September 20, 2021

After Protests over Unauthorized Use of MOVE Child’s Bones, U. of Pennsylvania & Princeton Apologize

7 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman. By the way, you can sign up for our daily news digest email by texting the word “democracynow” — one word, no space — to 66866. That’s “democracynow,” texting it to 66866 today.
Yes, this is Democracy Now!, as we continue to look at the MOVE bombing and its aftermath. Two Ivy League schools have issued apologies this week for their handling of the remains of an African American child killed by the Philadelphia police in the 1985 bombing of the home of the radical, Black liberation, anti-police-brutality group MOVE. The apologies came after revelations that the remains of a child who was a victim of the bombing were reportedly given to anthropologist Alan Mann, a now-retired Princeton University professor, and held in the Penn Museum for years — the Penn Museum is the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology — and that the bones were recently used in an online teaching course by Penn Museum curator Janet Monge, a visiting Princeton University professor. The online course was called “Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology.” It was used, the bones, without permission from the family of the children.
Students at Princeton have held a protest on campus Wednesday to support the MOVE community, who held another protest at the same time at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. This is one of the speakers.

PROTESTER: They say it’s OK because they think, “Oh, well, this is a part of this cultural moment. This is how the science goes. This is how we do it. We had to do it. This is what excuses us experimenting on human beings.” They’ve been doing this to our Black bodies for hundreds of years! In the name of science, in the name of study. We are not subjects of study. We are human beings, God damn it, and our lives matter!

AMY GOODMAN: Philadelphia City Councilperson Jamie Gauthier, who was responsible for issuing the apology for the MOVE bombing, also spoke at the protest Wednesday outside the University of Pennsylvania.

COUNCILMEMBER JAMIE GAUTHIER: The University of Pennsylvania has apologized for its role in this situation. But an apology is not enough. Saying it won’t happen again is not enough. The damage is already done, and now everyone involved needs to be held accountable for their actions. The Africa family is owed a full explanation of what happened by the university and by the city of Philadelphia, who transferred the remains to Professor Mann without consent. And the family is also owed some form of restitution to compensate for this egregious act.

AMY GOODMAN: This week, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, known as the Penn Museum, apologized via Twitter, saying, quote, “We understand the importance of reuniting the remains with the family, and we are working now to find a respectful, consultative resolution.” Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber issued a statement saying he’s, quote, “concerned” over reports that the remains were used for instruction on campus, and said he would launch a fact-finding effort conducted by outside counsel.
Earlier this week, Democracy Now! spoke with Mike Africa Jr., a second-generation MOVE member who was 6 years old when Philadelphia police bombed the MOVE home.

MIKE AFRICA JR.: I don’t trust the Penn Museum. I don’t trust Princeton. I definitely want to say that there is more to come with this. … There needs to be accountability, because the reaction, the people — Penn’s reaction to this is totally unprofessional, making an apology through a statement through someone else. And, you know, the whole thing just is egregious.

AMY GOODMAN: This week, 70 Princeton professors, including Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Imani Perry and Eddie Glaude, signed on to a letter published in the campus newspaper calling on the university to act. The group writes, quote, “The University should move beyond denial to pursue restitution and repair. … The victims of the MOVE bombing, their families, and those of us at Princeton invested in Black history and communities deserve more,” they said.
To begin our look at what all this means, we go to Princeton University, where we’re joined Aisha Tahir, a senior who is an African American studies major. She helped organize a protest on campus Wednesday to support the MOVE community’s demands.
Aisha, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about what you are demanding.
AISHA TAHIR: So, what we demanded, we wanted in our demands to kind of show the complexity of the matter and the fact that it wasn’t simple when we came up with the demands, acknowledging that justice and accountability looks very different for the family and how it could look for us and the people at this institution who are calling for accountability here. So, one of our most important kind of factors was that we want Princeton to work with the family and work with them and kind of try to understand how they can repair that part of the harm that has happened, but on the side of the institution, which, you know, this routinely happens, where vulnerable people are exploited in the name of research and lab scientific knowledge.
And so, our demands here really focus on the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Princeton has countless financial resources. We want them to work with the family and with the organizations on the outside to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, knowing that what we are really fighting for, beyond accountability, is also human life, and Mumia is still in prison, and we would like for Mumia to be free.
Our other most important demand is that we make sure that this never happens again. This was able to happen because Princeton has — Princeton does not have practices in place which kind of center the preciousness of human life, and it allows vulnerable people to be used as lab subjects. And so, we asked for the faculty who signed on to the op-ed that you just talked about — we asked that those faculty overlook kind of like an accountability, also do an investigation into the Anthropology Department and to work with people on the outside and people on the inside to see how the department needs to change. The fact that there are only three professors within the department who signed on — as of last night, I checked, there were only three professors within the department who signed on to the letter — that’s horrific. And as students, I mean, we routinely see how the departments on this university ignore these very violations of human life.
And so, I think that those are the two most important demands, which are that this can never happen again, and we need to make sure that there is economic justice involved in this process, but also the fact that Mumia needs to be freed. And we heard that from the Africa family, and we’re going to echo that. And we’re also going to acknowledge that this is a lot more complicated, and we, possibly, and this institution can’t know what justice looks like, so they need to work with the family, with the MOVE organization, to know what will be justice for them.
AMY GOODMAN: And your response, Aisha, to the Princeton University president saying he’s concerned over reports that the remains were used for instruction on campus, and that he’s launching an independent investigation?
AISHA TAHIR: I mean, I’ve been long involved in organizing on campus. And, you know, my first question is: Why did they come almost a week and a half later, after there was a protest, after faculty signed on to an op-ed? Why did he decide to do a statement now? Also, the fact that there’s going to be a fact-finding investigation, that means nothing. He should have reached out to the family. He should have had sat down with the family, virtually, in person, socially distanced, whatever that might be. He should have, to take this with a sense of urgency. I saw no sense of urgency in this, which means that he clearly does not understand the implications of what has happened.
It is incredibly traumatizing to students who learn at this university, knowing that we are being taught and we are being — we are complicit in all of these — right? — because we sat through them, were present through them. And he is able to sleep at night. I don’t know how.
And so, I think that my response to him is that, I mean, I believe nothing he says, and I also believe that this will change nothing, other than — I think that that was kind of what our protest tried to show, is that it will only be students and faculty and staff and community members who will mobilize the university to do better, because I believe that President Eisgruber and — he’s shown, time and time again, and in his response now, that the university is primarily a corporation that responds only to media and kind of a reputational kind of response. So, that’s what he did, I think.
AMY GOODMAN: Aisha Tahir, I want to thank you for being with us, senior at Princeton University, African American studies major, helped organize the protest on the campus Wednesday to support the MOVE community. And congratulations on your upcoming graduation. As we turn now to speak with historian Sam Redman, author of Bone Rooms: From Scientific Racism to Human Prehistory in Museums, in a minute.