Four years into his own ordeal as a political prisoner, Mumia Abu Jamal charged Philadelphia’s government with premeditated mass murder in the slaughter of MOVE men, women and children.
“Abu-Jamal condemned the excessive force used against MOVE and questioned the fairness of the trial, drawing the ire of city officials.”
Three decades ago, on Mother’s Day, May 13, 1985, the City of Philadelphia bombed the Osage Avenue headquarters of the MOVE family. On the 36th anniversary, we feature “The Mother’s Day Massacre,” an indictment of this act of state terrorism written in 1985 by radical journalist and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Born on April 24, 1954, Mumia became the Lieutenant of Information for the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party in 1969, when he was just fifteen years old. He began his journalism career by writing for Party newspapers The Black Panther and Babylon. By 1975, he was working for local and national radio stations, including Temple University’s WRTI, writing for community newspapers, and publishing in the Philadelphia Tribune.
Abu-Jamal was initially hesitant to get involved with MOVE because, at the time, he was, as he put it, a “burnt-out ex-Panther who distrusted organizations” after leaving the BPP in late 1970. However, in 1978 he began covering the ongoing police repression of the organization after Delbert Africa was beaten by police, the Powelton Village compound was attacked, and the MOVE 9 were tried and convicted. Abu-Jamal condemned the excessive force used against MOVE and questioned the fairness of the trial, drawing the ire of city officials. Although his coverage of and advocacy for MOVE was considered controversial, he remained a prominent journalist; he was a popular radio reporter at WHYY, a leading National Public Radio station, was named one of the “81 people to watch in 1981” by Philadelphia Magazine, and was elected President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists in 1981. In the same year, Abu-Jamal was arrested, beaten, and falsely accused of killing a police officer. He was convicted and sentenced to death. While his death sentence was overturned, he remains imprisoned on a life sentence.
“Although his coverage of and advocacy for MOVE was considered controversial, he remained a prominent journalist.”
Written from behind bars, Abu-Jamal’s analysis in “The Mother’s Day Massacre” is particularly significant because, according to MOVE members Pam Africa and Ramona Africa, Philadelphia police targeted Abu-Jamal precisely because his journalism offered a sympathetic depiction of the MOVE family and the injustice and brutality to which they were subjected. The Africa family has tirelesslyorganized, mobilized, and protested for Mumia’s freedom—and the freedom of all political prisoners—inspiring an international movement and the formation of numerous organizations. In doing so, they exhibit the same commitment and concern Abu-Jamal extended to MOVE when other journalists refused to do so. “The Mother’s Day Massacre” begins, for example, by pointing out that the 1978 arrest and conviction of the MOVE 9 was “a setup from the word go” that demonstrated the Philadelphia government’s hatred of MOVE because of their radicalism. Abu-Jamal excoriates the federal government for arming and supporting the Philadelphia police forces, the Black mayor, Wilson Goode, for approving the bombing, and the mainstream media for their unethical and dishonest reporting on the situation.
Abu-Jamal’s argument that “the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ committed a premeditated mass murder of MOVE people” and that it was “past time for people to wake up to this campaign of state terrorism against the MOVE organization, and to start speaking out against this obscenity of a system” offers a potent reminder of our responsibility to identify, to reject, and to organize against state violence and police terrorism wherever and whenever it takes place--be it West Philadelphia or East Jerusalem, Rio or Cali.
The Mother’s Day Massacre
by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Mother’s Day is traditionally marked by carnations, roses or simply memories of mother. In Philadelphia, the day after became a day marred by carnage, rivulets of blood and a paramilitary massacre. On May 13th, 1985, the government of Philadelphia—aided, armed and abetted by agencies of the U.S. federal government—launched its mission of mass destruction, leaving a neighborhood in smoldering ruins, leaving hundreds homeless, and leaving the charred, scattered corpses of men, women and children as silent testament to how America responds to Black resistance.
