Discourse and Destruction: City of Philadelphia Versus MOVE

Discourse and Destruction: City of Philadelphia Versus MOVE


In the early 1980s, the radical group MOVE settled into a rowhouse in a predominantly African-American neighborhood of west Philadelphia, beginning years of confrontations with neighbours and police over its anti-establishment ways and militant stance against all social and political institutions. On May 13, 1985, following a period of increased MOVE activity and threats by neighbours to take matters into their own hands, the city moved from bureaucratic involvement to violent intervention. Police bullhorned arrest warrants, hosed down the rowhouse, sprayed tear gas through its walls and dropped explosives from a helicopter. By the end of the day, eleven MOVE members were dead, an entire block of the neighbourhood was destroyed, and Mayor Wilson Goode was calling for an investigation. How did this struggle between the city and MOVE go from memos and meetings to tear gas and bombs? And how does the mandate to defend public order become a destructive force? Sifting through the hearings that followed the deadly encounter, Robin Wagner-Pacifici reconstructs the conflict between MOVE and the city of Philadelphia. Against this account, in which the participants - from the mayor and the police officers to members of MOVE and their neighbours - offer opposing versions of their aims, assumptions and strategies, Wagner-Pacifici develops an analysis of the relation between definition and action, between language and violence. Was MOVE simply a radical, black separatist group with an alternative way of life? Or was it a terrorist cult that held a neighbourhood and politicians hostage to its offensive language and bizarre behaviour? This book shows how competing definitions of MOVE led to different strategies for managing the conflict.

By Robin Wagner-Pacifici

Published by University Of Chicago Press

Add To Cart