Penn must be held accountable for holding remains of MOVE children.
On August 25th, amid the flurry of student orientations and the start of the semester, the University announced the results of its internal investigation into the Penn Museum’s use and display of the remains of Tree Africa and Delisha Africa, children murdered in the 1985 MOVE bombing and fire. The supposedly neutral investigation comes in response to a season of activism and protest directed at the University and hundreds of press pieces and social media statements condemning Professors Alan Mann and Janet Monge’s participation in the theft of Tree Africa’s and Delisha Africa’s remains without the consent or knowledge of their families. In April, PoliceFreePenn released our own response to the news and a list of demands, including “the creation of a transparent, public investigation led by a community-elected investigator and funded by the University, into the Penn Museum’s continued role in perpetuating anti-Blackness since its founding in 1887, and how these specific remains ended up in the Museum’s possession over the past 35 years.”
After four months of silence, we are disappointed but not surprised that the report from the University’s closed-door investigation disavows both institutional and individual responsibility for their employees’ behavior. Not only does the report repeatedly fail to consider all relevant evidence, the Tucker Law Group concludes that, while demonstrating “extremely poor judgement” and “gross insensitivity to human dignity,” Professors Alan Mann and Janet Monge ultimately did not violate any Museum policy or professional code of ethics, and therefore bear no legal or institutional accountability. These are the terms through which the denigration of Black life is justified and perpetuated. As Janine Africa, a member of MOVE who lost a child in the 1985 attack, put it:
I see a news article of them saying, not only did they kill my children, kill my sisters and brothers, but they have desecrated what they say are their remains. Defiled them and had them hidden away on exhibit as a learning tool for their students. That is the most disrespectful, hateful thing to do to anybody, but especially children.
If gross insensitivity to human dignity does not violate Museum policy, then we suggest that after firing Janet Monge, you burn the Museum down too.
Further, the Tucker Law Group’s report seeks to minimize the impact of the direct actions and protests organized by PoliceFreePenn and our comrades Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, Mike Africa Jr., Pam Africa, and Krystal Strong, and instead places responsibility for the public outrage on a professional dispute between a graduate student and Professor Monge. We do not care how or why the public came to know about the MOVE remains. We care that the Museum and its employees, Alan Mann and Janet Monge, harbored the remains of Black victims of police murder for over 35 years and used them on multiple occasions as teaching props. That is the source of our outrage.
PoliceFreePenn unequivocally rejects the Tucker report’s bullshit recommendations for moving forward, which include hiring a diversity officer, creating another University committee to address relations with the West Philly community, and creating a historical exhibit about the MOVE bombing. Representation is not justice. What do any of these recommendations have to do with MOVE, and those who have been directly impacted and traumatized by the University, the Museum, and their employees’ behavior?
PoliceFreePenn insists on holding the University accountable and we reiterate our unmet demands:
- Financial reparations to the families of Tree Africa and Delicia Africa for the continued harm and trauma caused by the University and the Penn Museum’s use of their remains as teaching tools, and by Coursera for their profits made from the abuse of these remains. If such financial reparations have already been made privately, we demand transparency around the University’s process for making them.
- The termination of Janet Monge from her role as curator at the Penn Museum and faculty in the department of anthropology. You do not get to publicly handle the bones of deceased family members without the family’s permission and continue to work as a curator of physical anthropology.
- The creation of a transparent, public investigation led by a community-elected investigator and funded by the University into the Penn Museum’s continued role in perpetuating anti-Blackness since its founding in 1887, and how these specific remains ended up in the Museum’s possession over the past 35 years. The Tucker Law Group’s current report fails completely to accomplish this: it does not offer a clear timeline of the movement of the remains from the Medical Examiner’s office to the Penn Museum; it does not account for institutional complicity beyond the behavior of a few individual actors, or how this “open secret” was allowed to exist for so long; and it tells us nothing new about the Museum’s theft and holdings of other human remains and material objects.
We stand in solidarity with victims of institutional and state violence and with the individuals who have bravely come forward and shared their experiences of harm within MOVE. As abolitionists, care is the motivation for our work. With our position in proximity to Penn, it is our responsibility to demand redress for the abuses that this institution perpetuates with impunity against the families of Tree Africa and Delisha Africa and marginalized communities of Philadelphia. We stand with survivors and support their need for healing, accountability, and care.