On May 13, 1985, one of the blacker days of the U.S. war on its domestic black population, the Philadelphia Police Department undertook the aerial bombing of an African-American neighborhood in the city where members of the radical group MOVE had taken up residence.
Firemen were instructed not to attend to the resultant raging fire. When the smoke cleared, the following had been eliminated: six adults, five children, and more than 60 homes. No criminal charges ever ensued for city officials, but Ramona Africa—the sole adult survivor of the MOVE contingent—was thrown in prison for seven years.
Former Black Panther and radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, a veteran of death row now condemned to an eternity behind bars in Pennsylvania, described the judicial spectacle thusly:
“The courts of the land turned a blind eye, daubed mud in their socket, and prosecuted Ramona Africa for having the nerve to survive an urban holocaust, jailing her for the crime of not burning to death.”
This, of course, is merely one of many creative categories of criminal behavior uniquely available to black Americans over the years. The just-released volumeWriting on the Wall, the first comprehensive selection of Mumia’s short prison commentaries from 1982 to the present, is a handy resource for keeping track of some of them.
A dispatch on Amadou Diallo, for example, contains Mumia’s assessment of what had prompted New York City police officers to unleash 41 bullets on the unarmed immigrant from Guinea in 1999. Diallo, Mumia reasons, had “committ[ed] the capital crime of ‘standing while black’—SWB.”