Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a resolution Thursday formally apologizing for the MOVE bombing 35 years ago that left 11 people dead, including five children, and burned down 61 homes in Cobbs Creek.
The resolution also called for May 13, the date of the bombing in 1985, to be an annual a day of observation, reflection and recommitment.
“This is very important to me,” said District 3 Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, who was elected to council last year. “This is my district. Everybody remembers that image of Osage Avenue burning. I remember thinking it was a horrible thing.”
Gauthier sponsored the resolution after meeting with a group of advocates that featured Michael Africa Jr.
Africa’s parents, Debbie and Michael Africa Sr., and seven others were convicted of third-degree murder in the shooting death of Officer James J. Ramp in a 1978 MOVE confrontation in Powelton Village. Eighteen police and firefighters were injured in the incident. In 1980, the Africas were given 30- to 100-year prison sentences. They have since been paroled.
The 1985 MOVE bombing made international news when, during a tense standoff, police dropped an explosive device on a bunker erected on top of the roof of 6221 Osage Ave. The device, which was approved for use by then-Mayor W. Wilson Goode, exploded and created a deadly inferno that left hundreds homeless. Goode has recently apologized for his part in the incident and in an op-ed called for the city to issue a formal apology.
That apology came Thursday.
“I was thinking that we’ve never had an apology for this,” Gauthier said. “This was one of the worst acts that a government has committed against its own people. I think that it’s more than the horrific incident. It’s about the decades and decades of division that have existed between police and community. If we had done the hard work of addressing that atrocity then, in some way, we may not be where we are [today].
“I’m hoping that we can work on reconciliation and healing ... I would like to see real conversation between the community and law enforcement. I’d like to see law enforcement really listen to Black and brown people.”
Gauthier said she would also like to see the MOVE story taught in schools as part of the curriculum.
“Everyone should know about it,” she said. “Every May 13 should be a day of remembrance, recommitment and reconciliation.”