20th Anniversary of MOVE bombing
May 12, 2005 1:55 PM   Subscribe

May 13, 1985: Police drop bomb on occupied Philadelphia rowhouse. On the morning of May 13, 1985, police commissioner Gregore Sambor spoke thusly through a bullhorn: "Attention MOVE, this is America!" A furious 90 minutes gun battle ensued, in which police fired an estimated 1,000 rounds. After a long stalemate, the decision was made to drop a bomb from a borrowed Pennsylvania State Police helicopter. The bomb did not dislodge the rooftop bunker as it was designed to do. instead, it started a fire that killed 11 people, including five children and destroyed 61 row homes leaving 250 people homeless.
posted by fixedgear (33 comments total)
MOVE Commission Report. One aspect of the case was recently settled. Some of the key players are found here, 20 years later.
posted by fixedgear at 1:58 PM on May 12, 2005

Slightly related question about all the weird misspellings in that NYT article--is that an artifact of it being keyed in by someone in a hurry, or some weird scanning thing, or what? (BTW--good post, fixedgear.)
posted by goatdog at 2:00 PM on May 12, 2005

I remember that... it was quite impressive. It definitely deserves its place in the top 10 list of biggest police cock-ups in world history. The bomb made that neighborhood look like something out of downtown Beirut.
posted by clevershark at 2:04 PM on May 12, 2005

scanned would be my guess based on the mistakes.
posted by imaswinger at 2:06 PM on May 12, 2005

Y'know, people still stand in front of City Hall and rant about that...
posted by Jon-o at 2:07 PM on May 12, 2005

An iconic moment in my life is when I heard the police commissioner announce he did the best he could under the circumstances. His statement became the standard of deluded self-righteousness of the grossly incompetent by which I measure all others. (Waco or about any operation General Boykin has been in)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:08 PM on May 12, 2005

If I recall correctly, people still rant about because the people who made the decisions are still in power in Philly.

/too lazy to google it out...
posted by mzurer at 2:16 PM on May 12, 2005

dances_with_sneetches writes " An iconic moment in my life is when I heard the police commissioner announce he did the best he could under the circumstances. His statement became the standard of deluded self-righteousness of the grossly incompetent by which I measure all others."

He wasn't "wrong", he was a visionary for an age where people will gladly back the candidate who is proven to be wrong, as long as this latter can fake honesty and sincerity in a sufficiently convincing manner.
posted by clevershark at 2:18 PM on May 12, 2005

Commissioner Sambor said that one police officer whom he did not identify was bruised in the back by gunfire. "And the only thing that saved him was his body armor," the Commissioner said.

Those 61 houses can always be rebuilt, but who's going to un-bruise that police officer's back?

The police were acting to clear the group out in response to neighbors' complaints of filthy conditions in the house and nightlong amplified lectures from Move members.

See? They were asking for it.
posted by gigawhat? at 2:27 PM on May 12, 2005

Hey, wait -- what is MOVE? All the article says is "it disdains modern technology and materialism and the establishment." Even the Wikipedia article dwells on the incident and the unusual aspects of their behavior, rather than on who these people are/were.
posted by rolypolyman at 3:06 PM on May 12, 2005

It was upstanding for the mayor to claim responsibility, and to vow to make things right (rebuild the houses) again. That's something you wouldn't see today.
posted by breath at 3:10 PM on May 12, 2005

Insane. And they got away with it.
posted by tkchrist at 3:35 PM on May 12, 2005

I won't even try to justify former Mayor Goode's decision to firebomb a neighborhood, but MOVE was a nuisance and created health hazards by the way their members lived (e.g. throwing food scraps outside their house, increasing vermin and stray animals). The police and mayoral staff couldn't handle it and the problem escalated way out of control.
posted by AlexReynolds at 3:41 PM on May 12, 2005

It's a little funny to notice that Goode, who was mayor until 1992, must have been reelected after this. I can only imagine what THAT campaign must have been like!
posted by clevershark at 4:07 PM on May 12, 2005

Strangely enough, an Australian song about this incident became a hit.
posted by emf at 4:09 PM on May 12, 2005

Seem to recall that nobody really knew what the hell MOVE was tryiing to achieve/prove, or even what the significance of the name was. There had been another incident years earlier, some kinda police shootout at MOVE house. Frank Rizzo...?
posted by zoinks at 4:30 PM on May 12, 2005

All right, so a bunch of lunatics make nuisances of themselves. They get cited by building inspectors, freak out the neighbors, etc. Then the police come to arrest them, and they open fire. What's next? Seriously. The police surround the rowhouse in urban Philadelphia and start in with the Nancy Sinatra music and strobe lights?

Mebbe the police should have tried reasoning with John Africa and his band of 50-odd weirdos who were shooting at them.
posted by esquire at 4:42 PM on May 12, 2005

I was living in the burbs north of Philly when the police destroyed that community in order to save it. Maybe things are better now, but back then the Philadelphia cops were shamelessly wallowing in corruption and brutality. Shortly after I moved there they caught hell for savaging a priest during a peace demonstration... and he was white clergy... they were a lot harder on minorities. Back then Frank Rizzo was the venal, crypto-fascist police commissioner (and a personal favorite of Dick Nixon) with heady dreams of becoming the venal, crypto-fascist mayor.
posted by Huplescat at 4:45 PM on May 12, 2005

Frank Rizzo...?

