These are the officials who bear the greatest responsibility for planning and ordering the murderous actions of the police and fire departments on May 13. To escape blame, they lied, contradicted each other, and pointed the finger. The lower officials, in turn, contradicted the chiefs, repeatedly giving conflicting testimony.
Goode, who last May thought it best for his image to accept full responsibility, changed his tune a bit during the hearings. Now he portrayed himself as uninformed, duped by his lieutenants, a bit foolish perhaps, but well-meaning, and oh-so sorry that things turned out as they did. Today, of the big four, only Goode’s job is still secure. Brooks resigned shortly after May 13. Sambor resigned shortly after the hearings. And there are reports that Richmond is considering leaving his post. This is a typical cover-up in capitalist politics while all are guilty, the subordinates withdraw in order to save the top dog.
The Federal Government Also Had a Hand in the Massacre
In all fairness, Mayor Goode and his henchmen were not alone in unleashing the massacre of May 13. The hearings confirmed that they had the eager assistance of higher levels of the capitalist government, right up to the federal agencies.
Intelligence on MOVE was shared with agents from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau. It was also the ATF that approved and helped the Philadelphia Police Department acquire automatic weapons and other military equipment for the assault on the MOVE home.
Massacre Was Long Planned
Back in 1984, Goode went to the FBI and the Secret Service to solicit their help. In January 1985, the FBI gave the Philadelphia Police Department 37.5 pounds of the powerful military explosive C-4 to carry out the bombing of the MOVE home. Then on May 9 and 11, FBI agents, including an explosives expert and two SWAT technicians, participated in final tactical planning sessions for the assault. The helicopter and pilot that were used to drop the infamous bomb were provided courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Police.
No Survivors Was Part of the Plan
The testimony at the hearings — despite all the contradictions, lies and cover-up — painted a picture of the city officials and police working out a careful plan for the murder of the MOVE people. And when they put the plan into effect it was clear that they wanted no survivors, neither men, women nor children. Here are a few of the pieces of this murder plan that came out in the hearings.
In their testimony, Goode, Sambor and Brooks all repeatedly, said that uppermost in their minds was the safety of the MOVE children. (What kind-hearted gentlemen these child bombers are!) They said that there was even an order to seize the children prior to May 13. Yet on May 11, two days before the confrontation, a cop opened a police barrier on Osage Avenue to allow a carload of MOVE children to return to the house.
The truth is, Goode, Sambor and Brooks were out to see that the MOVE people fry, no matter their age. In the days before the assault, the people living in the MOVE house frequently went out and the police could have picked them up on the street. But that would have spoiled the plans to bomb MOVE, plans which the city and police had devoted so much time and energy to.
Ex-Police Chief Sambor testified that the bombing was “the safest and most conservative plan” (safer than what? nuclear-tipped artillery?) for ending the siege, supposedly because it would poke a hole in the roof, allowing the police to drop in tear gas bombs. Needing a hole for inserting tear gas is the official claim for why the bomb was used. But this official claim is a flimsy cover-up. In fact, the building was already full of holes and full of tear gas. For hours the police had been pumping gas into the house through holes in the walls created by nine earlier explosions. If anything, the problem the police had was that the gas was dissipating through big gashes in the house, with the lower front portion of the house ripped wide open.
The police didn’t want a hole, but a fire. That’s why they dropped a bomb on the roof after a helicopter pilot reported that large-gas cans (fuel for MOVE’s generators) were “obvious” on the roof.
That’s also why they dropped an exceptionally powerful and hot bomb. The Tovex TR-2 and C-4 explosives dropped on the house threw off an intense heat of some 7,200 degrees.
And that’s why, once the fire had started, the police and fire chiefs did nothing to put it out. A fire expert testified at the hearings that the blaze could have been extinguished even up to 45 minutes after it began. But the top City brass stood by as the fire descended deep into the house – raging at 2,000 degrees, which is the temperature customarily used for cremating bodies – before they allowed the water hoses to be turned on. But by this time the inferno was out of control.
During the hearings, City Director Brooks explained that he gave the go-ahead to drop the bomb out of concern that MOVE people might try to escape under cover of darkness if the siege lasted a second day. “Concern about the children” sounds good at the hearings afterwards. But at the time the mayor’s office and the police had only one concern: they were hell bent that none of the MOVE people escape the punishment that had been prepared for them.
A good deal of the testimony in the hearings showed how the police did everything they could to make sure no one escaped from the MOVE home after it had been turned into an inferno by the police bomb.
The testimony showed that people trying to come out of the home were fired on by the police. Birdie Africa, 13 years old, succeeded in fleeing the burning house and, along with Ramona Africa, was one of only two survivors. In videotaped testimony played at the hearings, Birdie stated that the adults shouted repeatedly that the children were going to come out through the garage. Conrad Africa attempted to take out one child as others followed, but the police opened fire, driving them back into the garage.
Even after the bomb had set the house ablaze, television footage recorded the sound of the police continuing to pound away at the building with automatic weapons. At first, all the adults and children sought refuge from the fire in the basement. As the fire spread and grew more intense, they began to shout that they wanted to come out.
Birdie, Ramona Africa, and two other children ran out as flaming debris was falling on them in the alley. Birdie recalled seeing the other two children west in the alley, but did not know what happened to them. It appears that the others who attempted to escape the fire with Ramona and Birdie were cut down by the police. Among other things, a detective who kept a log of events recorded a cop telling a crane operator taking part in the cleanup after the siege to “dig over here, you’ll find a body of a male I dropped when the female and the child came out.”.
In the days after the assault, the police took a lot of care to destroy evidence of what actually took place; including allowing the badly burned corpses of their victims to further decompose. Nevertheless, a forensic expert, Dr. Ali Z. Hameli, was able to find shotgun pellets in the remains of three of the bodies. The fragments matched the buckshot. used in the shotguns of the Philadelphia Police Department. This is consistent with other evidence that the police may have shot down some of the MOVE people attempting to escape, and then threw their bodies back into the burning house to cover up their murderous plan to take no prisoners.
The Cover-up Goes On
In the future rounds of hearings and inquiries, the mayor, the police and the others, will continue to spin their web of lies to cover themselves. But their crimes in the assault against MOVE are too monstrous to hide. Through the cracks in their own self-serving testimonies comes ‘a picture of a carefully planned and gruesome murder of 11 men, women and children by the Philadelphia police, acting under the directives of Mayor Goode and his lieutenants, and aided by the FBI and other federal agencies. No amount of cover-up can wipe the blood from the capitalist authorities who are responsible for the west Philadelphia massacre of last May 13, 1985.
(An article on the outrageous trial of Ramona Africa is in the February 1, 1986, issue of The Workers’ Advocate.)