Philadelphia Apologizes For MOVE Bombing From 35 Years Ago
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Thirty-five years ago, a police helicopter dropped a bomb on a Philadelphia rowhouse in a mostly Black neighborhood. Eleven people were killed. Five of them were children. The bomb lit an inferno that burned down more than 60 other houses, leaving hundreds of people homeless. This is now referred to as the MOVE bombing - MOVE for the Black liberation group by the same name that was targeted. Well, last Thursday the Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution that finally issues a formal apology. Philadelphia City Council member Jamie Gauthier, who represents the 3rd District, where the bombing occurred, helped draft the resolution and joins us now.
Hey there. Welcome.
JAMIE GAUTHIER: Hi.
KELLY: So, for those who maybe don't know, don't remember much about the bombing, would you just briefly explain? What was MOVE, and why was the city of Philadelphia so hostile to it?
GAUTHIER: Yes. MOVE was a Black liberation group, a back to nature group. And I think they were different - right? - like many people in our society. And they were a group of Black people who were different and who were very unapologetic about it. And I think over time, there developed a lot of friction between MOVE and the police in the city of Philadelphia.
KELLY: So you got this apology through. Why is this important now, 35 years later?
GAUTHIER: I think it's important because, one, no one was ever held accountable in a real way for what happened with the MOVE bombing, which was an atrocity. It's one of the only times in our country that our government bombed its own city, its own citizens.
GAUTHIER: There was no - there was never a formal apology. That's something that was also very striking to me. And so I was honored to work with the activists who really brought this to council to bring this about. And not only is this - not only did I think this was important from a symbolic perspective. I also think it's important because we see echoes of what happened in the MOVE bombing in what we're seeing now between police and community and with the police violence that we've seen in the very same neighborhood. This is also the neighborhood where Walter Wallace Jr. was gunned down by police.
KELLY: Just - that was just last month, that police shooting of Walter Wallace. Yeah.
KELLY: Yeah. And I've seen you talk about how divisions between police and the community are, you know, not new, obviously. And until we actually reckon with them, the divisions and the problems are going to keep on coming.
GAUTHIER: Absolutely. I think that we can connect what happened to MOVE with what we saw happen with Walter Wallace Jr. And I think what underlines both of these events and a lot of the police violence we see is racism and a lack of recognition of the humanity of Black people in our neighborhoods on behalf of police.
GAUTHIER: And until we confront what's at the core, I don't believe we'll be able to move forward.
KELLY: We just have a few seconds left. But along with the apology, does this resolution also make some concrete amends to the generations of people impacted by the bombing?
GAUTHIER: Well, along with this apology, the resolution establishes May 13 as an annual day of observation, reflection and recommitment in Philadelphia to honor those that we lost on that day in 1985. And though that can be seen as largely symbolic, I hope it'll be the start of the listening and...
KELLY: All right.
GAUTHIER: ...The conversations that we need to bring about true change.
KELLY: That is Philadelphia City Council member Jamie Gauthier.
Pleasure to speak with you. Thank you.
GAUTHIER: Thank you so much for focusing on this.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.