31 May 2013

Remember the MOVE Massacre

May 1985 Bombing: Racist State Terror

On 13 May 1985, the Philadelphia police, with the cooperation of Pennsylvania State Police and the FBI, consciously carried out racist state murder. Acting on the orders of black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode and the Reagan White House, the cops dropped a satchel with C-4 explosives onto the MOVE organization’s Osage Avenue home. The explosion and ensuing firestorm killed eleven black people, including five children, and destroyed an entire city block, leaving hundreds homeless. The bombing capped a 12-hour cop siege during which over 10,000 rounds of ammunition were fired into the house. Firefighters were prevented by police from tackling the blaze for more than an hour, and the cops shot at anyone trying to escape the inferno. There were only two survivors: 13-year-old Birdie Africa and Ramona Africa, who was sent to prison for seven years for the “crime” of still being alive.

This massacre was the culmination of years of police harassment, beatings and hundreds of arrests of members of this mostly black back-to-nature commune known for denouncing “the system” and defending its right to armed self-defense. In August 1978, 600 Philly cops had surrounded and attacked MOVE’s Powelton Village compound, unleashing a barrage of gunfire. Nine MOVE members were framed up and sentenced to between 30 and 100 years in prison after a cop was killed in the ferocious police crossfire. Merle Africa died in prison in 1998; the others are still locked away in Pennsylvania’s prison hellholes.

While covering the trial of the MOVE 9, Mumia Abu-Jamal became a MOVE supporter. A former Black Panther and Philadelphia journalist known as the “Voice of the Voiceless,” Mumia was framed for the December 1981 killing of police officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death for his political views. Mumia was confined to death row for 30 years before his sentence was overturned two years ago, but his conviction still stands. For him it is now the “slow death row” of life in prison. Free all the MOVE prisoners! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Abolish the racist death penalty!

A new documentary about the MOVE bombing, Let the Fire Burn, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in April, winning a Special Jury mention for a first documentary. The filmmaker, Jason Osder, watched the bombing live on television as a child and was spurred to make the documentary because he was horrified that people of his generation didn’t remember the events of 13 May 1985. Although Osder’s film is a welcome exposé, it makes an unwelcome attempt at being evenhanded. There are no two sides to an atrocity. In a Q&A with the filmmaker at the screening, a supporter of the Partisan Defense Committee stressed that the bombing was “not a confrontation between extremists and authority but between the oppressed and the oppressors.”

The MOVE bombing belongs to the long history of murderous capitalist state repression against workers, the oppressed and groups deemed “deviant.” We will not forget the 1921 aerial bombing of the black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or the 1993 massacre of the integrated Branch Davidian movement in Waco, Texas. These and other atrocities evoke the terror meted out by U.S. imperialism in its wars far from home.

The state branded MOVE “terrorist” to justify its mass murder, the signature of the Reagan years. With the “war on terror,” this pretext has become a fixture in the arsenal targeting those who stand up against the depredations of the capitalist rulers, not least black people. In this society, the entire state apparatus is racist to the core, as witnessed by “stop and frisk” and the massive numbers of black men in prison. Anti-black oppression has been the very bedrock of American capitalism since its foundation on the backs of chattel slaves seized from Africa.

On the 28th anniversary of the MOVE bombing, we again seek to etch this atrocity into the collective memory of the working class and oppressed. Workers revolution will avenge the MOVE martyrs. For black liberation through socialist revolution! 

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1025, 31 May 2013)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.