Tensions between MOVE, a black liberation group in Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia police had been simmering for years. MOVE, which still exists today, opposed government, business and technology, and had a strong focus on animal and environmental rights, believing that people should return to nature. The group was known for its non-violent protests, but often got into trouble with authorities due to their outspokenness regarding police brutality.
By the 1980s, the group had moved to Osage Avenue, a quiet residential area of Philadelphia. Their neighbors frequently complained about the group to the government, and in 1985 Wilson Goode, who was Philadelphia’s first black mayor, issued an order to evict the group from their home. They refused, setting the stage for a confrontation between MOVE and Philadelphia officials.
On May 13, 1985, the police entered the house and ordered everyone inside to come out. Nearly 500 officers were on site. When residents refused to leave, police tried to force the seven adults and six children inside. Police began throwing tear gas canisters and MOVE members responded by firing. After the shooting, authorities ordered that a bag bomb containing Tovex, which is a substitute for dynamite, be dropped on the house from a helicopter. The house caught fire, killing 11 people and destroying 61 other houses in the neighborhood. More than 250 residents were left homeless.
In 1986, a task force concluded that the Philadelphia government’s actions were impermissible. Goode issued a public apology, but no one was formally charged. Ramona Africa, who was the only surviving adult member of MOVE, refused to testify in court and served seven years in prison for rioting and conspiracy.