Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Let the Fire Burn" - A Jason Osder Film (2013)

Many people don’t even remember the 1985 bombing of the MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia. The fact that city police used a helicopter to drop a bomb on the place, killing 5 children in the process and decimating just about the whole block of houses; 61 to be exact; would seem to be something we’d all remember.

 Sadly, this event would become overshadowed by other and more “news worthy” sieges; all of which eventually led to the WACO and Ruby Ridge confrontations; when  various groups of separatists began to assert their perceived “right” to have their own mini-nations. These groups ran the gamut from Black Power to the Aryan Nation and even Christian groups.  And each time there were dead children left in the wake. It’s always that way when adults can’t get along; the children get hurt.

The MOVE group began in 1972 as sort of an extension of the community programs launched by the Black Panthers during the 1960’s and 1970’s. For the most part these were programs involved with education and food for the inhabitants of the neighborhood where MOVE was based at 309 North 33rd Street in Philadelphia. Frank Rizzo was Mayor at the time.

Between 1972 and 1975 MOVE staged all kinds of protests which violated not only the law, but the sensibilities of the neighbors all up and down the street. The profanity, loud music and children being allowed to run naked through the street had all combined to takes its toll on the residents. The “Back to Nature” rhetoric of MOVE  had become a living hell.

By early 1976 the members of MOVE armed themselves; openly displaying the weapons on the perimeter of the street which they controlled. Naturally the residents who lived on and across the street were upset with this turn of events and the police were called in again to make an attempt at restoring order. This coincided with the release from prison of several of MOVE’s members, and violence erupted. The group claimed that the police had shot an infant, killing him. They displayed the body openly, but would not allow medical officials to examine the corpse.

By 1977 the FBI had an informant in the house. You have to wonder why sanitation laws were not enforced to end this nonsense in a more peaceful manner. The violence does  seem to have been begun by the members of MOVE themselves, but the constant escalation of it without resolution has to be laid at the feet of the law enforcement agencies who could have handled this better.

What happened afterwards turned an essentially 5 yearlong political battle into a siege; and then a war. And when all was said and done the Police in Philadelphia used a bomb to win a war which no one seems to have wanted in the first place. The informant turned over the cache of weapons and guns, but the raid only led to another and another, culminating in the city’s bombing of the house by helicopter on May 13, 1985.

This is a fascinating documentary to watch. As the cameras rolled at the hearings which took place after the whole affair had ended, we hear witnesses who claim there were no loaded guns in the compound; even as we see the news footage of the gun battle which left people on both sides dead and wounded.

The saddest thing of all is that this did not have to happen. This took place at a time when helmets and bullet proof vests were considered heavy duty gear in the streets. The push to arm our police like the military after 9-11 hadn’t happened yet. So this was very carefully arranged annihilation of a group of people who had become a problem for the authorities.

Although I can’t agree with MOVE and the insanity they chose to live in, I have to believe that if the authorities had the ability to get a helicopter; arm it with a bomb; and then destroy an entire city block; they surely must have been capable of finding some other solution.

Note: There will be those who ask what my solution would have been. I can only say that a mass, evacuation, under force; illegal as it may have been; would have been preferable to what did occur under the color of law.

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