MOVE: 29 Years Later, Let the Fire Burn Documents the Raid

MOVE Bombing Philadelphia
29 years ago last week Philadelphia bombed its own people. That’s the story told by a fantastic documentary, Let the Fire Burn, available on Netflix streaming.

It’s the story of MOVE, a back-to-nature black nationalist organization founded in Philly by John Africa in the early 1970s. The documentary chronicles the rise of MOVE, and its first major encounter with police in a shoot-out in 1978 that left one officer dead, and several MOVE members and police officer wounded.

MOVE claims to this day that Officer James Ramp was killed by friendly fire from police trying to evict MOVE members from their house in west Philadelphia. Nine members were convicted, and sentenced to 30 to 100 years. They have been denied parole.

By 1985, MOVE had relocated to a new home on Osage Avenue in another neighborhood in West Philadelphia. Neighbors, most of whom were themselves black, complained for years about MOVE’s activities – broadcasting political and profane messages by bullhorn and health hazards created by MOVE’s efforts to live “off-the-grid”.

The city’s police department decided to take action. I distinctly remember that day. The police assault on the home – occupied by 13 members of the group – began in the early morning hours, involving thousands of rounds of police ammunition shot into the residence, and the use of high pressure water cannons.

Later in the day, a state police helicopter swooped in and delivered two one-pound bombs. According to the documentary, police ordered fire crews to “let it the fire burn,” the result of which was a fire that destroyed 60 neighboring homes and killed 11 people (six adults and five children).

The MOVE Commission issued its report on March 6, 1986, after a lengthy investigation. The report denounced the actions of the city government, stating that “Dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable.” No one from the city government was charged criminally.

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Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.