October 21st, 2016

Max’s View

Let the Fire Burn
It’s a known fact that black men are targeted by the police. If you happen to be male and black, you are more likely to be harassed, beaten, arrested, and killed.

Is this unfair to black men? Obviously. Is it racist? Not necessarily. The majority of black men who are law abiding are being punished because a significant minority of the black community are violent criminals.

Let’s imagine we’re 20 years in the future: a new crime wave has hit the United States. The murder rate is skyrocketing. But it isn’t due to the black community, which has become significantly more peaceful and prosperous. Most of the killers are skinny bald middle-aged Jewish guys.

In this future, I would expect to be targeted and harassed by the police. Of course I would; I’d perfectly fit the profile of a killer.

The real question is: in this future scenario, would cops leave black guys alone because they no longer are more likely to be criminals than the population at large? Or would the criminal justice system continue to make life miserable for black men because America is intrinsically racist? Would they help black communities heal after generations of oppression? Or would they let the fire burn?

“Let the Fire Burn” is a frustratingly apolitical documentary about the life and dramatic death of the MOVE organization.

In the late 1970s and early 80s, MOVE was the kookiest commune in Philadelphia. It was half luddite cooperative – half revolutionary cult – and all crazy.

MOVE swore off modern machines and even electricity. They ate their food raw – even meat. The all-black commune kept their hair in dirty dreadlocks and wore a minimum of clothing. Their children were miserable and visibly starving.

Based on contemporary interviews, all the MOVE members had been thoroughly brainwashed by their charismatic leader John Africa. Whenever they were asked by the media to justify their nutty behavior, they answered that they were following John Africa’s grand revolutionary plan but they never gave details.

Whatever the plan was, it was not popular with their community. They bought a megaphone and announced loud profane threats to their neighbors at all hours of the night. MOVE members cut down trees from local parks and built an imposing-looking bunker on the roof of their town house – complete with sniper windows.

On May 13, 1985, the city had had enough. In an organized, military-style operation, the police cleared the neighborhood, tear-gassed the MOVE house, and fire-bombed the bunker. The documentary asserts that cops were stationed at the all the exits with machine guns to ensure that no one could escape. The plan wasn’t just to defeat MOVE – it was to kill them all.

Afterwards, the mayor defiantly announced that he had made the decision to “let the fire burn.” All but two MOVE members died in the blaze. And 65 neighboring homes were destroyed.

No one is defending the MOVE nut jobs; they were unarguably a menace to polite society. The question is whether the police would have had the authority to snuff them all out rather than arrest them had the MOVE commune been white.

And that, to this day, is the most contentious race issue in America: the increasingly clear fact that the police have the unwritten authority to kill black people without consequence.

There is no easy solution and there’s not even a way for us to fully understand the problem. Until that skinny bald Jew crime wave hits, there is no way I’ll ever know it feels to be a black man in America.

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