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PHOTO ESSAY

The 1985 Move Incident

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The police come to Osage

Phildelphia police begin amassing early on May 15, 1985. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Daily News.

As attention from the city and the media increased, MOVE began demanding the release of their nine imprisoned members. Backchannel negotiations between the mayor's office and MOVE, undertaken as Goode plotted a public response, were unsuccessful: "All hope of agreement ended Saturday when [MOVE] spokesman Jerry Ford Africa sent the mayor an ominous message: 'We are ready for you. Come and get us,'" wrote Time. On 12 March 1985 the city issued warrants for the arrest of four members—Conrad, Theresa, Ramona, and Frank Africa—charging them with "parole violation, contempt of court, illegal possession of firearms, and making terroristic threats." None of the four turned themselves in. A dangerous escalation seemed imminent, and all residences within five blocks of the compound—a total of three hundred people—were evacuated the next day. It quickly became apparent that MOVE headquarters had been equipped for confrontation: a bunker had been dug in the basement, and reinforcements had been added to the roof. At 5:45 the next morning, police commissioner Gregore Sambor—flanked by a force of 150 police officers, including SWAT and sharpshooter teams—issued a warning for the four wanted members to vacate the premises within fifteen minutes. When the deadline passed, Sambor authorized an attack on the house with tear gas and water cannons. Shots were then fired from the MOVE compound, provoking a 90-minute, 10,000-round return volley from the police. The police continued with a variety of tactics—including boring into the compound and pouring water on the roof to break it open—into the afternoon, to no avail.

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