She sits in utter stillness. Her coffee-brown features, as if set an obsidian, as if a mask, barely perceptible, the tears threatening to overflow that dark proud maternal face, a face held still by rage. A warm spring day in North Philadelphia saw her on her way home after her tiring duties as a housekeeper in a West Mound area home. Upon arrival, she was stopped by police who told her she could not enter her home of 23 years and that it would be torn down as part of a city program against drug dens.
“My house ain’t no drug den,” the 59-year-old grandmother argued. “This is my home!” The cops, strangers to this part of town, could care less. Mrs. Helen Anthony left the scene to contact her grown children. Two hours later, she returned to an eerie scene straight out of the twilight zone. Her home was no more. A pile of bricks stood abit hills of red dust and twisted debris, a lone wall standing jagged, a man’s suit flapping on a hook, flapping like a flag of surrender after a war waged by bulldozers and ambitious politicians.
Mrs. Anthony received no warning before the jaws of the baleful backhoe bit into the bricks of her life, tearing asunder the gatherings and memories of a life well lived. She was served no notice that the city of brotherly love intended to grind her home of 23 years into dust because they didn’t like her neighbors. They just showed up one day, armed with television cameras and political ambitions and did it gone.
When reporters asked politicos about the black grandmother whose home was demolished, they responded with characteristic arrogance. “Well, the law of eminent domain gives us the right to tear down any house we want,” they said. When coverage turned negative, out came the olive branch. “We’ll reimburse her. Oops, honest mistake! Compensation,” they said.
Left unsaid is the wisdom of a policy of mass destruction planned over a brunch of brie and croissants, executed for the six o’clock news with no regard for the lives and wellbeing of the people involved. In a city with an estimated 30,000 homeless people, why does the government embark on a blitzkrieg of bulldozing and demolishing homes, even abandoned ones?
Mrs. Anthony, offered a home and compensation by redfaced city officials, is less than enthused. The way the city treated her, opined her daughter Geraldine Johnson, she does not want to live in Philadelphia. Her dreadful treatment at the hands of those who dare call themselves civil servants points to the underlying indifference with which black lives’ property, aspirations are treated by the political elite.
One would be hard pressed to find this degree of destructive martial arts utilized in a neighborhood where a white grandmother lived. Another chapter in the tragic comedy called the drug war.
From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.