Independent Lens: Looking back at a case of civil dispute
In May of 1985 a long-time feud between the city of Philadelphia and the controversial urban group MOVE came to a deadly climax. Tonight's Independent Lens feature, "Let the Fire Burn" is entirely comprised of archival footage from the pivotal event, splaying out with the tension of a suspense thriller.
Formed as a back to nature commune by the charismatic leader John Africa, MOVE members took the same surname in honor of their ancestral homeland. Practitioners wore their hair in dreadlocks, shunned technology, and promoted a diet of raw food. Grappling for a way to describe the group, contemporary reporters sometimes referred to MOVE as a "cult" and later as "terrorists."
Living together in a home in West Philadelphia, MOVE's unorthodox lifestyle lead to conflicts with neighbors and clashes with police. In 1985, after many complaints about broadcasts via loudspeaker as well as worries over health hazards, the city used force to evict the group from their row house.
After a daylong battle in which the police used teargas, firehoses, and ultimately 10,000 rounds of ammunition in an attempt to remove MOVE members from their fortified home, authorities ordered military-grade explosives to be dropped on the house from a helicopter. News cameras captured the conflagration that quickly escalated - and resulted in the tragic deaths of eleven people (including five children) and the destruction of 61 homes.
Independent Lens' "Let the Fire Burn" airs tonight on KMOS-TV channel 6.1
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