Magazine article The Nation

Is Philly Burning?

Magazine article The Nation

Is Philly Burning?

Article excerpt

Mayor Wilson Goode's destruction of a West Philadelphia neighborhood in order to remove a disorderly commune now takes its place in the monstrous tradition of contemporary social remedies far worse than the maladies they were meant to cure: the burning of a Vietnamese village in order to save it, the bombing of Lebanese civilians by a C.I.A.-backed group to deter terrorism, the contra invasion of Nicaragua to promote free elections. In each instance, the military solution seemed attractive to policy managers, who hoped that the swift use of a terrible sword would not only annihilate the enemy but secure the support of vengeful friends. Each time they have failed, precisely because the punishment was so blatantly inappropriate to the crime. Vengeance that takes innocent victims itself falls prey to the retribution of history.

Goode's desperate decision to bomb the MOVE commune's house was not an urgent battlefield choice but the last step in a progression of mistakes that began almost as soon as the guns were stilled from the first police confrontation with the group, in August 1978. In that violent fracas, Mayor Frank Rizzo was accused to overreaction to the point of race-baiting, and so his successor, the more liberal Bill Breen, appointed a black city manager--Wilson Goode--to help reduce the racial heat. Goode owed his position and his power to the white political establishment, which duly gave its stamp of approval to his mayoral candidacy in 1983. It saw him as a token of integration who would help keep the lid on social unrest. …

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