Marking a deadly day in Philadelphia’s past with fresh calls for justice

Listen

At first, the crowd at the foot of Osage Avenue was pretty sparse – a couple dozen people with hand drums and hand-drawn signs.

By noon, though, the rally marking the 30th anniversary of the MOVE bombing had ballooned to hundreds as speaker after speaker decried one the city’s most shocking and deadly days – the day police dropped explosives on a West Philadelphia row house.

Rasheed Hasim chose to speak out in poetry.

“Philly bomb squad. You was tricked in believing the lies. It was massacre, but they tell you it was justifiable homicide,” said Hasim just footsteps from the group’s former compound.

Eleven members of MOVE, a black activist group, were killed in the explosion that ended an armed, hours-long standoff with police and torched more than 60 homes.

Five children. Six adults.

Officers had come to 6221 Osage Ave. earlier that day to clear it out, in part, because neighbors had lodged numerous noise and health complaints.

After the blaze broke out, city officials, reportedly, let the fire burn.

“May 13, 1985, they came out here to kill us, to stop us because they thought if you kill the messenger, you can’t stop the message, but that’s obviously not true,” said 15-year-old MOVE member Rain Africa during the commemoration.

Part of the day’s message was simply about not forgetting. The other, a call for reform and justice, included those residents still living on the battered, partially abandoned stretch of Osage.

“This demonstration here is in solidarity with the neighbors who are also victims of a 30-year criminal attempt and terror,” said Pam Africa, one of MOVE’s early members.

After the rally wrapped up, the crowd assembled on 63rd Street for a march across West Philadelphia.

Leading the pack were 11 bikes – one for each one of those killed in the bombing and fire.

To date, no one has been charged in connection with the explosion.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.