Concepts of Life and Violence in the 1985 Bombing of MOVE

Authors: Katharine Hall*, Queen Mary University of London
Topics: Historical Geography
Keywords: policing, state violence, Philadelphia, anti-Black racism
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 39
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

“MOVE’s work is to stop industry from poisoning the air, the water, the soil, and to put an end to the enslavement of life – people, animals, any form of life.” The statement, reproduced in a publication by MOVE, reflects the larger eco-philosophy of life that MOVE members, based in Philadelphia, adhere to – one emphasizing life, collective freedom, and the cycles of nature. Over the course of its history, MOVE has come into repeated conflict with the city, and increasingly violence conflict with the Philadelphia police. This paper examines the way concepts of life mobilized by MOVE and by the city shaped these interactions. This reached a climax between the city and MOVE members living in a house in West Philadelphia with their children on 13 May 1985. This confrontation led to the police firing over 10,000 rounds of ammunition into the house, to the extensive use of military-grade explosives to penetrate the house, and to the police dropping a bomb onto the house, igniting a fire that killed six adult MOVE members and five children and burned down 61 houses in the neighbourhood. Through tracing the concepts of life and death that shaped this event, I show how MOVE’s concept of life – and way of life – exceeded the state in a double sense: as an existential threat making the city’s response always already a violent one but also as a possibility for living otherwise within structures of state violence.

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