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For MOVE’s neighbors, a quarter-century of incompetence and injustice

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

This week, Philadelphians are remembering a dark day in the city’s history.  On some blocks in West Philadelphia, though, residents don’t need any media reports to recall the 1985 MOVE disaster. For them, every day is full of reminders.

On Osage Avenue and Pine Street, the fire was just the beginning of a 25-year nightmare of incompetence and injustice.

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It was the afternoon after Mother’s Day in 1985 when police dropped a satchel of explosives onto the roof of the house at 6221 Osage Avenue.

The bomb caused a fire that spread through the house, eventually engulfing the block.  Five children and six adults, who were in the bombed MOVE house, died.

61 homes, destroyed or damaged in the primarily African American middle-class neighborhood, were torn down. And, in the emotional aftermath of the fire, Mayor Wilson Goode promised to rebuild homes and make the residents whole.

The block where the bomb was dropped

The block where the bomb was dropped

Today the block looks very different from that disastrous day in 1985.

It’s quiet except for the sound of a few birds, but the sea of boarded-up houses speak volumes about what the years have been like for residents, and what life is still like here.

Elizabeth “Gerri” Bostic is 89 years old, but ask her about all the boarded-up houses, and the shoddy work on her own re-built home, and she gets fired up.

“I’m angry with the city!” she says.

Bostic’s sitting in a chair in the small living room of her house on Osage just down the street from the old MOVE house.

At first it’s tough to tell what the problem is. It looks like many a grandmother’s home: full of decorations galore and plastic covered furniture. But a closer inspection shows she’s battling the water.

The contractor the city hired to rebuild the homes was convicted of stealing money intended for the neighborhood’s reconstruction. The homes soon showed cracks and needed repairs. The repairs then needed repairs, all of it adding insult to injury for the block’s residents.

Bostic points out yellowish stains on the walls. There have been many roof leaks, she says. She makes her way into the bathroom to demonstrate the plumbing problems. Then onto the back door where she points to a pool of water that regularly accumulates in her backyard.  She says she pulls on her late husband’s boots and uses a push broom to keep the water from moving toward her house.

“I moved into this house because I wanted to stay here until I died,” says Bostic. “I don’t like moving around. I’m angry with the city – what they did. They were supposed to make us whole.  They built the houses, they didn’t do them correctly. I came here to live, pay my taxes – I still do.”

After 15 years of problems with the homes, the city offered families $150,000 to pick up and leave. All but 24 families on Osage and Pine accepted the deal.

The two dozen families who did not take the buy-out sued, and a jury awarded them just over $12.8 million. An appeals panel cut the sum down to $6 million, then the families’ lawyer settled with the city.

Of the 24 families who sued, 16 have taken what they were entitled to under the settlement – $190,000 and title to their homes.

Eight families are challenging the sum their lawyer settled for, and say they deserve more.

Mayor Michael Nutter’s spokesman, Doug Oliver, says the city is prepared to pay the $190,000 settlement sum to the eight families who still have not accepted it.

Block Captain Gerald Wayne Renfrow says it would take more than the city’s offering to rebuild a new nice house and put his family up somewhere during the construction.

Osage residents Connie and Gerald Wayne Renfrow say they deserve more money

Osage residents Connie and Gerald Wayne Renfrow say they deserve more money

Renfrow and his wife have been at 6234 Osage — right across from the old MOVE house — since 1978. Renfrow says he’s still looking for a resolution that recognizes the neighbors’ pain and sacrifice.

“After they dropped a bomb on our block,” says Renfrow, “they took the lives of 11 people, poorly reconstructed our houses. Now they’ve left for 10 years boarded-up houses – blight they’re forcing us to live amongst.”

A man who lives a few doors down from the old MOVE house says he doesn’t like to talk about the MOVE bombing and he’s glad his grandchildren don’t know about it because they might get too upset and grow up bad.

Osage resident Thomas Mapp and his grandchildren who know nothing of the disaster

Osage resident Thomas Mapp and his grandchildren who know nothing of the disaster

89-year-old Gerri Bostic says if her husband were still alive the couple would take a trip just to get away until the anniversary is over.

Instead, to pass the Anniversary, she’s going to close her door and not talk to anybody.

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