Princeton University students to hold protest in support of MOVE community

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.”

3 Comments

  1. It’s unrealistic to use 3D printed models for osteology and anthropological research. Plastic and 3D models, regardless of how good they are, fail to capture important details that are necessary for future scholars and researchers to learn or else future evaluation and research will be faulty and that will lead to incorrect claims about identification of remains in future cases. Alan Mann and Janet Monge have repeatedly said over the years how much sorrow they feels for the victims and how appalled they were by the atrocities committed by the officials were in this bombing and attack. They also have acknowledged on many occasions the problematic history of the field and have worked to better it. It is common practice in forensics to hold on to unclaimed remains (these two bones remained unclaimed all of these years) in the hopes that better technology comes along so that they can identify them. They reached out to the family for DNA samples in hopes of conclusively determining which of the two children the two bones belonged to, but the family denied giving DNA. That being said more attempts to reach out to the family members about returning the remains over the years should have been made with the clarification that they may never be certain who the bones belong to, but both families could jointly bury (or do what they wanted) with the two bones.

  2. Everybody knew that MOVE members were in Philadelphia. Ramona Africa and Pam Africa spoke publicly all the time. Penn and Princeton could have easily located them. THEY WERE NEVER CONTACTED. Mann and Monge could have easily contacted MOVE. They didn’t care. They didn’t understand that what they were doing was part of centuries old dehumanization of Black people dating back and epitomized slavery. Would they have accepted scientists treating their deceased, and in this case murdered, family members??? The barbarism of murdering six adults, five children, and then coldly presenting the remains of these people for the “education” of the elite. The unintended lessons were far more significant than the planned lessons. Hopefully some of the students will grasp that, and dissociate themselves from this kind of colonial education. Never again! The
    tradition of the research of the Nazi Dr. Mengele must be ended!

  3. Members of the family were contacted! Why do you not take any issue with the medical examiner, whose responsibility it was to see to the remains. Mann and Monge were hopeful of identifying the remains, they were not actively studying them over the years. Until the class presentation, the only times they examined the bones were in hopes of identifying them. Stop twisting the narrative. Random members of MOVE cannot legally claim remains of the deceased. They did indeed care. Again they spoke countless times over the tragedy and part of the lesson were how devastating and wrong what happened to MOVE was. It wasn’t presented coldly, but a valuable lesson. The whole point of forensics is to be able to identify the victims and bring closure to the families. If students do not learn how to identify burnt and fragmented remains, future victims will also remain unidentified. Monge and Mann were both against the murders of the MOVE members.

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