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American Voronezh: how the Philadelphia police in an attempt to arrest a sect dropped a bomb and destroyed an entire area

Because of the events of 1985, the capital of the state of Pennsylvania was nicknamed “the city that bombed itself.”


The bombed-out area in Philadelphia here and hereinafter – AP photo

Philadelphia is the capital of Pennsylvania and one of the largest cities in the United States. Philadelphia is traditionally called the “city of brotherly love”, but there is another nickname: “the city that bombed itself”. This is not a reference to the memory of Voronezh , but to the events of May 13, 1985, when the police dropped abomb on a lively quarter during an operation to capture members of the radical group MOVE.

The incident was one of the most tragic moments in the modern history of the city. American historian from Stanford Nick Kapoor, in honor of the 34th anniversary of those events, recalled in a twitter thread how two bombs led to the fire and the destruction of 61 houses. TJ, relying on thread and media data retells this story.

Manifestos of Africa

MOVE is a radical African American movement founded in 1972 by Vincent Leaphart. He left school early, served in the US Army during the Korean War, and returned to his native Philadelphia. At the same time, the black American changed his name to John Africa – he considered Africa “the place where life originated.”

The future head of the sect worked as a plumber in one of the urban cooperatives. At one point, he met Donald Glass, a social worker at the University of Pennsylvania. Africa dictated to him his thoughts and beliefs, which turned into a “Guideline” – an 800-page manifesto, which was then followed by the rest of the MOVE.


MOVE members near their first headquarters in Philadelphia

Followers changed their names to “Africa”, rejected modern technologies and other benefits of civilization, proclaimed a “return to nature”, taught children at home and praised Liphart. All members of MOVE, except Glass, were black. It was rumored that they were building bunkers and hiding stocks of weapons. In the 1970s, the number of groups reached 50 people, after which problems with the police began.

First collision

MOVE members claimed that they were harassed for no reason. The Philadelphia authorities saw them as a threat to public order. In 1978, the police tried to evict the organization from the house where Glassy, ​​Africa and several followers lived. Prior to this, the house was kept under siege for several months: witnesses recalled the barricades around the building and many policemen.


Police clash with MOVE, 1978


Police clash with MOVE, 1985

On August 8, a shootout ensued with the wounded on both sides. But the main thing – someone from MOVE shot at the back of the head officer James Ramp, who came into the house. For this, several members of MOVE were sentenced to prison terms of up to 100 years. Glassy and Lipharta were not among them. The organization then became radicalized and began to make bombs – so they became interested in the FBI.

In 1981, the group moved to number 6221 on Osage Avenue. It was not the best district of Philadelphia, but new neighbors made life there unbearable. The sectarians pounded the windows, built a bunker and installed megaphones through which the excerpts from Guideline were read out during the day and night. Glassy by then left MOVE, disappointed in the ideas of the movement.

The situation was heating up, and on May 13, 1985, the police arrived at the house 6221, demanding to give them four sectarians. Initially, the group offered to solve everything peacefully. But the peaceful path did not work out.

Bombing and its consequences

As in 1978, MOVE unleashed a shootout. But this time, the police were fully armed: in an hour and a half, 500 police officers fired 10,000 shots into the house, including women and children. The building was watered from water cannons and filled with tear gas, but the followers of Africa did not give up.

Despite the requests of the city council and state senator, the Commissioner of Philadelphia Police issued an order: to bomb the house from the air.

The police and the FBI equipped a helicopter with explosives to neutralize the pillbox on the roof of the house from which they constantly fired. At 17:28 local time , two bundles of C4 and Tovex TR2 (a dynamite substitute) were dropped from the air . Dot really defused, but after a few minutes the roof was engulfed in fire.


Moment of dropping a bomb

All this time there were firefighters near the house, who arrived with the police in the morning. But they were in no hurry to extinguish the fire: later, the fire department officials admitted that they were ordered to do nothing. Inaction led to the fact that the fire spread to the neighboring houses, which belonged to innocent citizens.

The fire caused damage to half of the district: 250 people were left without shelter. And in the house of sectarians 11 people died, five of them were children. Among the victims was John Africa, the leader of MOVE.


Policeman during a fire


Rescue services dismantle blockages after a fire

Since the bombing of a residential building was clearly illegal, in police negotiations the bombs were called “entry devices”. But the 1986 investigation recognized the police’s actions unjustified and reckless. The mayor of Philadelphia, the commissioner and members of the city council were not brought to justice.

Drop a bomb on a residential area of ​​an ordinary city? I never would have thought that this could happen. Like we are in Vietnam.one of the residents of the area

Of the sectarians in the house, only one woman survived, Ramona Africa. A federal jury ordered the Philadelphia authorities to pay her $ 1.5 million in compensation. “The police swore an oath to protect, save lives. But then they did not protect us, but they killed us, ” recalls Ramona.

Residents of dozens of destroyed homes also had to be easy. Instead of compensation, the city authorities built new houses for them, but they turned out to be terrible – with faulty wiring, leaking roof and forced construction. Only in 2008, after 20 years of disputes, residents of the area received 190 thousand dollars each. The quarter of Osage Avenue is still not fully recovered from what happened. And for Philadelphia, the nickname stuck: “The city, bombed himself.”

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