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How Philadelphia Became the City that Bombed Itself

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It has been 28 years since police lieutenant Frank Powell leaned from a helicopter and tossed a gym bag packed with C-4 and Tovex explosives onto a residential rowhome in West Philadelphia, leading to the deaths of six adults and five children, along with the complete destruction of 61 homes.

On May 13, 1985 at about 5:30 PM, Philadelphia gained the immortal moniker of "The City That Bombed Itself"; a brutal ending to the city's longstanding struggle with an organization that called itself MOVE.

While the events of that day are largely in the past, Cobbs Creek residents are still coping with the fallout from the MOVE bombing, as most of the destroyed homes that were shoddily rebuilt by the city now sit boarded up and ignored on the 6200 blocks of Osage Avenue and Pine Street.

The city's problems with MOVE began in 1977 when the organization was headquartered at 307-309 N. 33rd Street in Powelton Village. The group, founded in 1972 by a man with a third-grade education named John Africa (born Vincent Leaphart), strongly advocated radical green politics and hunter-gatherer lifestyles while opposing modern medicine, science, and technology.

Philadelphia police began a 24-hour watch on the Powelton Village headquarters in May 1977 after 18 armed MOVE members began threatening the lives of city officials, police officers, and reporters unless four imprisoned members were released. Some 15 months went by without serious intervention as the group blared profanity-laced tirades through bullhorns at all hours of the night, Meanwhile, the property had become littered with garbage and human waste that attracted loads of vermin and infuriated neighbors.

A court-ordered eviction was filed in August 1978, and Philadelphia police officers raided the property after bulldozing a portion of the house. After a shootout that killed officer James Ramp and severely wounded 18 people, nine MOVE members were convicted of third-degree murder and given sentences between 30-100 years.

The remaining members of MOVE then set their sights on a rowhome at 6221 Osage Avenue. The group's behavior was no different than before, and police felt it necessary to rid the neighborhood of the radical organization..

Police began by spraying water and teargas into the house, hoping to force out its residents to a peaceful surrender. It didn't work. After an exchange of gunfire with police officials, the decision was made by former police commissioner Gregore Sambor to drop a satchel of explosives onto the rooftop bunker that housed weapons and barrels of oil. The result was a massive inferno that left a still-open wound on the city of Philadelphia, swallowing up 61 homes and leaving 11 dead. Just two MOVE members made it out of the building alive.

Twenty-eight years later, it's still difficult to comprehend the thought of a city bombing its own people. While many would agree that MOVE needed to go, it's a crime to see the rebuilt homes of Osage Avenue and Pine Street sitting vacant and boarded up, victims of lousy construction and underwhelming legal settlements.
—Zach Patten
· Cop's death in '78 clash was a spark [Philly.com]
· MOVE: An Oral History [Philly Mag]
· An Inauspicious Beginning [Philly.com]
· MOVE Bombing Still Leaved Philadelphia Scarred [CBS Philly]
· The Bombing of Osage Avenue [YouTube]