A group of longtime civil rights activists called today for a criminal investigation of Mayor W. Wilson Goode's handling of a police assault and fire last week that left 11 people dead and 250 homeless.
The move came as Goode and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on criminal justice, toured the neighborhood where, of 61 houses burned, 53 were destroyed. They discussed the panel's investigation of the incident.
Conyers, appearing Sunday with Goode on a network television show, accused the city of "bombing an urban area" and "torching" a community. "It really looks like a war zone," Conyers said after today's tour. "It's hard to believe this happened in America."
A group called Concerned Philadelphians for Civil Liberties said it will seek a grand jury probe of events leading to the dropping of an explosive device May 13 on a west Philadelphia row house occupied by members of MOVE, a radical black organization.
Questions that require citywide debate, according to the rights activists, include: "Was the bombing of the MOVE house really necessary?" and "What were MOVE's real crimes? Dress? Hair? Clothing? Odor?"
It was the first time that prominent blacks had challenged the leadership of Goode, this city's first black mayor, in the MOVE crisis. But Stanley Branch, organizer of the ad hoc group, complained that black political leaders and clergymen "don't want to get in this fight."
"We can't forgive or pardon the mayor just because he's black," Branch told a news conference. "He's a black mayor who dropped a bomb on black folks and killed those kids."
Civil rights lawyer William M. Kunstler has agreed to represent the rights group. "There isn't the slightest doubt in my mind that the bomb wouldn't have been dropped on a white neighborhood," Kunstler said.
District Attorney Edward Rendell said today that he has no plans for an investigation. "The last thing we need is people like Kunstler coming in here," Rendell said.