A more-than-year-long standoff between a small radical primitive sect and Philadelphia authorities who had been attempting to evict them from their garbage-strewn headquarters ended yesterday in a fierce gun battle that left one policeman dead and at least 13 other persons injured.
The confrontation with the small band called MOVE, which included women and 11 children, began shortly before dawn with the massing of hundreds of flak-jacketed policemen, assisted by police assault teams, fire-fighters with water cannons, an armored car, a bulldozer, a large crane, a city dump truck protected by sandbags and sheets of iron, and helicopters.
By late afternoon, the three-story headquarters was leveled by yet another crane with a wrecking ball.
As a result of intervening gunfire, two more policemen were in guarded or critical condition, and at least eight more police and firemen were treated for injuries ranging from broken bones and shotgun pellet wounds to minor scratches.
At least one member of MOVE was wounded by gunfire. Others were hospitalized with injuries from tear gas inhalation. The children were hospitalized briefly, and were washed, deloused and released to the custody of city welfare agencies.
In a news conference yesterday, Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, a former policeman, blamed the tragedy on "members of the press who made heroes of MOVE and undermine respect for authority."
Angrily, the mayor said the city would not be sure it had seen the last of MOVE until the members of the organization received capital punishment.
"Put them in the electric chair and I'll put the switch," Rizzo said. "That's what I'll be sure they won't be around. We must make sure that this group is punished in accordance with the law, not as a matter of vengeance, not as a matter of retribution, but as a matter of justice."
Pennsylvania does not have capital punishment.
The early morning raid we the latest and possibly an inevitable art in a series of confrontations between MOVE and city authorities beginning over violations of the city housing code.
MOVE, which objects to being described as anarchist, is opposed to washing with soap, killing animals, eating cooked food and all the products of industralization. Neighbors complained that their beliefs extended to keeping at least 80 dogs inside their compound, strewing the ground with garbage so that it could be "cycled" back to earth and feeding the resultant rats. The stench of excrement and garbage, they said, was terrible.
The confrontation began partly in the morning in response to a court order by Common Pleas Judge G. Fred DiBona Jr., who wanted the 21 MOVE members believed to be inside the house brought before him to answer contempt-of-court charges.
In a previous confrontation with authroities MOVE had agreed to vacate the building, a ramshackle old Victorian mansion in a quiet integrated neighborhood, by Aug. 1.
As the deadline approached, MOVE announced through its leader, Delbert Orr Africa, that it would not move. Delbert Africa also announced that, in order to emphasize the "racist nature" of the judicial system and the administration of Frank Rizzo, all white and Puerto Rican members of the largely black group had left the compound.
The remaining members announced that they would die rather than be moved, putting their trust in their possibly mythical founder John Africa. (All members of the group take the last name Africa.)
The raid began shortly before dawn.
Police read MOVE the court order over a bullhorn. They were answered over MOVE's own bullhorn by a stream of obscenities Msgr. Charles Devlin of The Roman Catholic Cardinal's Commission of Human Relations and Walter Palmer, a locally well-known black activist, pleaded with MOVE to surrender.
Both men had been active in negotiating peaceful ends to previous confrontations between MOVE and the city. This time it didn't work.
According to witnesses, including local media representatives, a police bulldozer ran into the makeshift barricade erected around the headquarters, destroying it and trapping one of the organization's many dogs underneath. MOVE members carrying gas masks, rescued the dog. Police then used the crane as a battering ran to break through the boarded-up windows of the house.
MOVE members retreated to the cellar. Police and firemen knocked out cellar windows and turned on a water cannon attempting to flood out MOVE members. Police sources say they saw MOVE members with rifles in the cellar.
Suddenly a series of shots rang out, and James Ramp, a policeman, fell dead. The street erupted in gun fire. Police lobbed tear gas and smoke bombs into the building, firing weapons and continued to blast the water cannon into the basement.
The fight lasted 45 minutes. Finally MOVE members, choking, weeping from smoke and teargas, covered with dirt, soaked with water, were led and dragged from the building, some by their hair. One witness reported seeing several members kicked in the face.
Within a few hours police demolition teams began tearing down MOVE's headquarters.
According to several witnesses, many of them reporters for local news media, the original shots did not come from inside the MOVE headquarters, but from someone in a building behind the police lines. Police Commissioner Joseph F. O'Neill said in the mayor's news conference yesterday that the shot that killed Ramp came from inside the MOVE building.
"We don't need any ballistic reports," said Rizzo. "We know where these shots came from."
All 12 of the adult MOVE members removed from the building yesterday have been charged with murder and held without bail. According to O'Neill, police recovered a number of weapons from inside the house, including shotguns, carbines and semi-automatic rifles.
Despite MOVE's insistence that its way of life was natural and, in fact, healthy, city health inspectors attempted to enter the house to check the violations of the city housing code in the spring of 1977.
The inspection attempt led to a confrontation on May 20, 1977, in which MOVE members dressed in quasi-military uniforms appeared outside their house with semi-automatic weapons. From May 1977 until March 1978 policemen surrounded the building, attempting to arrest MOVE members as they emerged.
In March, 1978 the city blockaded a six-block area, cutting off food and water to MOVE's house. In May, after six weeks of siege, MOVE agreed to remove its barricades and vacate its building by Aug. 1.
In return, MOVE members were arraigned on a series of charges, but released on their own recognizance, and the police barricades were removed. It was their refusal to honor the agreement that led to yesterday's battle.
The cost of the initial police surveillance and blockade operations - not counting yesterday's skirmish - has been estimated at over $1 million. CAPTION: Picture 1, A member of the radical MOVE group brings three children out to surrender to Philadelphia police, UPI; Picture 2, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] after a gun battle that lasted 45 minutes and left one policeman dead and 13 persons injured, including several firemen, Copyright (c) Philadelphia Journal; Picture 3, A Philadelphia policeman keeps MOVE leader Delbert Africa on the ground. Copyright (c) , Philadelphia News