A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge refused to hear murder charges against former city officials in the 1985 deaths of 11 MOVE family members, including children and babies, after a C-4 bomb was dropped on the roof of their West Philadelphia row house. The bombing caused the burning of 61 homes, which left 250 people homeless.
“Judge Frank Palumbo refused our complaints, adhering to the district attorney’s arguments that it has been 25 years and wouldn’t be in the interest of the commonwealth to pursue these charges–there is no statute of limitations on murder in Pennsylvania,” said the lone survivor of the tragedy, Ramona Africa.
In 1996, a civil court jury awarded $1.5 million to the lone MOVE survivor and relatives of two people killed in the fire bombing incident. The jury found that the city used excessive force and violated the members’ constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
According to the MOVE family attorney, Leon Williams, the hearing on July 8 was just the beginning of a long process that may take at least another 10 months to complete. “Clearly, this was the first step. I won’t say that I was disappointed. How can you expect the system not to be unjust?” Williams told the AmNews.
People have to understand that we are seeking murder charges against the former first Black mayor, Wilson Goode, police and fire commissioners and six police officers, Williams said.
In 1986, the Philadelphia Special Investigative Commission (MOVE Commission), which was requested by Goode, released a report critical of the way the city government handled the events of May 13, 1985. “Dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable,” the report stated, adding that the mayor “abdicated his responsibilities.”
The commission report concluded that the death of the MOVE children “appeared” to be “unjustified homicide,” which “should be investigated by a grand jury.” The commission stated that police used tear gas and shot 10,000 rounds from their service weapons, including 4,500 rounds from M-16 rifles, 1,500 rounds from Uzi automatic weapons and 2,240 rounds from M-60 machine guns. The commission held televised public hearings at a cost of $1 million, according to the Temple University Library Archives.
“Innocent people killed, babies and animals burned alive, while the whole world watched on television. And nobody was charged with anything. It is a slap in the face,” Africa told the AmNews.
Africa said that on the 25th anniversary of the killing of her family, she wants the world to see that there is no justice to be gotten from the system. “If there was justice, I would never have gone to jail,” she said. Although Africa was in the house at the time of the police attack, she was charged with conspiracy, rioting and multiple counts of simple and aggravated assault. All the serious charges was dropped by the judge at trial, but she spent seven years in prison after being convicted of the lesser charges.
Williams said that a notice of appeal in the Superior Court would order the lower court to explain in detail the reason for its ruling on July 8. He said they have a right to appeal the decision from the Superior Court but would have to petition the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to hear the case if it gets that far.
“The community must understand that police injustice must not be tolerated. People must take action, such as filing citizen complaints, when they are unjustly treated by the police,” said Williams.