35 YEARS AGO: ‘The Roof Is On Fire/We Don’t Need No Water Let The Motherf*ckers Burn’

IMMORTAL TRUTHZ: On 13 May 1985, Philadelphia police bombed the MOVE compound, killing 11 people, including five children, and destroying an entire neighbourhood which left more than 250 people homeless. The counter-cultural group lived communally and had a history of violent encounters with police. The raid stands as the only aerial bombing carried out by police on US soil.

MOVE ~ a mostly black, radical organisation that believed in shedding technology and “man-made law” in favour of “natural law”. After years of antagonism with police, Move had fortified a rowhome on Osage Avenue as their headquarters. They boarded up walls, built a bunker on the roof, and broadcast their anti-police ethos through a bullhorn, night and day.

Neighbours in the predominantly black, middle-class neighbourhood complained about the profane tirades and how Move’s children rifled alongside rats through the house’s compost and garbage. Then district attorney Ed Rendell authorised arrest warrants an mayor Wilson Goode sent in police.

“Were we wanted for rape, robbery, murder? No, nothing,” says Ramona Africa, the only living Move survivor of that day. Africa linked the bombing to the recent police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray… “These people that take an oath that swear to protect, save lives.. the cops don’t defend poor people, poor white, black, Latino people. They don’t defend us, they kill us.

“All you have to do is look at the rash of police murders and the cops not being held accountable,” she added. “That should really alarm and outrage people, but the thing is that it’s happening today because it wasn’t stopped in ’85. The only justice that can be done is people seeing this system for what it is.”

Hundreds of officers, several fire trucks and a bomb squad arrived that day, with military-grade weapons in tow. They first tried to flush out the house with fire hoses. A team then blew holes in the walls to funnel in teargas, but no one budged.

“Then they just began insanely shooting, over 10,000 rounds of bullets, according to their own estimates,” Africa said. “That didn’t work, and that’s when they dropped the bomb on us, a rowhouse in an urban neighbourhood.”

“The story is a parable of sorts; it’s a parable of how the unthinkable comes to happen,” said Jason Osder, the director of the documentary ‘Let the ? Burn’. “It’s a tragedy. In my opinion everyone who was an adult in the city failed that day. Move failed, the police failed, the neighbours failed those children in some ways. Collectively, the whole city failed.” MORE