Let The Bunker Burn

I like to write articles for Medium that aim to impress my point of view on someone who may stumble across it. This article is different. I do not want to write this item but I have to. Nobody else wants you to learn about this or remember it in any way, shape or fashion.

On Mother’s Day of 1985 the Philadelphia Police Department firebombed their own city and let it burn. Eleven human beings, including five children were intentionally incinerated. As the trapped people tried to flee the flames of the fire that was set by the police, they were driven back into the inferno by police gunfire. Sixty-five middle class single family homes were burned to the ground while the Philadelphia Fire Department watched.

There is not a lot more that needs to be said. It happened. The victims were not blameless. They were a weird African American voodoo-like cult who disturbed their neighbors in an intolerable fashion. They had a history of violence with the police. Even though george bush was only in the Air National Guard at the time, the Philadelphia Administration had already learned the magic word “terrorists” to describe those members of M.O.V.E who had invited the confrontation that they then escalated so exponentially. If the Philadelphia Police could have obtained an Atomic Bomb that Sunday afternoon they might very well have vaporized West Philadelphia. They hated M.O.V.E. that much. They could and did obtain the famous “satchel charge” from The F.B.I. which was casually tossed on the target house by some crazy but brave patrol officer hanging out the door of a city owned helicopter.

That day was the lowest point in the three hundred year history of one of the greatest cities in world. That was the bottom. The Mayor in 1985 was Wilson Goode, a pastor who had quietly navigated city politics to become the first Black Mayor of Philadelphia. He was afraid of the white Police Chief and afraid of the white Fire Commissioner. He watched from City hall on a fuzzy black and white TV while those two homicidal maniacs did that barbaric thing they did that day and night.

As usually happens in these scenarios, the blame was placed squarely on the victims. There was no investigation and no indictments. Slowly as reality did set in, however, resignations started to transpire. It took two years for the Mayor to achieve his own catharsis but to his credit he finally went on TV and cried while sitting at his desk in City Hall.

Sixty-five families sifted through the ashes of their generational lives and each was promptly given a substandard replacement house on the same site where the City had burned them out. The dissatisfaction over the cheaply built “free” houses prolonged the story for another decade.

There were two actual M.O.V.E. survivors, a woman and a child. They were vilified by the City. The city fought their civil suits and made their lives hell. Now it’s thirty-two years. The City of Philadelphia is thriving economically and culturally and nobody wants to remember that dark day. It never happened.

The question that has never been answered is why? When exactly do the police back off and try something else. What is the limit of police response? I guess police agencies should formulate some kind of policies concerning the steps they will NOT take in a crisis. They had no such policy in 1985 and there was no leadership in that whole huge dumb city government to stop something crazy from becoming something historically tragic and sad.

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