Police Abuse

MOVE Bombing Barely Significant in Philadelphia Politics Thirty Years Later

Judge who signed warrants leading to bombing now running for mayor without a worry about her history.


10 News

Thirty years ago today in Philadelphia, police dropped a bomb on a residential area in a misbegotten effort to force members of MOVE, a black radical liberation/back-to-nature group founded in 1972 with which local authorities had a long history of getting into confrontations, out of their homes so that they could be arrested.

The magazine Philadelphia reprinted a 2012 article on the bombing, which explains what happened:

On May 13, 1985 at 5:20 p.m., a blue and white Pennsylvania State Police helicopter took off from the command post's flight pad at 63rd and Walnut, flew a few times over 6221 Osage Avenue, and then hovered 60 feet above the two-story house in the black, middle-class West Philadelphia neighborhood. Lt. Frank Powell, chief of Philadelphia's bomb disposal unit, was holding a canvas bag containing a bomb consisting of two sticks of Tovex TR2 with C-4. After radioing firefighters on the ground and lighting the bomb's 45-second fuse — and with the official approval of Mayor W. Wilson Goode and at the insistence of Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor — Powell tossed the bomb, at precisely 5:28 p.m., onto a bunker on the roof.

This was followed shortly thereafter by a loud explosion and then a large, bright orange ball of fire that reached 7,200 degrees Fahrenheit. That day, Powell, the mayor, the police commissioner, Fire Commissioner William Richmond, city Managing Director Leo Brooks, and numerous police officers committed, in the words of Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission (better known as the MOVE Commission) member Charles Bowser, a "criminally evil" act that led to the death of 11 human beings, including five completely innocent and defenseless children, the destruction of 61 homes, and the incineration of thousands of family photos, high school and college sweetheart love letters, heirloom jewelry, inscribed Bibles and Korans, and many other totally irreplaceable mementos.

Goode was Philadelphia's first black mayor and in the second year of his term when he ordered the bombing of a middle-class black neighborhood. The "criminally evil" act didn't cost Goode his job. A Although he lost some support from his base, he eked out a close win over Frank Rizzo, who served as mayor as a Democrat from 1972 to 1980 but was in 1987 running as a Republican. Rizzo had previously served as the city's iron-fisted police commissioner from 1967 to 1971. As mayor, Rizzo led the city onto a path that over the decades saw the police contract lean further and further to cops' benefits at the expense of transparency, oversight, and accountability.

The choice for Philadelphia residents in 1987 between a man who ordered a fatal bombing of a residential area and a man who was named "de facto mayor" while still serving as police commissioner in the early 1970s illustrates the narrow choices offered in mainstream politics, particularly in big cities. Philadelphia hadn't had a Republican mayor since 1952 and Rizzo, a former Democrat, came closest since then. By one interpretation of the events leading up to the MOVE bombing, a black mayor would have been most likely to give such an order because he would feel the most pressure to be "tough on crime."

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.

Check out Reason TV's interview with Jason Oster, director of the MOVE documentary "Let the Fire Burn":

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  1. 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.

    I love Philadelphia. I wish I could go back.

    But only to the suburbs.

    But on topic, of the voters that will be voting Lynne Abraham into office, I doubt that more than 10% of them will bother to look at the name that comes before the (D).

    1. Philadelphia is one of the three worst places in the galaxy. I blame the Philadelphians.

      1. Hey, it’s a great town if you stay away from the north and west. Great food, culture, sights to see.

    2. It’s the Democratic primary next week. That’s basically the election. The race is between Kenney, the white guy favored by the city’s violent, racist unions, and Anthony Williams, who is black but actually supports school choice.

      1. You can’t forget Lynn Abraham!!
        You can try, but can’t forget her…ugh

        1. Philly.com just released a poll. She’s actually closer than I thought she’d be. But Williams will pass her if the black turnout is high. Kenney was always gonna win.

          Jim Kenney


          Lynne Abraham


          Anthony Hardy Williams


          Nelson Diaz


          Doug Oliver


          Milton Street


          1. Wow. I would have guess Lynn at around 5%. I guess some people just loves them some capital punishment. Poor Milton Street, he keeps trying.

  2. Amazing that I grew up an hour from Philadelphia and never heard of this.

    Actually, on second thought, it’s not amazing at all. It is sadly predictable.

    1. How young are you?

      1. Yeah, I was only two at the time, so I wouldn’t have learned of it as it was happening.

        But at some other point in the next 19 years I lived in Pennsylvania?

        1. This was back when CNN was actually a news organization. The whole fucking world knew about it in nearly real-time.

          1. Wait, CNN was around during the MOVE incident? I remember that incident, but I don’t remember CNN back that far. Was it still the regional news network in Atlanta?

            1. The Cable News Network is an American basic cable and satellite television channel that is owned by the Turner Broadcasting System division of Time Warner. The 24-hour cable news channel was founded in 1980 by American media proprietor Ted Turner

              I don’t remember the penetration rate, but I’m pretty sure by 85 they were on lots of basic cable systems.

              1. I should have been more clear, I remember then existing as far back as 1980, but I just don’t remember then being anything like ubiquitous. I definitely remember TBN (Turner broadcasting network)out of Atlanta

                Interesting though. I believe I heard about the incident on one of the three networks, then read about it in Newsweek.

                1. I read about it in a daily news bulletin while floating around on the Pacific.

  3. This is why private citizens need anti-aircraft defense systems.

  4. She was also the judge who signed the warrants on which the police action against move on May 13, 1985 was based.

    Was the bombing plan mentioned in the warrants or were they standard arrest warrants?