Philadelphia, once capital of a new nation, home of the Liberty Bell and site of Independence Hall, has become redefined in American and global history. It is the site of the premeditated mass murder, the cold-blooded bombing of MOVE’s house, and the resultant mind-blowing massacre of at least 11 people, labeled “radicals.” Since this act of state-sanctioned incineration, a whitewash of major proportions and a witch hunt of survivors continues to this very day!
On May 13th, 1985, MOVE members took a principled and courageous stand, demanding freedom for their unjustly imprisoned family, and the city that claims to be the “cradle of liberty” responded by an act of absolute overkill that left many in the mind of Vietnam...
It doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to figure out that the 1978 arrests, trial and conviction of nine MOVE men and women in connection with the death of a city cop was a setup from the word go. In a trial that had not even the faintest resemblance to justice, the judge who convicted them to a virtual millennium in prison would later boast over the airwaves of a popular talk-radio station that he had not “the slightest idea” who was guilty!
“The 1978 arrests, trial and conviction of nine MOVE men and women in connection with the death of a city cop was a setup from the word go.”
Philadelphia’s response to MOVE’s righteous demand for freedom has echoed across the earth. During the much touted “summit” meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev, the threatened U.S./U.S.S.R. human rights “showdown” never materialized. Why now? Did the representative of “The American Way” forget? The Soviet news agency TASS offered a more apt reason: “American authorities recently gave the whole world a demonstration of their democracy when they publicly slaughtered more than a dozen black-skinned inhabitants of Philadelphia and bombed a whole city block.” This system’s propagandists (Time magazine) took the Soviet media to task for “omitting” the fact that Philadelphia’s mayor is Black, and, added Time, “The bombing has provoked much soul-searching in addition to searing criticism and lengthy hearings and investigations.”
Did it matter that a “Black mayor” gave the OK that launched the bomb that blew Black bodies of women and babies asunder? Doesn’t South Africa show videos of its Black police flogging and flailing Black protestors? Are Black anti-apartheid demonstrators any less maimed, bruised or broken because Black hands wielded the whips? If anything, it was not TASS that omitted pertinent facts surrounding May 13, but Time itself (and other U.S. media).
And what of the “searing criticism” Time glibly boasts of? Can it produce one example of such criticism in its own back files? Apparently the alleged “soul-searching” Time wrote of was done in private, ‘cus it damn sure hasn’t been in print! One telling example of its “searing criticism” put the urban holocaust and firestorm of Osage avenue into its “proper” perspective.
“Goode insisted,” wrote Time, “that the fire, one of the worst in Philadelphia history, was simply the result of an accident, not bad judgement.” Neither Time, Newsweek nor any other U.S. news-magazine elected to publish the critical comments of teenage survivor Birdie Africa, who said that when MOVE men, women and other children tried to flee 6221 Osage, they were repeatedly driven back inside a bombed and badly burning building by police automatic rifle fire.
Neither did America’s national newsweeklies feel it important to report that the military explosive C-4 (which composed part of the bomb) was a gift from an FBI agent to Philadelphia cops. Not one of them reported that the police were “loaned” machine guns and other weaponry by Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents of the Treasury Department of the U.S. federal government.
“MOVE men, women and other children were repeatedly driven back inside a bombed and badly burning building by police automatic rifle fire.”
“Soul-searching”? “Searing criticism”? Bullshit! Time’s reference to “lengthy hearings and investigations” is little more than a smokescreen. Has Time yet given a definitive account of those hearings? Did Time cover the litany of lies that fell from official lips during those hearings? Did Time feel it necessary to report that, to date, no one has been fired, much less arrested in connection with this deadly disaster?
Finally, did Time report that a federal investigation into the MOVE bombing was recently scrapped, because a Philadelphia Justice Department official decided evidence gained during the “lengthy hearings” was unusable—and thrown out? None of these facts proved newsworthy to Time, the magazine that dared to chide TASS for “omissions.” Meanwhile, U.S. mass media “omissions” continue.