No discussion of Philadelphia is complete — MOVE especially — without covering Rizzo's questionable tenure as mayor and police commissioner. A lot of the racial tension that remains in this city (Street's "The brothers are in charge..." etc.) is a result of Rizzo's actions.
posted by AlexReynolds at 4:45 PM on May 12, 2005

Here's a semi-sympathetic account of MOVE and Mumia Abu-Jamal's role as a member of the group. I don't think MOVE deserved firebombing, but I also sympathize with their neighbors, because there used to be stories in Philadelphia for years about how they lived in garbage and blasted profanity-laden speeches through loudspeakers at all hours of the night. "You're so fucked up you shit out your cock." was a common MOVE commentary about people they disliked.
posted by jonp72 at 6:01 PM on May 12, 2005

A big concern was the children who were living in the house at the time. It was felt that the MOVE members were sort of using the children for leverage. I seem to recall some discussion of snatching the kids (who went to play in a nearby playground almost daily) and then dealing with the adults who were left. The neighbors were flipping out, demanding that something be done.

The houses were rebuilt, but that was another huge fiasco, with corruption galore. The house that were built were so shoddy that they ended up moving the residents out and buying them out. The link in my 'more inside' part is about that aspect of the case, the last remaining residents having just settled last month.
posted by fixedgear at 6:06 PM on May 12, 2005

My husband lived near the original MOVE compound when we first got together. The people were out-there nuts, grossly unsanitary, scarily confrontational, and they claimed to be heavily armed. It was scary (and smelly) living in the neighborhood.

However, my husband still excoriates the name of Wilson Goode because of the MOVE bombing and fire. What the city did was unpardonable, incompetent, and well-televised.
posted by Peach at 6:27 PM on May 12, 2005

WHYY has a documentary about MOVE and the firebombing on right now, made in 1986, talking to people who lived in the surrounding houses.
posted by AlexReynolds at 6:58 PM on May 12, 2005

One of the houses that burned irrecoverably was my Dad's childhood home - a row house in the old Philly Irish slums. My grandfather died when he was 18, and my grandmother started a hair salon in the basement just to make ends meet. It was actually very successful - there's a photo of my grandmother, with teardrop rhinestone Far Side sunglasses, trimming a perfect proto-beehive hairdo.

There's also a photo of my 7-year-old Dad, just before the start of the war, doing a goofy Adolf Hitler impersonation on the front doorstep, complete with seig heil, crossed eyes and a funny shoe-polish mustache.

I remember him pointing the house out to me when I was around 6 or so while driving through Philly. My mom wouldn't let him get out of the car. There was a tall black woman standing on the front stoop, just about where my dad was in that photo, staring stonily at me as I peered out the car window.
posted by xthlc at 8:35 PM on May 12, 2005

The Alice Walker piece is kind of embarrassing; it implies that the police went after MOVE because they were black. The police avoided going after MOVE for ages; they stepped in (as I understand it from my mom) because if they hadn't, the neighbors would've. The racism wasn't in going after MOVE; it was in letting that whole two-block area burn to the ground.
posted by bokane at 9:06 PM on May 12, 2005

I remember seeing that MOVE documentary in a class in college. It was fascinating.

Hard to believe it's been 20 years.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:22 PM on May 12, 2005

John Waters (Pink Flamingoes) wrote most entertainingly about MOVE (and plenty of other things) in his book "Shock Value". To sum up, he averred that it was really too bad that MOVE had been crushed by Philly, because he would've been most happy to offer to let them move in right next door to him.
posted by telstar at 9:45 PM on May 12, 2005

(having seen Pink Flamingoes... several times) Why am I not supprised by this?
posted by Balisong at 11:27 PM on May 12, 2005

but MOVE was a nuisance and created health hazards by the way their members lived

And people moan about ASBOs being an overreaction.
posted by biffa at 4:40 AM on May 13, 2005

If you rise up in armed insurrection against your rightful government, you have to expect military counter force. Why are people only revolutionary until the counter revolution comes along?

Just like in another incident 8 years later in Waco TX, the fireman were afraid to go near the building full of crazy people with guns. Its a shame about the neighbors, but accidents happen.
posted by Megafly at 7:44 AM on May 13, 2005

Megafly writes "Its a shame about the neighbors, but accidents happen."

It seems that callousness has a new name, and that name is Megafly.
posted by clevershark at 8:37 AM on May 13, 2005

I've always liked the phrase: "Attention MOVE this is America..." I read a pretty good account of the whole thing in a book by that title, and there was a very creepy Sue Coe print (which I can't find on the internet) with that title.
Thanks FG.
posted by OmieWise at 8:58 AM on May 13, 2005

Y'know, I always wondered where Sheriff Joe got his inspiration.
posted by davelog at 9:18 AM on May 13, 2005

« Older Sometimes gentle persuasion needs a boost.   |   David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments