ON THE NIGHT before Osage Avenue erupted in flames, Bennie Swans made one last-ditch effort to talk with MOVE members.
As head of the Crisis Intervention Network, a city-funded group Swans founded in the mid-1970s to fight gang violence and drugs, Swans had been trying to negotiate with MOVE members and their neighbors in the weeks leading up to the May 13, 1985, bombing, "to make sure anger did not boil over" between the two groups.
1985: Swans told the MOVE Commission that on the night of May 12, 1985, he and Robert Owens, a probation officer with the Crisis Intervention Network, went to the MOVE house and spoke with resident Conrad Africa, whom Owens knew as a childhood friend.
Quote: "There was complete control of his faculties," Swans said of Africa, "and there was a decision that the confrontation in his view was inevitable and that he appreciated the dialogue [but] they were not going to take their children out of their home, because it was their home.
"They were not going to leave the compound unless there was . . . the release of those persons that were arrested as a result of the shoot-out and the subsequent death of Officer [James] Ramp" in the 1978 confrontation between MOVE and police in Powelton Village.
2010: Today, Swans, 60, lives with his wife in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he remains active with various nonprofit groups to reduce crime and violence in the area.
In a phone interview, Swans recalled walking down Osage Avenue with Owens the night of May 12, 1985, in the eerie darkness, in the empty barricaded streets.
"It was very, very tense," he said. "I was a little concerned. I had worked with youth groups, gangs, had gunshots fired around me. I was a Vietnam veteran."
When he and Owens left the house that night, "we had the feeling that we failed," Swans said.
"We knew in our heart and in our mind that something horrible was going to happen. . . . [But] nobody had the idea of the level of devastation" that would occur.
In reflection, he said he wishes there had been some kind of formal negotiation process between the city and MOVE members. He also thinks a nonpartisan panel could have been set up after the 1978 confrontation that may have added to some understanding between MOVE and authorities.
But, he realizes this is all now just "Monday-night quarterbacking, 10 seasons away."