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I'm From Philly. 30 Years Later, I'm Still Trying To Make Sense Of The MOVE Bombing

Philadelphia native Gene Demby was 4 years old when city police dropped a bomb on a house of black activists in his hometown.
Here's what my mother recalls about the bombing. It was the Monday after Mother's Day, and three days after her birthday. She took my twin sister and me to school before heading back to our South Philly apartment. She was taking a personal day from work — a day of peace and quiet that was meant to be a belated birthday gift to herself. But when she got home and turned on the TV, she saw that Philly was not going to oblige her.

All of the local stations were reporting from a standoff in West Philly between the police and MOVE, a radical group that had turned a row house at 6221 Osage Ave. into a fortified compound. She wasn't exactly surprised by what she saw on the grainy live feed; everyone had known that day was coming for a while, as tensions between MOVE and the police — and between MOVE and their neighbors on that block — had been rising for years.

As the residents were evacuated from their homes ahead of the showdown, the police told them to take some clothes and toothbrushes. They should be back in their homes by the next day, the police said.

There were nearly 500 police officers gathered at the scene, ludicrously, ferociously well-armed — flak jackets, tear gas, SWAT gear, .50- and .60-caliber machine guns, and an anti-tank machine gun for good measure. Deluge guns were pointed from firetrucks. The state police had sent a helicopter. The city had shut off the water and electricity for the entire block. And, we'd come to learn, there were explosives on hand.

The police had come with warrants for several people they believed to be in the compound at 6221. No one knew how many weapons the MOVE folks had, or even how many people were in the compound — the police guessed that there were six adults and possibly as many as 12 children inside. The MOVE members had built a bunker on the roof of the house, giving them a clear view of the police positions below.

The final warnings from the police started that morning, a little after 5:30. "Attention, MOVE ... This is America," Gregore Sambor, the police commissioner, yelled into his megaphone to the people in the compound. "You have to abide by the laws of the United States."
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