On Friday, a street in West Philadelphia will be renamed after former Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. Unsurprisingly, this public honoring has caused a debate as to whether, in the words of the critics, a "murderer" should be celebrated.
In 1985, Goode was a freshman mayor when a state helicopter dropped a bomb on a West Philadelphia rowhouse, resulting in the death of 11 men, women, and children. Although then-Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor told the New York Times that it was his decision to drop the bomb, Goode has become the face of the fire on Osage Avenue, which was the result of ongoing conflict with the black liberation group MOVE.
The MOVE bombing came to define Goode's two terms as the city's first black mayor, and, as some critics say, it also defined him as a human being.
But minimizing Goode's body of work to one tragic event isn't true to history and doesn't tell his story in totality. No one — including Goode — should only be remembered and judged for their most awful mistake.
"[The bombing] was a big mistake. It was one of the things in Philly's history we could've done without," Mayor Jim Kenney told me on Tuesday. "But I do believe that the bulk of his life, both in office and out of office, has been tremendous and exemplary."
One example of Goode's service to the city is the iconic Philadelphia skyline. Goode, who, despite great opposition, abandoned a gentlemen's agreement that no building could tower above William Penn's hat on City Hall. It was on Goode's watch that One Liberty Place materialized in 1987, as did seven other buildings that dwarfed City Hall and caused Philly's skyline to be a marvel to the nation. He also created offices and commissions which were, at the time, considered groundbreaking; for example, the 1984 establishment of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network.
Beyond politics, Goode, an ordained minister, went on to erect Amachi, a faith-based mentoring model for children with incarcerated parents.
Goode is more than the MOVE bombing. He, like all of us, is an imperfect human being. He is guilty of blindly trusting those who made the call the ended the lives of 11 people, and he's guilty of a type of reckless negligence that's likely impossible to ever fully atone for.
And yet, honors aren't always bestowed upon the perfect. People aren't all good or all bad, but rather nuanced. The complicated contribute to history, too.
"He's the first African-American mayor of the city. He has a historical place. I can see why people would want to honor him," Kenney told me. "I can understand why some people would hesitate relative to what happened back in the day at MOVE. But I don't think it's anything we all need to fight about."
But a fight is underway. Protesters have pledged to swarm the street-naming event on Friday.
I propose a compromise: In addition to protesting Goode's street, let's start a movement to honor another imperfect group of people: the victims of the MOVE bombing.
Although the members of MOVE may have been controversial because of their perceived radical culture and tactics, they were people who were loved. The lives of Tree-Tree, Delisha, Netta, Tomaso, Vincent, Raymond, Conrad, Nick, Theresa, Rhonda, and Lil Phil mattered and were snuffed out in the most inhumane of ways. And justice has yet to be served on their behalf. No one was ever tried in court for their murders; and the stain of injustice on the city is as prominent today as it was then.
If Goode can have a street sign, why can't they?