On a narrow street in a working-class neighborhood, the police are held at bay by a small band of armed radicals. Two assaults have already failed. After a morning-long battle involving machine guns, explosives, and tear gas, the radicals remain defiant. In a command post across the street from the boarded-up row house that serves as the militants’ headquarters, the beleaguered police commissioner weighs his options and decides on a new plan. He will bomb the house.
Let It Burn is the true-life story of the confrontation between the Philadelphia Police Department and the MOVE organization—a group that rejected modern technology and fought for what it called “natural law.” The police commissioner’s decision to drop an “explosive device” onto the house’s roof—and then to let the resulting fire burn while adults and children remained in the house—was the final tragic chapter in a decades-long series of clashes that had already left one policeman dead and others injured, dozens of MOVE members behind bars, and their original compound razed to the ground.
By the time the fire burned itself out, eleven MOVE members, many of them women and small children, would be dead. Sixty-one houses in the neighborhood would be destroyed.
There would be a city inquiry, numerous civil suits, and two grand-jury inquests following the confrontation. Michael Boyette served on one of the grand juries, where he had a front-row seat as the key players and witnesses—including Mayor Wilson Goode and future Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell—recounted their roles in the tragedy. After the grand jury concluded its investigation, he and coauthor Randi Boyette conducted additional independent research—including exclusive interviews with police who had been on the scene and with MOVE members—to create this moment-by-moment account of the confrontation and the events leading up to it.
Michael Boyette is a veteran journalist and author of ten books. He served on the grand jury that investigated the MOVE confrontation. Currently he is the editorial director at Rapid Learning Institute. He is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.
Randi Boyette is a former book editor and coauthor of two books. Currently she serves as a regional education director for a national civil rights and human relations organization. She holds a B.A. in History from Temple University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Gratz College.