Princeton University students plan to hold a protest outside Nassau Hall on the campus at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 28, to show their support for the MOVE community in Philadelphia. The protest is scheduled to take place at the same time as a demonstration at the Penn Museum.
Last week, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania came under fire after the local news website Billy Penn wrote a story that revealed that the remains of children who were victims in the 1985 MOVE bombing sat in the Penn Museum for years. The bones had been given to anthropologist Alan Mann for identification. Mann, who left the University of Pennsylvania for Princeton in 2001 and retired in 2015, never successfully identified the remains, but he maintained custody of them. Former visiting professor Janet Monge, the curator of Penn Museum’s physical anthropology section, also used the remains in an online course. Mann now has the remains, but they had been at the Penn Museum until the controversy erupted last week.
In May of 1985, Philadelphia police had a standoff with members of MOVE, and dropped a bomb on their house from a helicopter. A fire broke out, and firefighters let it burn. The fire destroyed more than 60 houses and killed 11 people, including five children.
Organizers of the Princeton demonstration said they will gather to protest what they described as the university’s “complicity in hoarding the remains of a Black child who was a victim of one of the most heinous acts of police brutality in U.S. history.” They said scholars failed to consider the MOVE family’s wishes and abused the remains as an educational tool for forensic anthropology.
“Student organizers leading this action are doing so in order to amplify the voices of the MOVE family and call on Princeton University and its department of anthropology to respond to the harm it has caused and the trauma it has prolonged,” organizers said in a statement. “Princeton needs to work directly with the MOVE family and organization to decide next steps regarding the remains of the children, respecting that there may be different desires to engage within the family.”
MOVE member Mike Africa Jr., who is being backed by a broad coalition of Black-led Philadephia organizations, has issued a set of demands that include Princeton University issuing a formal apology to the MOVE family and the Black community in Philadelphia and paying reparations for their trauma. MOVE wants Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a police officer in Philadelphia in 1981, released from prison.
On Tuesday, both Princeton University and the Penn Museum issued statements apologizing. The anthropology department issued a statement saying more questions should have been asked about Mann’s research. A spokesman for the university also told the student newspaper the university apologizes for contributing to the pain of the Africa family.
Students are calling on the university to permanently remove the online anthropology course where the remains from the MOVE bombing victim are used for instruction. The course was removed from the Coursera online learning platform last week. Students also want the school’s anthropology department to be transparent regarding its policies regarding the use of cultural artifacts. The students say the school should never use real remains for research or courses, and instead should use 3D printed models. They also want the university to conduct an external investigation into the practices of the anthropology department, and to revoke the professor emeritus status of Alan Mann.
“Student organizers also emphasize that these horrific abuses did not occur as isolated events and that they exist as a part of a larger history of violence and racism within anthropology and academia,” reads a statement by organizers. “This action is just the first of many necessary steps to grapple with and end these historic abuses against people of color by privileged institutions like Princeton and Penn.”