Who knows that MOVE members across Pennsylvania continue to be subjected to a wealth of state-sanctioned harassment and deprivations, from denial of MOVE’s raw-food religious diet to MOVE people being thrown into the “hole” for refusing to violate their religion by cutting their hair? An unbiased review of MOVE trials will show, unquestionably, that MOVE members languish in jail today essentially for being members of MOVE.
Case in point: this system’s prosecution of MOVE Communications Minister Ramona Africa. Ramona, the only adult known to have survived the blistering May 13 inferno, braved a hail of automatic weapons fire, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water gushing through her home, numerous tear-gas grenade attacks, numerous explosive blasts against the walls of her home, emerging badly burned after the infernal aerial bombing of her home, only to be slapped with a deluge of charges upon her exit, among them simple assault, aggravated assault, recklessly endangering the public, threatening public officials and disorderly conduct.
“MOVE members languish in jail today essentially for being members of MOVE.”
Remember, not one public official, to date, has been charged with anything, even though they bombed a house full of men, women and children, blasted a city block to oblivion, blew the walls, façade and roof off an occupied home, and burned men, women and babies alive. In short, the “City of Brotherly Love” committed a premeditated mass murder of MOVE people, and when one had the nerve, the gall, the temerity to survive, this city added insult to injury by bringing charges against her. Insanely, this system’s latest lunacy is to sue Ramona Africa and Louise James (whose son was murdered in the house) for monetary damages.
In a remarkably detailed 25-page letter to supporters and reporters, Ramona described the city government’s rationale for the police overkill on Osage Ave. The stated justification for the assault was to serve past bench warrants for minor misdemeanor charges. That paltry reasoning falls flat on its face as Ramona documents how MOVE folks traveled freely across the city, shopping and even visiting other MOVE houses, until days before May 13. City claims of having been “afraid of contact” with MOVE, so as to not “inflame a tense situation,” seem similarly hollow in light of the beating and arrest of Mo Africa a block from MOVE’s house in July 1984, and his subsequent conviction on May 3 1985—just 10 days before the bombing and razing of Osage Avenue. MOVE men, women and kids walked in city streets and played, ran and exercised in a nearby park until May 11, 1985.
In Ramona’s own words, “If the authorities was interested in simply arrestin’ MOVE people and bringin’ us to trial on outstandin’ litigation for alleged crimes, there was every opportunity for the authorities to do that as early as 1984, when MOVE people was walking the streets of Philadelphia alone or with maybe one other person, but the authorities were never interested in simply bringin’ MOVE people to trial; they are only interested in stoppin’ John Africa, and if killing us is the only way they see to do it, they are willing to kill us.”
As to what really happened on May 13, Ramona adds, “It is clear, to all those willing to see, that those cops did not come out to 62nd and Osage to simply arrest MOVE people; that could have been done anytime in 1984 if that was all Wilson Goode and those in authority wanted to do. Those cops came out to 62nd and Osage to kill MOVE people—men, women and babies—and to put anybody that survived their murderous attack in prison for the rest of their life.”
It is past time for people to wake up to this campaign of state terrorism against the MOVE organization, and to start speaking out against this obscenity of a system! Call for a halt to the religious persecution of MOVE members! Demand the freedom of Ramona Africa, MOVE prisoners, and all political prisoners!
ORGANIZE! INFORM! ACT AGAINST THIS MONSTROSITY!
LONG LIVE JONG AFRICA’S REVOLUTION, AND DOWN WITH THIS ROTTEN-ASS SYSTEM!
Transcribed by Jorge Banuelos
Mumia Abu-Jamal, “The Mother’s Day Massacre,” in Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal, edited by Johanna Fernandez, (San Francisco: City Light Books, 2015), 88-95
Editors, The Black Agenda Review
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