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MOVE

From Academic Kids

MOVE! is an organisation formed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1972 by John Africa (Vincent Leaphart) and Donald Glassey. It was described by CNN as

A loose-knit, mostly black group whose members all adopted the surname Africa, advocated a "back-to-nature" lifestyle and preached against technology.

Glassey owned a house in the Powelton Village neighborhood of Philadelphia, and his house became the first home base for MOVE. Neighbors began to complain about the sanitation aspects of their back to nature philosophy, and after an armed standoff with Philadelphia's department of Licenses and Inspections, Mayor Frank Rizzo ordered a blockade of the immediate neighborhood, in order to get MOVE members out of the house. The blockade was not successful, and on August 8, 1978, Philadelphia police attempted to clear the house by force.

Every tactical move was telegraphed to the house via bullhorns. One of their first tactics was to turn fire hoses on the house. The police even considered the depth of the basement of the MOVE house and the height of the basement windows, to ensure that nobody would drown if the basement was completely flooded.

Who began shooting is disputed; MOVE claims that they never fired a shot; videotape shows muzzle flashes from the basement windows of the MOVE house. One police officer, James Ramp, was killed. Rizzo had the house demolished the next day. Leaphart and eight other MOVE members were sentenced to prison for the murder.

The MOVE group then moved to a house in west Philadelphia owned by Louise James, a relative of a MOVE member. They continued their back to nature philosophy, and added a new agenda, freeing John Africa (Vincent Leaphart). In a change from their previous tactic of staging protests downtown, MOVE began to pressure their neighbors. The Osage Avenue houses were connected, and their roofs formed a convenient jogging track for MOVE. Neighbors listened to the MOVE physical training program through their bedroom ceilings. Neighbors complained about that, and the public address system that MOVE used for political diatribes, as well as the smell of human and animal waste. Then Managing Director W. Wilson Goode was running for mayor, and the neighbors were convinced that Philadelphia's first African American mayor would be able to reason with MOVE, so they did not press the issue pending the election. Goode was elected in November of 1983. The situation on Osage Avenue did not change.

On May 13, 1985, in a failed attempt to serve arrest warrants on four members of the group, Philadelphia police became engaged in a gun battle at MOVE's communal residence. About 10,000 rounds of ammunition were fired by the police. With the approval of the mayor, the police eventually decided to drop a bomb on MOVE's rooftop structure, alternately described as a "gun turret" and as a purely defensive fortification, with the objective of destroying it. The structure was unoccupied at the time. This bomb did not significantly damage the rooftop structure, but did start a fire which destroyed the entire block and killed eleven people. Ironically, the city's best firefighting equipment had been trained on the rooftop bunker all morning, but "the decision was made to let the fire burn" in the words of police chief Gregory Sambor. 62 houses burned to the ground; only Ramona and Birdie Africa escaped. Six adults and five children in the MOVE house died.

Police initially said they had been fired upon first with automatic weapons, but only a small number of non-automatic weapons were found in the burned-out home. MOVE supporters have described the raid as a revenge attack for the 1978 shooting.

In the aftermath of the catastrophe the city launched a special investigation which found, among other things, that "Dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable." The mayor was re-elected in the next election, and no police officer was suspended, fired, or fined.

Philadelphia has paid over $32 million to the victims, including $840,000 to Birdie Africa, $1.5 million to Ramona Africa and the relatives of John and Frank Africa, and has been ordered to pay $29 million to residents of Osage Avenue and Pine Street whose homes were destroyed by the fire. (The city of Philadelphia is appealing the latter award.)

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