The MOVE 9 Parole Hearings
--An interview with Ramona Africa
By Angola 3 News
Video-interviewed by Angola 3 News in May, 2010, Ramona Africa is the sole adult survivor of the May 13, 1985 massacre of 11 members of the MOVE organization. Founded in the early 1970s by John Africa, MOVE is a mostly black religious and family-based political organization that, in their words, works "to stop industry from poisoning the air, the water, the soil, and to put an end to the enslavement of life - people, animals, any form of life."
In the early morning of May 13, 1985, police had already surrounded MOVE's rowhouse at 6221 Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia when Philadelphia Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor declared on the bullhorn, "Attention MOVE, This is America! You have to abide by the laws of the United States!" Minutes later, the military-style assault on MOVE began. Police shot tear gas and detonated explosives on the front and both sides of MOVE's house. The gunfire from police reached at least 10,000 rounds of ammunition in the first ninety minutes, including 4,500 rounds from M-16s; 1,500 from Uzis; and 2,240 from M-60 machine guns.
Following an afternoon standstill, Mayor Wilson declared to the media that he would now "seize control of the house"by any means necessary." At 5:27 PM, Philadelphia police used a State Police helicopter to drop a C-4 bomb that had been illegally supplied by the FBI. When the bomb exploded on MOVE's roof, it started a small fire that the police and fire department allowed to burn, and eventually destroyed 61 homes, leaving 250 people homeless: the entire block of a middle-class black community.
Ramona and 13 year-old Birdie Africa would both recount that police had shot at the occupants of the house when they attempted to escape the fire. Giving her personal account of the massacre, Ramona says today that immediately after the bomb was dropped "those of us in the basement didn't realize that the house was on fire because there was so much tear gas that it was hard to recognize smoke. We opened the door and started to yell that we were coming out with the kids. The kids were hollering too. We know they heard us but the instant we were visible in the doorway, they opened fire. You could hear the bullets hitting all around the garage area. They deliberately took aim and shot at us. Anybody can see that their aim, very simply, was to kill MOVE people--not to arrest anybody."
Despite official police denials of shooting at MOVE when they were trying to escape the fire, The Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission (The MOVE Commission) appointed by Mayor Wilson Goode confirmed Ramona and Birdie's accounts, concluding that "police gunfire prevented some occupants of 6221 Osage Ave. from escaping from the burning house to the rear alley." The deaths of the five MOVE children "appeared to be unjustified homicides which should be investigated by a grand jury," concluded the MOVE Commission.
However, no one from the city, police, or fire department ever faced criminal charges. In sharp contrast, after Ramona survived the bombing, she was charged with conspiracy, riot, and multiple counts of simple and aggravated assault. At her trial, all charges listed on the May 11 arrest warrant were dismissed by the judge. "This means that they had no valid reason to even be out there, but they did not dismiss the charges placed on me as a result of what happened after they came out," says Ramona today.
At trial, Ramona successfully defended herself against the most serious charges, but after being convicted of the lesser charges, Ramona would serve 7 years in prison. If she had chosen to sever her ties with MOVE, she could have been released on parole after 16 months. Since her release from prison, Ramona has tirelessly worked as MOVE's Minister of Communication, speaking around the world in defense of the MOVE 9, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and all political prisoners.
In 1996, Ramona successfully sued the City of Philadelphia for the 1985 police assault, she was awarded $500,000 for pain, suffering, and injuries. Relatives of John Africa and his nephew Frank James Africa, who died in the incident, were awarded a total of $1 million. Another $1.7 million was paid to Birdie Africa, now Michael Moses Ward.
Essentially a symbolic gesture, the jury ordered that Ramona also receive $1 per week for 11 years directly from Police Commissioner Sambor and Fire Commissioner William C. Richmond, but this was overruled by Judge Louis Pollack on grounds that the two had not shown "willful misconduct," and were therefore immune from financial liability.
The MOVE 9
On August 8, 1978, Philadelphia Police launched an earlier military-style assault on MOVE's home in PoweltonVillage. During this assault, Officer James Ramp was shot and killed by what many believe was friendly fire. For example, veteran Philadelphia journalist Linn Washington Jr. stated in the 2004 documentary film MOVE, narrated by Howard Zinn, that "the police department knows who killed Officer Ramp. It was another police officer, who inadvertently shot the guy. They have fairly substantial evidence that it was a mistake, but again they'll never admit it. I got this from a number of different sources in the police department, including sources on the SWAT team and sources in ballistics." Washington has elaborated on this further in a 2008 interview.
Nine of the adult MOVE members inside the house that day (Janine, Debbie, Janet, Merle, Delbert, Mike, Phil, Eddie, and Chuck Africa.) were jointly convicted of third-degree murder for Ramp's death and sentenced to 30-100 years. In 1998 Merle Africa tragically died while in prison. The remaining eight of the MOVE 9 became eligible for parole in 2008. An online petition and letter-writing campaign supporting parole cited several different arguments. The petition/letter declared that: