Editor's note: 30 years ago, police ordered the bombing of the Philadelphia headquarters of the black liberation group MOVE, killing eleven people including four children. As Baltimore reels after the death of twenty-five-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody, we remember this tragic episode of state-sponsored violence with a Comment from our July 1985 issue.
The bombing of Philadelphia's MOVE headquarters was "perfect," said Mayor Wilson Goode, "except for the fire."
Perfect? Eleven persons, including four children, died in the commando operation. But Goode was concerned more about the sixty houses that burned down than about human life. And most Philadelphians—most Americans—seemed to agree.
MOVE members were said to be loud, profane, unsanitary, disruptive, obnoxious. These are not capital offenses. In fact, until a few weeks before the police assault, the mayor acknowledged that he had no legal basis even to evict MOVE adherents.
So they weren't evicted; they were murdered. As one MOVE survivor observed, the mayor acted as judge, jury, and executioner. For this he was praised by Tory columnist George Will, by the Los Angeles police commissioner (who called Goode "an inspiration to the nation"), and by many Philadelphia residents.
The inhabitants of the MOVE home were deprived of life, liberty, and property without due process of law. But in the city of brotherly love and elsewhere, the niceties of the Fifth Amendment gave way to the doctrine of Clint Eastwood and William Rehnquist: Constitutional rights endanger public safety, and the bastards deserve what they get.