Mayor W. Wilson Goode on Sunday released a letter from the radical group MOVE that threatened to destroy a neighborhood if police attacked the group's heavily fortified compound.
The release of the letter on the CBS program "Face the Nation" came amid mounting criticism of the need for the police bombing, and its contents raised anew the question of why police bombed a house when they were warned that it contained a cache of explosives and flammable material.
Goode again defended the police action, saying that the bombing had been a last resort. He said that the radicals were "urban guerrillas" who had conducted "psychological warfare on their neighbors."
But at the same time, he appeared to back away from his staunch defense of Police Commissioner Gregore J. Sambor and Fire Commissioner William C. Richmond for their roles in the siege.
The two officials made tactical decisions at the Osage Avenue row house, including one to delay for two hours fighting the raging fire that leveled the block. They have said that MOVE would have shot at firefighters if they had fought the blaze earlier.
Police bombed the row house last Monday, igniting a firestorm that killed seven adults and four children. Fifty-three homes were destroyed, and eight others were severely damaged.
Church services were held throughout Philadelphia on Sunday for the victims and Goode spoke at one service as part of the day of prayer he had proclaimed.
Officials said the handprinted letter from MOVE was delivered to a highway patrolman May 11 and that Police Commissioner Sambor saw it two days later, the day he authorized the bombing.
It was not clear when the mayor saw the letter.
"Before we let you . . . make an example of us, we will burn this . . . house down and burn you up with us," the letter warned.
"If MOVE goes down, not only will everybody in this block be down, the knee joints of America will break and the body of America will soon fall," it said.
Last week, Goode took full responsibility for the police bombing decision, even though he did not know about it until 17 minutes before the bomb was dropped. He explained that he had delegated authority.
But on Sunday he suggested that a crucial question to be answered by an independent "blue ribbon" investigatory panel he will appoint was this: "What did the people who made those decisions know at the time they made those decisions?"
And Goode, who remained at City Hall during the daylong siege, repeated his assertion that he had approved dropping an "entry device," just to destroy the rooftop bunker, not a bomb that would claim 11 lives and destroy a neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl F. Gates, also appearing on the program, praised both the police response, calling it a "sound tactic," and Goode, labeling the beleaguered mayor "an inspiration for the nation." He showed "some of the finest leadership that I've ever seen from any politician,' the chief said.
Gates refused to use the word "bomb" and asserted that "explosive devices" or "entry devices" are used in Los Angeles and throughout the world where any "maniacal group" like MOVE must be dealt with.
Gates conceded that he had never authorized the dropping of a bomb on a house but he did say that it did not matter whether an explosive device was used on the ground or in the air.
Two other guests on the program, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Barry Steinhardt, executive director of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union, took exception to Gates' remarks.
Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on criminal justice, said that black leadership was "totally outraged" by the incident.
'Violent Eviction Notice'
"This is the most violent eviction notice that's ever been given in history," Conyers said. "There's never been a bombing in an urban center before--ever."
Conyers said that his panel will investigate constitutional questions surrounding the MOVE episode "with all due respect" to local investigators.
The congressman said that the bombing was even more sinister than it seemed because "this may be a tactic that overeactive police forces are going to pick up and endorse." He asserted that blacks should view the deaths of 11 blacks in the bombing as a terrible "message."
Conyers also charged that no one "could imagine a white middle-class community being bombed out of its senses. That's beyond conjecture."
Steinhardt called the action an "irresponsible, grossly negligent decision."
Chief Gates dismissed as "nonsense" any consideration of race in a police action of that kind.
He and Conyers engaged in a heated discussion over tactics, with Conyers suggesting that Philadelphia could have used sharpshooters, armored vehicles or time to overcome the cult members.
"You always make your judgment after the fact," Gates said. "You've not been on the line, under fire, where any one of your officers could have died at any moment."
Conyers snapped: "My job in the Congress is not police chief. My job is to oversight police chiefs."
Conyers added that his subcommittee had avoided investigating Los Angeles "for quite a while" despite its police problems. The Los Angeles Police Department has been the target of charges that it has used unnecessary force against minorities.
MOVE Member Interview
In another part of the CBS program, MOVE member Jerry Africa--in an interview the network said was taped Saturday--said that more trouble is coming in Philadelphia. MOVE members are demanding freedom for nine fellow cultists convicted of murder in a 1978 raid on a MOVE house in which a Philadelphia police officer was killed.
"We are going to put more heat on the city. If it comes down to a situation where people have to put their lives on the line, MOVE people are committed to that," Africa said.
"When I tell people that we will definitely seek revenge and vindicate our brothers and sisters, we're talking about the mayor as a politician," he said. "And when we say we're going to destroy him, we're talking about destroying him politically."
Staff Writer Don Irwin in Washington contributed to this story.