The Politics and Controversy of “Operation” MOVE
“ Sickness is not to be allowed, It is to be eliminated, Hatred is not to be considered, it is to be abolished, the enslaving person of war is not to be conceded, accepted, temporarily obscured by the illusion of peace, it must be completely cut down, directly done away with, totally destroyed though the reality of peace”
- John Africa
- Coordinator/founder MOVE
The word MOVE is not an acronym. It means exactly what it says: MOVE, work, generate, be active. Everything that’s alive moves. If it didn’t, it would be stagnant, dead. MOVE was founded in 1972 as a “Christian Movement for Life” by charismatic leader, John Africa. The group, united under Africa’s beliefs dictated in, “the Guideline”, advocated radical green politics and a return to a hunter-gatherer way of life. Many of the MOVE members, being predominantly African-American, adopted the group’s surname Africa, to show reverence to what they regarded as the mother continent. The group held strong beliefs in animal rights, natural law, as well as believing strongly in many revolutionary ideas.
The group held meetings and lived in a commune in the Powellton Village section of West Philadelphia. MOVE members staged profanity-laced bullhorn-amplified demonstrations against groups and people they opposed morally. The group attracted much hostility from neighbors who complained that the group created compost piles in the back yard of the commune and refused to kill the cockroaches and rats that the compost pile attracted, due to their strong belief in animal rights. These actions led to close scrutiny and resentment from the Philadelphia Police Department. Despite the rising hostility toward the group, they continued to maintain their revolutionary way of life that put a focus on God, or MUMIA, and labor-intensive activities that kept the members fit and healthy.
“We don’t believe in this reform world system - the government, the military, industry and big business. They have historically abused, raped and bartered life for the sake of money. These rulers and policy makers don’t care who they kill, enslave, cripple, poison or disease in their quest for money. They have made material wealth a priority over life. Marvels of science and technological so-called advancements all stem from the system’s greed for money and disrespect for life.”
- Belief page (Onamove.com)
These beliefs pitted the reform group against American industry and commercialization in a face-off that would quickly spiral out of control and lead to the killing of eleven MOVE members, five of whom were children.
In 1978 an end was negotiated to an almost year-long standoff with police on orders to vacate the Powellton Village house. MOVE failed to relocate despite a court order. When police later attempted to force entry to the West Philadelphia house, one Philadelphia police officer was shot due to friendly fire in a very controversial death that triggered massive police retaliation. MOVE members claimed no responsibility, and autopsy shows that the bullet entered the back of (his) head meaning the bullet could have only come from the gun of another police officer. The police, reacting to supposed gunfire, opened fire on the house and MOVE members leading to the death of seven other police officers, five firefighters, three MOVE members, as well as three bystanders injured from crossfire. Nine MOVE members were tried and convicted in the third-degree shooting and death of a police officer. These unjustly convicted members became known as the MOVE 9.
After continuing complaints the MOVE organization relocated in 1981 to a row house in the Cobbs creek area of West Philadelphia. On May 13th, 1985, supposedly responding to months of complaints that MOVE members broadcast political messages via bullhorn at all hours of the night, and that compost piles created a public health hazard, the Philadelphia Police Department attempted to clear the building by ordering firefighters to bombard the house with water cannons as officers lobbed tear gas canisters into the house. Investigation shows that the police fired 10,000 rounds into the house in a period of two hours. A police helicopter then dropped a four-pound military grade C-4 plastic explosive as well as Tovex, a dynamite substitute, onto the roof of the house without any prior warning. The resulting explosion rocked the house and started a massive blaze that threatened the entire neighborhood. The massive fire burned down 63 West Philadelphia houses killing eleven people, including John Africa, five other adults as well as five children. Firefighters were ordered not to put out the blaze due to unfounded claims that the firemen were being shot at, a claim that was debunked in court by Ramona Africa, a survivor of the blaze. The irony remained that the firemen blasted the house before the fire but not after it was clear that it threatened everyone inside as well as the entire neighborhood. Ramona Africa and one child, Birdie Africa, were the only living survivors of the bombardment of the MOVE house.
Mayor of Philadelphia commissioned an investigative report led by the PSIC, nicknamed the MOVE Commission. The report was issued on March 6th, 1986 denounced the cities actions saying that "Dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable.” In a 1996 civil suit filed against the City of Philadelphia, a jury ordered the city to pay 1.5 million to a survivor and two relatives of the people killed in the incident. The courts declared that the city used excess force and violated the members constitutional protection from unreasonable search and seizure.
John Africa’s widow eventually remarried and concieved a child with John Gilbridge named Zackary Africa. The couple divorced in 1999, and what followed, was a long drawn out custody battle. John Gilbridge eventually won partial custody with unsupervised visits with Zackary. Prior to his first scheduled custody date John Gilbridge was found shot, execution style, in his car in Maple Shade, New Jersey, just after midnight on September 27th.
The murder to this day remains unsolved, although speculation arose as to whether he was assassinated to frame MOVE members by the U.S government.
Ramona Africa continues to tour and give talks at leftist conventions and gatherings through-out the US and other countries. The MOVE organization is still fighting for the release of the jailed members whom the group considers political prisoners. Seven of the nine jailed members came up for parole in 2008 but all seven were denied. Parole hearings now occur yearly but none of the nine members have been released as of yet.
The story of the MOVE members has been long used as an example of the injustices that occur everyday in America. The MOVE bombing and shootings have been immortalized in many songs including such bands as Leftover crack, Anti-flag, Verse, Mischief Brew, Jedi Mind Tricks, Ice Cube, Strike Anywhere, and Rage Against The Machine.
In the following lyrics are from Leftover Crack’s “Operation M.O.V.E” they convey the extremist actions taken by the city of Philadelphia to incinerate MOVE members:
Philadelphia / Seventy-Eight
Shut down M.O.V.E. / By police state
Forty-five police storm Powellton Village
Government sanctioned rape and pillage
Friendly fire kills officer dead
The M.O.V.E. nine are framed up instead
One dead cop / One officer’s gun
(One) Unjust system is yet undone
In spite of efforts dissipated
Until the movement was incinerated
May thirteenth / Eighty-five
Eleven people / Burned alive
They dropped the bomb after liquid was doused
To smoke out the family and burn up the house
Sights trained on exits, the police wait
A firing squad for those who fight to escape
M.O.V.E. fought against exploitation
The states injustice and their oppression
For these crimes that the city pigs created
The Africa’s were incinerated
Sentence to be incinerated
Sentence to be incinerated
MOVE members continue to be active and to oppose government-sanctioned murder and to fight for the release of the MOVE nine.
“The Power of Truth is Final”
- John Africa