Let The Fire Burn - 2013 - Jason Osder


Released in 2013
Directed by Jason Osder

Storyline - A history of the conflict of the City of Philadelphia and the Black Liberation organization, MOVE, that led to the disastrously violent final confrontation in 1985.

MOVE was originally called the Christian Movement for Life when it was founded in 1972. Its founder, John Africa, was functionally illiterate so he dictated a document called The Guideline to Donald Glassey, a social worker from the University of Pennsylvania. Africa and his contemporary, mostly African-American followers wore their hair in dreadlocks. They advocated a radical form of green politics and a return to a hunter-gatherer society while stating their opposition to science, medicine, and technology. As John Africa himself had done, his devotees changed their surnames to Africa to show reverence to what they regarded as their mother continent.

John Africa's MOVE members lived in a commune in a house owned by Glassey in the Powelton Village section of West Philadelphia. They staged bullhorn-amplified, profanity-laced demonstrations against institutions that they opposed, such as zoos (MOVE had strong views on animal rights), and speakers whose views they opposed. MOVE activities drew close scrutiny from law enforcement authorities.



1978 shoot-out

On August 8, 1978, a deadly end came to an almost year-long standoff with police over a court order requiring MOVE to vacate their Powelton Village house at 311 N 33rd Street. When police attempted entry, shooting erupted and Philadelphia Police Department officer James J. Ramp was killed by a shot to the back of the neck. MOVE representatives claimed that he was facing the house at the time and deny MOVE responsibility for his death. Seven other police officers, five firefighters, three MOVE members, and three bystanders were also injured.



The MOVE 9

Nine MOVE members were each sentenced to a maximum of 100 years in prison for third degree murder for Ramp's killing. Seven of the nine first became eligible for parole in the spring of 2008, but were denied it. Parole hearings now occur yearly.
In 1998, at age 47, Merle Africa died in prison. In 2015, at age 59, Phil Africa died in prison. The remaining 7 are Chuck Africa, Michael Africa, Debbie Africa, Janet Africa, Janine Africa, Delbert Africa, and Eddie Africa.



1985 bombing

In 1981 MOVE relocated to a row house at 6221 Osage Avenue in the Cobbs Creek area of West Philadelphia. After the move, neighbors complained for years that MOVE members were broadcasting political messages by bullhorn at all hours and also about the health hazards created from piles of compost.

The police obtained arrest warrants charging four occupants with crimes including parole violations, contempt of court, illegal possession of firearms, and making terrorist threats. Mayor W. Wilson Goode and police commissioner Gregore J. Sambor classified MOVE as a terrorist organization. On May 13, 1985, the police, along with city manager Leo Brooks, arrived in force and attempted to clear the building and execute the arrest warrants. This led to an armed standoff with police, who lobbed tear gas canisters at the building. The police said that MOVE members fired at them; a gunfight with semi-automatic and automatic firearms ensued. Commissioner Sambor then ordered that the compound be bombed. From a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter, Philadelphia Police Department Lt. Frank Powell proceeded to drop two one-pound bombs (which the police referred to as "entry devices") made of FBI-supplied water gel explosive, a dynamite substitute, targeting a fortified, bunker-like cubicle on the roof of the house.

The resulting explosions ignited a fire that eventually destroyed approximately 65 nearby houses. The firefighters, who had earlier deluge-hosed the MOVE members in a failed attempt to evict them from the building, stood by as the fire caused by the bomb engulfed the first house and spread to others, having been given orders to let the fire burn. Despite the earlier drenching of the building by firefighters, officials said that they feared that MOVE would shoot at the firefighters. Eleven people (John Africa, five other adults and five children aged 7 to 13) died in the resulting fire and more than 250 people were left homeless. Ramona Africa, one of the two survivors, stated that police fired at those trying to escape.



Fallout

Mayor Goode soon appointed an investigative commission called the PSIC (aka MOVE Commission), chaired by William H. Brown, III. Police commissioner Sambor resigned in November 1985, reporting that he felt that he was being made a "surrogate" by Goode. The MOVE Commission issued its report on March 6, 1986. The report denounced the actions of the city government, stating that "Dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable." Following the release of the report, mayor Goode made a formal public apology. No one from the city government was charged criminally.

In 1996 a federal jury ordered the city to pay a US$1.5 million civil suit judgement to survivor Ramona Africa and relatives of two people killed in the bombing. The jury had found that the city used excessive force and violated the members' constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Philadelphia was given the sobriquet "The City that Bombed Itself."