The MOVE Organization vs. The Philadelphia Police pt 1

This conflict exacerbated into a major tragedy that also popularized a famous, existing Hip Hop chant. The prelude in this week's Hip Hop Family Tree strip.

Read the rest of the Hip Hop Family Tree comics!



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  1. This is how I know I'm lame: I first heard about the MOVE conflict with Philadelphia police while reading the lyrics to Atom and His Package's song "Philadelphia" which has the tossed-off line: "...and we only bombed our own city once, one time".

  2. I still remember May 13, 1985, my dad was driving me to little league when the news on KYW came out that the police bombed Osage Avenue. The troubled history and racism of Philly's police is without a doubt. However, I caution making martyrs of MOVE, they were more than just political radicals, they were a quasi-religious cult who preached a rejection of science and medicine in favor of a return to a hunter-gatherer society. They built an armed compound (despite what the comic says, they were stockpiling working guns and bombs). They were more akin to the Branch Davidians (with John Africa at their core) than they were the Black Panthers.

    The shootout spurred a bunch of riots at the time, too. Philadelphia was really conflicted about MOVE. Neighbors in Powelton Village hated them (they piled garbage and human waste in the yard) but community activists rallied to them. They had a lot of support from Penn students, particularly a guy named Don Glassey, who worked with John Africa when Africa was more of a classic Left radical and not so much of a cult leader.

    You can still read the Philadelphia Inquirer's MOVE archives:

    There is also an amazing documentary on YouTube about 1978, that captures a lot of the spirit of the times:

    So, are we drawing a link between the MOVE fire and "The Roof is on Fire," because the song predated the bombing by at least year. If you aren't drawing the link, isn't that a tad distasteful?

  3. I don't know much about them, but I don't know if its fair to say that their rejection of science and medicine makes them "more than just political radicals". It sounds like standard anarcho-primitivism to me. I tend to favor scientific thinking myself, but the notion that what most people refer to as "progress" is something of an illusion - and that ways of living which have worked for humans for millions of years re perfectly valid choices - I think is a legitimate position. What frustrates people about it, I suspect, is that politics traditionally imposes the same kind of lifestyle on "everyone".

  4. It went a little beyond anarcho-primitivism. It had all the hallmarks of a religious cult with John Africa at the center. Most folks would have been tolerant of them, even in the 70s but they were also dancing on the public menace side of provocative. Not just the loudspeakers 24/7, but the mounds and mounds of (quite literal) shit and threats of violent reprisals against neighbors who spoke up.

    There are no heroes in the MOVE story just plenty of victims.

  5. Looks like they cast the cops from "Sabotage"

    I always considered using the screen name "Sir Stewart Wallace as Himself"

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