In 1981, MOVE, a black civil rights group, relocated to a row house at 6221 Osage Avenue in the Cobbs Creek area of West Philadelphia. After the move, neighbors complained for years that MOVE members were broadcasting political messages by bullhorn at all hours and also about the health hazards created from piles of compost. After the complaints as well as indictments of numerous MOVE members for crimes including parole violations, contempt of court, illegal possession of firearms, and making terrorist threats, both mayor W. Wilson Goode and police commissioner Gregore J. Sambor had begun characterizing MOVE as a terrorist organization.
On May 13, 1985, the police, along with city manager Leo Brooks, arrived in force with arrest warrants and attempted to clear the building and arrest the indicted MOVE members. This led to an armed standoff with police, who lobbed tear gas canisters at the building. MOVE members fired at the police, who returned fire with automatic weapons. Commissioner Sambor then ordered that the compound be bombed. From a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter, Philadelphia Police Department Lt. Frank Powell proceeded to drop two one-pound bombs (which the police referred to as “entry devices”) made of FBI-supplied water gel explosive, a dynamite substitute, targeting a fortified, bunker-like cubicle on the roof of the house.
The resulting explosions ignited a fire that eventually destroyed approximately 65 nearby houses. The firefighters, who had earlier deluge-hosed the MOVE members in a failed attempt to evict them from the building, stood by as the fire caused by the bomb engulfed the first house and spread to others, having been given orders to let the fire burn. Officials feared that MOVE would shoot at the firefighters. Eleven people (John Africa, five other adults and five children aged 7 to 13) died in the resulting fire and more than 250 people were left homeless. Ramona Africa, one of the two survivors, stated that police fired at those trying to escape the burning house, while the police stated that MOVE members had been firing at police.
Mayor Goode soon appointed an investigative commission called the PSIC (aka MOVE Commission), chaired by William H. Brown, III. Police commissioner Sambor resigned in November 1985, reporting that he felt that he was being made a “surrogate” by Goode. The MOVE Commission issued its report on March 6, 1986. The report denounced the actions of the city government, stating that “Dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable.” Following the release of the report, mayor Goode made a formal public apology. No one from the city government was charged criminally.
In 1996, a federal jury ordered the city to pay a $1.5 million civil suit judgement to survivor Ramona Africa and relatives of two people killed in the bombing. The jury had found that the city used excessive force and violated the members’ constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Philadelphia was given the sobriquet “The City that Bombed Itself.” (Source: Wikipedia)