MOVE siege returns to haunt city
Jury selection begins in federal civil suit
April 2, 1996
Web posted at: 9 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Brian Jenkins
PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of a federal civil rights suit over a fiery confrontation between police and a radical group. The year was 1985, and a group called MOVE was holed up a row house in Philadelphia. In the end, 11 people were killed and a neighborhood was leveled. (918K QuickTime movie)
In the early morning of May 13, 1985, after evacuating neighbors, police surrounded the row house in West Philadelphia occupied by the band of self-proclaimed revolutionaries, most of them black.
When MOVE members refused to come out, police filled the house with tear gas, water, and bullets.
By late afternoon, Mayor Wilson Goode gave the go-ahead to drop four pounds of plastic explosives on the group's rooftop gun turret.
The resulting fire was allowed to burn, and flames consumed 60 other homes on the street. Eleven MOVE members died, including five children.
"There is no excuse for dropping a bomb on a row house containing innocent men, women and babies," MOVE member Ramona Africa said recently.
Africa, who like other MOVE members had taken the last name of their leader, John Africa, was the only adult to make it out of the fire alive.
She spent seven years in prison and filed suit against the city. A federal appeals court decided that Africa could also sue the former police and fire commissioners but not Mayor Goode.
Now, says Africa, a jury will finally hear the truth.
"They came out there to kill, not to arrest. They didn't come out there because of our lifestyle, they didn't come out there because of some complaints from neighbors, since when has this government ever gave a damn about black people complaining about their neighbors?" Africa said.
But residents of Osage Avenue, who now live in brick homes hastily built by the city at a cost of $11 million, say that MOVE did create a massive disturbance. They say that members refused to get rid of rats and blared obscene protests over the imprisonment of a dozen MOVE members for a 1978 shoot-out that left one policeman dead.
"From maybe two or three o'clock in the afternoon to maybe two or three in the morning, they would take turns talking about their philosophy on the bullhorns," said Gerald Renfrow with the Osage-Pine Community Association.
Renfrow, once a policeman himself, said he believes city officials were wrong to wage a military-style assault.
So does Goode, who says that he lives each day with the pain of what happened.
"I've come to the firm conclusion that things are much better off in our society if we learn how to resolve our differences through peaceful means," he said.
Police departments as far away as Los Angeles studied the MOVE disaster. A former New York police commander recalls his commissioner vowing to never repeat Philadelphia's mistake.
Africa contends that officials should have known better back in 1985 and should now have to pay.
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