The United States is a country that was founded on white supremacy, and that has yet to actually address the myriad of atrocities and injustices that followed from that aspect of the nation’s founding. The current “CRT” panic from the right wing is a not-so-subtle effort to prevent the teaching of any history that might undermine fanatical patriotism, particularly among white students. From what I can tell, the conservative movement is horrified that people have been learning about things like the 1921 pogrom in Tulsa Oklahoma. Personally, I love to see it. Lately I’ve heard a lot of fascists online talking about their belief that history is cyclical, and that “their time” is coming, especially with the recent backlash against social progress. There’s a degree to which belief in such cycles can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you have hugely popular people like Joe Rogan spreading a mix of fatalism, bigotry, and machismo, and talking about ancient prophecies, I think there’s a real danger of people trying to create hard times, or at minimum shrugging off dangerous trends in society.
So I think it’s worth remembering both the kinds of things that can come from a racist law enforcement system, and remembering that this stuff is not remotely cyclical. Even a cursory glance at history shows “hard times” happening all over the world on any given date. Sadly, state violence against black neighborhoods didn’t end in the 1920s. On May 13th 1985, the Philedelphia Police Department firebombed a neighborhood:
On this day in 1985, 37 years ago the Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on a West Philly neighborhood, specifically on the house of a Black liberation group called MOVE, ki!!ing 11 members, including 5 children, destroying 61 homes and leaving 250 people homeless. pic.twitter.com/2frF4mEZHe
— Friendly Neighborhood Comrade (@SpiritofLenin) May 13, 2022
In case it wasn’t clear, officials made the decision to let the fire spread:
In May 1985, after attempts to evict the group from its home in West Philadelphia, the city flew a helicopter over it and dropped a bomb. The explosives resulted in a raging fire, which the fire department refused to control. Various accounts suggest that police began shooting at members attempting to flee. Only two people escaped, and six adults and five children died in the blaze.
This is all bad enough, but because the U.S. is what it is, it gets worse. See – ordinarily when people die, regardless of the circumstances, their remains are treated according to the wishes of loved ones. It’s generally considered bad form to just… keep the remains without permission.
A forensic pathologist produced reports on the human remains found in the debris, including two sets of bones identified as belonging to Tree Africa, 14, and Delisha Africa, 12.
Mike Africa Jr., a current MOVE member who spent his childhood with the group, remembered Tree as fearless, someone who would find the tallest tree in the park and race to its peak. “No one could climb higher than she could,” he said in an interview this month. “She never feared the way up.” Delisha, he said, was always right behind her.
After an investigation into the bombing,the remains were given to anthropologist Alan Mann by the city Medical Examiner’s Office, according to the MOVE Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission letters, for further analysis. At the time, he worked at the University of Pennsylvania. When Mann transferred to Princeton University in 2001, he reportedly took the bones with him.
Researchers connected to the schools also used the girls’ bones in an online forensic anthropology teaching video, without permission of the relatives’ families.
That the MOVE bones were still being held by the universities was not widely known before revelations published this week by online news site Billy Penn. It has led to public outrage as controversy builds over American museums’ display and study of human remains. Just last week, the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology pledged to repatriate another group of problematic human remains known as the Morton Collection.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Thursday that he was “extremely disturbed” by the mishandling of the girls’ remains and that the city is reviewing its internal records from the time of the bombing.
On Thursday, MOVE member Pam Africa told The RemiX Morning Show her organization had never been contacted about the remains.
“None of these monsters have called one MOVE person,” Africa said. “Tree has a mother, Consuela Africa, who did 16 years in jail.”
Fortunately, last year the remains were found after Philadelphia’s health commissioner Thomas Farley was found to have ordered their destruction without notifying anyone – let alone the family. This stuff isn’t ancient history. I was a year old when this happened, and Farley’s attempt to destroy the remains was in 2017. White supremacy is still very much the default in how a lot of the United States operates. Black Americans have been saying this for decades, it has become pretty fucking clear in recent years just how right they were.
Right now the country is in the grips of a massive, well-funded effort to roll back as many civil rights as possible. Whatever you may have been told, the “moral arc of the universe” is a comforting fiction. There is no inevitable good outcome for us. If we want the world to get better, we have to understand what it was, what it is, and we have to work to make it into something that it never has been before.
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