    1. I believe they authorized the use of an incendiary device.

  5. Today Filthadelphia would elect a mayor who bombed his own city over Mother Teresa as long as he had a D after his name. That’s the only thing of significance.

    1. They elected Brother Theresa twice!

  6. Filthedelphia Firedome!
    Shine a light, a bright white exploding light!

  7. I don’t know what the ultimate cause of all these problems are, but I know that the solution is to keep voting for Democrats because the Republicans are racist.

    1. Republicans in Philly are as scarce as truth in a Clinton speech.

      Example: the 201st state legislative district registration is 42,354 D, 1,605 R.

      I’m sure there are people living there who have never met someone who wasn’t a D.

      1. There may not be many Republicans in Metropolitan Philadelphia, but we have to defeat the ones there are.

        And if they keep voting for Democrats long and hard enough, then eventually the Republicans won’t be able to cause these problems in Philadelphia anymore.

        Forget about change. Just focus on the hope part. We’ve gotta stop the racist Republicans. They’re ruining Philadelphia.

        And New York, and Chicago, and Detroit, and Baltimore, and Los Angeles, too.

      2. Even in the suburbs republicans are pretty scarce. Coupled with being gerrymandered into Chaka Fattah’s district, and there’s no chance of change. (not that republicans would are any great shakes, but a little variety might help)

    2. I don’t know what the ultimate cause of all these problems are, but I know that the solution is to keep voting for Democrats because the Republicans are racist.

      That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface; in an inner-city Democratic primary (i.e. an electoral competition without a single Republican), you will find the shittiest shithead wins almost every time. It’s not even that they only elect Democrats, it’s that they elect the worst Democrats they can find.

      1. the shittiest shithead wins almost every time

        It takes time to self-corrupt. I used to be against term limits on principle, but for this reason I have changed to be very much for them.

        1. It’s good to get as many shitty democrats in office in as short a time as possible.

        2. Although I have to admit that living in a blue-er-than-blue-found-in-nature-blue city, we’ve done a pretty decent job of self-limiting our mayors. The last several have been uncerimoniously kicked out after one, sometimes two terms. And we have a top-two primary system which means that you ONLY get Democrats in the general. Apparently, we decided we didn’t even want to hear from the Republicans, let alone have a chance to vote on them.

          The weird thing is that we vote back in another guy who’s exactly the same as the last guy, holding onto this strange belief that this time the crazy ideas are SO crazy, they just might work.

          1. Of course in my city, term limits can be ignored if you have enough money. Some of the bugs need to be worked out.

            1. Oh you can’t hog Bloomberg all to yourself now. I’ve got Bloomy pulling my pants down from the other side of the country and I never even voted for him.

    3. I believe the problem is particularly insidious. Progressive policies and social experimentation, coupled with the war on drugs lead to a permanent underclass. When you have an entrenched, permanent underclass, you get crime. Lots of it, and bad crime.

      The Gordian knot of social programs which invite corruption, failed social ideas, the War on Drugs and multitudinous levels of government buraucracy and job protection/creation in the public sector becomes diffuse, nebulous and hard to disentangle. However, the very real and highly visible effect of this– crime– is easier to get a handle on. “If we just knock heads together, we can at least keep the streets clear” becomes the overriding ideology. And who can blame the shrinking productive, law-abiding population from demanding this? Especially when these same people often support the aforementioned progressive policies because they sincerely believe that a massive welfare bureaucracy coupled with awfule cronyism (public housing) is the egalitarian thing to do.

      It’s not surprising that Democratic strongholds become the places where the worst police abuses occur. It’s by design.

  8. If you have Netflix, watch the documentary about this, “Let the Fire Burn”. It is really, really well done. Sidenote, the head of MOVE, John Africa, was specifically requested by Mumia Jamal to sit at counsel table for Mumia’s trial, b/c Africa had represented himself and beaten a previous rap in Philadelphia.

    1. Agree–great documentary. MOVE were a bunch of massive dirtbags, but even they didn’t deserve a bag of C4 dropped on them.

      1. even if they did, the innocent families in the apartment block certainly didn’t.

    2. The level of crazy MOVE directed at their neighbors was kinda hard to believe. Totally looneys.

  9. Maybe I associated with the wrong Philadelphia crowd, but I always heard the MOVE event referred to as Mayor Goode’s Barbecue.

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  11. There was a documentary on The Move made in the late 80s called Black and Blue. It was produced by Hugh King. Hugh worked for me shortly after, I have lost touch with him, but the documentary was the reason I hired him in the first place. Would love to see a copy again. I have found some references to it on the Internet, but it seems to be one of the best kept secrets of the 80s. Hugh went on to produce the Biker Build-Off series on Discovery.

  12. As mayor, Rizzo led the city onto a path that over the decades saw the police contract lean further and further to cops’ benefits at the expense of transparency, oversight, and accountability.

    And fiscal sanity. It was Rizzo’s contracts with the municipal unions (particularly the police, but others as well) that brought the city to the brink of junk bond status thirty years ago. The man was an unmitigated disaster.

  13. Lynne Abraham, served as district attorney from 1991 to 2010

    Lynne Abraham?! She’s still around?! She was a washed up has-been when I left Philadelphia fifteen years ago.

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    1. I don’t know. I’m pretty forgiving.

  15. Koran? Did Ed say those Philly infidels actually burned a Koran?

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