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PHOTO ESSAY

The 1985 Move Incident

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MOVE gets bombed

Channel 10-WCAU captures the harrowing shot of a Philadelphia helicopter dropping explosives on the MOVE house. Courtesy of Philly.com.

Despite its vastly superior firepower, the city was unable to dislodge MOVE. The exact events that followed remain contentious to this day, and are detailed in 30 cubic feet of records contained in the 1986 Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission report. Nevertheless, the following is without dispute: at 5:27 pm, the Philadelphia Police Department, under the direction of Police Commissioner Sambor and the sanction of Mayor Goode, dropped "two 1 lb. tubes filled with a water-based gel explosive" from a helicopter onto the roof of the MOVE compound (Time). According to Goode's testimony before the Commission, the devices were intended to smash one of the bunkers built on top of the roof, creating an entry for police to evict the MOVE members. The explosion ignited a blaze that quickly spread to nearby houses. Perhaps even more controversial than the city's decision to drop the explosive, the fire department did not fight the blaze for at least the first thirty minutes. Fire chief William Richmond, acting under the command of Sambor, explained that spraying the roof would have inhibited police officers from "breaching" the compound and would have produced a heavy smoke cover for escaping MOVE members. At last receiving orders to approach the house, firefighters were confronted with what sounded like gunfire and immediately retreated as the fire spread further down the block. Accounts vary on whether or not police entered the house and opened fire, but two people finally emerged from the compound: MOVE information minister Ramona Africa and 13-year-old Birdie Africa. The blaze was declared under control just before midnight. When it was over, all remaining eleven members of the household had died, including five children and MOVE founder John Africa, and 250 people had been displaced from 62 homes.

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