Guest post by ANIA LOOMBA AND SUVIR KAUL
Protest in Philadelphia, June 7, 2020 (Video by Teren Sevea))
In 2002, when we moved to Philadelphia to join the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, a friend invited us for breakfast to his home in West Philadelphia, abutting the university. We learned then that in May 1985, rowhouses in this area, then a largely African American residential neighborhood, were bombed by the police (a military-grade explosive was thrown down from a helicopter). The police action followed a confrontation with a group called Move, whose members combined Black liberation and environmentalist ideals. When flames spread, the then Police Commissioner decided to “let the fire burn.”11 of the 13 people in the Move house were incinerated; 5 were children between the ages of 7 and 13.
Four years earlier, in another well-publicized case that scarred Philadelphia, a Move associate and Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal was incarcerated for the murder of a police officer; he, considered by many to be a political prisoner, remains in jail. In 1963, just when Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream speech,” a Black family who moved into a white working-class neighbourhood faced a mob of 1500 shouting “Two, four, six, eight—we don’t want to integrate!” In 1967, a man called Frank Rizzo became Police Commissioner, and led a brutal attack on school students who demanded that Black history be included in their curriculum. Dozens were injured. In 1972 Rizzo was elected mayor of the city, a post he held for eight years. His tenure was so notorious for brutality against African Americans that the U.S. Justice Department sued the city’s police department, saying that its use of excessive force “shocks the conscience.” In spite of this terrible history, or more probably because of it, his statue loomed for years near the City Hall, a symbol of racist policing and governance in a city which is 44% African-American and one of the most segregated cities in the country.
Until last week.