On May 13, 1985, I was a new staff member of City Council, working for 5th District Councilman John F. Street. When an armed confrontation erupted that day between the group MOVE and law enforcement, I learned of it while at a community meeting where an ambitious affordable housing plan was being unveiled at the Uptown Theater in North Philadelphia. Law enforcement had dropped a bomb on the roof of a West Philadelphia rowhouse. City officials infamously decided to let the rooftop bunker burn. The resulting inferno caused 11 deaths, five of them children. An entire block of a city neighborhood was destroyed. I watched most of that tragedy in dismay on television.
No city officials in charge that day were ever held responsible for their actions. Multiple lawsuits and settlements flowed from that tragedy. After various attempts, the city finally rebuilt the neighborhood. However no individual public official, including the mayor at the time, was ever held civilly or criminally accountable for what happened on Osage Avenue on May 13, 1985. In my opinion, they should have been. That is a grave injustice.
This terrible incident in our history happened over three decades ago, and is deeply ingrained in our collective memories. As the chief executive in charge that day, former Mayor W. Wilson Goode has apologized multiple times for his role in that tragedy.
The anniversary of this incident comes at a time when Philadelphia is in the middle of a pandemic that has claimed nearly 1,000 Philadelphians’ lives and infected more than 18,750 residents with COVID-19. Responding to this public health crisis has also badly harmed Philadelphia economically, leaving hundreds of thousands of city residents out of work, exposing fundamental disparities in health care for racial minorities, and ripping a $649 million hole in the city’s budget for the coming fiscal year. As a current elected member of City Council, I am focused every day on responding to this unprecedented crisis for our residents and our city, and I believe that is where my focus must remain.
# # #