Public outcry over the handling of human remains recovered from the ashes of the deadly 1985 attack on a black liberation organization in Philadelphia increased dramatically on Thursday, with the revelation that the bones of an undisclosed number of Move victims were cremated. and thrown around the city without the knowledge or permission of living relatives.
In an explosive revelation, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced that he had fired the city’s health commissioner, Thomas Farley. The mayor said Farley had told him earlier this week that he had learned several years ago that the remains of the victims of the Move bombing, which killed 11 people, were still in the possession of the medical examiner’s office in the city.
It is understood that the health commissioner learned of the bones in 2017. Rather than attempt to identify them and return them to the families of the deceased, Farley said he “made the decision to incinerate and dispose of them,” the mayor. it said in a statement.
Kenney said he had asked the health commissioner to resign. “This action lacked empathy for the victims, their families and the deep pain that the Move bombing has brought to our city for almost four decades.”
The city’s medical examiner, Sam Gulino, was also placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.
In a bitter twist in history, the revelation of the exceptionally arrogant way in which Philadelphia treated the human remains of its own citizens came on the 36th anniversary of the police bombing. As the mayor put it in his statement: “Today marks 36 years since 11 Philadelphia blacks, including children, were murdered by their own government.”
The attack, on May 13, 1985, was one of the worst atrocities in the long history of racial violence inflicted by the state in the United States. A police helicopter flew over the headquarters of Move, a black liberation and back-to-nature group that still exists in the West Philadelphia area.
A bomb containing C-4 plastic explosives was dropped from the helicopter onto the roof of the Move house, causing an inferno that was allowed to burn for an hour before fire brigade was called.
In addition to the 11 Move members who died, more than 60 homes were razed in the almost entirely black neighborhood.
Thursday’s admission that the remains of some of the victims were unceremoniously dumped in an unknown location adds to the discovery last month that the bones of two of the five children who died in hell had been held for nearly four decades. in the Anthropology Collection of the University of Pennsylvania. The children are believed to be Tree Africa, who was 14 when she was killed, and Delisha Africa, 12.
The girls’ parents were unaware that the university had kept their children’s remains as anthropological artifacts rather than burying them. The bones were used as a “case study” in an online forensic anthropology course published last month by a Penn professor who works in conjunction with Princeton University.
Mike Africa Jr, a Move member who lost two close relatives in the 1985 disaster, was so shocked by the latest grim revelation that he was almost speechless. When asked by the Guardian for his response to Thursday’s news, he replied: “I’m not sure I have an answer. They took my family’s remains and cremated them; all I can say at this point is that people must be held accountable. “
Africa added that whatever city authorities have been doing in recent years “has to come to a sudden halt. They need to stop this crime they have been committing from covering up their behavior and destroying evidence of what they have done. “
In his official statement, Kenney said he had learned of the “very disturbing incident” earlier this week, but had refrained from making an announcement until members of Move could be informed. The mayor said he had met with members of Move on Thursday and apologized “for the way this situation was handled and for how the City has treated them over the past five decades.”
At a press conference Thursday night, the mayor said meeting with Move representatives earlier in the day had been “long and very difficult. It was very emotional on many levels. “
It was also revealed that for 35 years Move’s remains, described as “bone fragments”, had likely been stored in a cardboard box in the medical examiner’s office.
The identity and number of victims whose remains were contained in the box remains a mystery and will be the subject of an external investigation that the mayor has instigated.
led by the global law firm Dechert LLP. Family members of the move may nominate individuals to participate in the investigation.
Later on Thursday, the ousted health commissioner put his own Statement in which he insisted that in disposing of the bone fragments he had only followed the usual department procedure. But he said he had come to view his action as unjustifiable.
“I think my decision was wrong and represented a terrible error in judgment. I deeply regret having made this decision without consulting the families of the victims and I extend my deepest apologies for the pain this will cause them ”.
Kenney said that when he learned of the removal of human remains from the 1985 bombing, he thought of his own family. “If my own family had been treated like this, I would have felt angry, confused, sad and traumatized,” he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism