Who Drops a Bomb on a Row House?

It’s been a rough week. Mostly, because of quite a bit of badness in the world. As any mother would be, I’m just distraught over the kidnapping of the girls in Nigeria. Then, although beautifully done, I read this coverage of the September 11 Memorial Museum in The New York Times which is always very sad. Also, the mining fire in Turkey; so many people died. I’ve also been following articles about the horrible poverty in Philadelphia which is dismal and more and more a cancer on our communities. And then, there was this, in the past but uncomfortably close to home, MOVE: An Oral History in Philadelphia magazine.

In short, in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a radical group called MOVE (no one knows why), who was not behaving in a very neighborly way and who didn’t engage in row house living best practices. MOVE would typically make lots of noise, yelling their creedos (yay animal rights and raw food; neigh technology, medicine, and modern life) at all hours, screaming profanity in a time when that was offensive, refusing to properly maintain their house, threatening their neighbors’ safety, creating unhygienic compost piles including human waste, among other things. Over several years there had been several run-ins with the police and by the time 1985 came around, tensions were high.

During May of 1985 the situation culminated in a stand-off between MOVE and the Philadelphia police department of epic proportions, during which someone in the police department got the idea to bomb their row house to remove a bunker they had built on their roof. The police did so, lighting the house on fire in the process. Allegedly, the fire was left to burn to force the people out of the house, which ended up being 13 people, of whom 6 were kids. Only two people, one adult and one child, actually made it out of the house alive. Meanwhile, by the time people realized that the fire was spreading to the other homes uncontrollably, remember these are row houses, it was too late to save 60 other houses in the neighborhood.

One has to ask why a nature-loving group of people didn’t just move to the country and live in peace with their ideas without annoying the neighbors? After all, if you don’t like the entrappings of modern life, why live in a city where things are more or less modern? And, even if you have problem residents, if they are only taking up one row house, why burn down 61 homes just to get to 11 people, half of whom were kids? Seems a little excessive. It’s baffling.

One would also think considering innocent people lost their homes the city of Philadelphia would have rushed to make amends and gotten the people back into rebuilt homes ASAP. But, the neighbors who complained about MOVE and the conditions in their neighborhood and who tried to make their neighborhood a pleasant place, still haven’t been properly compensated and accommodated. The homes that were built were completely shoddy and to this day, the three blocks remain largely run-down and boarded up (see the block). Honestly, I would be too heartbroken to live there anyway if I had been a resident. I’d want a new house – not second rate, or someplace to start over, or better yet – not having my house burnt down in the first place.

It’s hard to believe that something like this could happen in relatively near history. I also find it hard to believe this would have happened in other neighborhoods like Society Hill, for example. But, it does offer some insight into why people here may have a chip on their shoulder and be inherently cranky; certainly reasonable if you believe your city doesn’t care about you and has betrayed you or people like you.

Philly still has its share of ranting lunatics who scream obscenities at people. These days, people are hardly flummoxed/offended at a few f-bombs, so generally people ignore the ranters who stick to public places rather than residential neighborhoods anyway. Most recently, there was a rather angry group, harassing people as they walked by Liberty Place, scarring people away. Instead of police, Liberty Place has hired a DJ who plays songs as amusing responses, combating the anger with humor and grace. It’s a most welcome alternative to blowing up a row house and burning down a neighborhood.


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