Remember the MOVE massacre

13 May 2015 marked the 30th anniversary of an indelible and bloody day in US history – an event that shocked the world. GRACE UHURU reports.

The MOVE organisation was formed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1972 by John Africa. It was a loose-knit, mostly black group whose members all adopted the surname Africa, advocated a back-to-nature lifestyle and preached against materialism and the injustices of the establishment.

On 13 May 1985, after years of police brutality against MOVE, the state police shot 10,000 rounds of ammunition into the MOVE house, before dropping a bomb on its roof. This horrific attack resulted in a blazing fire and ultimately the deaths of six adults and five children. Among the dead was John Africa. The only survivors of the bombing were Birdie Africa, aged 13, and Ramona Africa. Following the attack Ramona was hospitalised for a month with severe burns and taken into custody before being given a seven-year sentence for ‘inciting a riot’.

Left to burn, the fire spread to over 60 other houses in the neighbourhood, devastating the community and leaving over 250 people homeless. Steve Harmon, a resident of the area, said: ‘Drop a bomb on a residential area? I never in my life heard of that. It’s like Vietnam.’

This attack was the second act of violence perpetrated by the city’s officials against MOVE. Seven years earlier, in August 1978, the police used heavy equipment to tear down the fence surrounding the MOVE home. They then filled it with a lethal amount of tear gas and discharged 10,000 pounds of water pressure per minute via a water cannon into the basement, where MOVE members held children and animals above their heads so they would not drown. Members were then physically pulled out of the house and violently arrested. Footage of Delbert Africa being repeatedly kicked and beaten by police was recorded. A massive shoot-out ensued and one police officer was killed by a bullet that ricocheted. Nine members of the group were framed and convicted on murder charges and sentenced to 30 to 100 years despite the judge admitting that he didn’t have ‘the faintest idea’ who killed the officer. Two members have died serving this sentence and seven remain in prison without parole 38 years later. MOVE has been demanding their release ever since and will continue to do so until they are free.

These events took place against a backdrop of an extremely racist system, one that repeatedly criminalises the victims of police violence, and demonises people who challenge the system. The MOVE bombing echoed the Tulsa Race Riots in 1921, where a bloody confrontation completely destroyed a thriving black community and burned an entire neighbourhood to the ground.

Not much has changed since 1985 and there have already been many killings of black people by the US police this year, including those of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray. The police are very rarely held accountable for their atrocious actions and we should have no doubt that there is nothing they will not do to uphold the oppressive, racist, imperialist US system. Meanwhile, the US government introduces ever more ‘counter-extremism’ laws, enacted to prevent people from voicing ideas about an alternative type of society.

Despite all attempts to silence MOVE, 30 years later its members continue to speak out against injustice and inequality. We will never forget those who lost their lives in the fire, and those who have died at the hands of police and the prison system.

To find out more go to

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 245 June/July 2015


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