On the Road to Jericho '98
Amnesty and Freedom for All Political Prisoners
Free the MOVE 9
Revolutionary Worker #946, March 1, 1998
August 8, 1978. That morning, hundreds of heavily armed police attacked a MOVE house located in the Powelton Village section of Philadelphia. They opened fire on the MOVE members inside. They pumped thousands of gallons of water and tear gas into the house to force the MOVE people out.
During the hail of police gunfire, cop James Ramp fell dead with a single bullet in his back. Nine members of MOVE were framed for the murder of this cop. Each was sentenced to 30 to 100 years in prison. The MOVE 9--Debbie, Janine, Janet, Merle, Delbert, Phil, Mike, Chuck and Edward Africa--have been in prison since 1978 for a crime they did not commit. They are now among the political prisoners listed by the Jericho '98 project.
MOVE and the Power Structure on a Collision Course
MOVE was founded in 1972--the same year that Frank Rizzo became mayor of Philadelphia with a promise to clamp down on rebellious elements in the Black community, as well as white radicals, hippies and other "social misfits." Rizzo was already infamous as the head of Philly's vicious police department during the turbulent 1960s. One of the most notorious actions by Rizzo's cops was a raid on the Black Panther Party headquarters in 1970. In a sick attempt at humiliation, the cops lined up the Panthers against a wall and ordered them to drop their pants for a photographer.
MOVE--with their politics of denouncing the system and totally rejecting its authority--and the power structure were clearly on a collision course. The Philadelphia Inquirer described MOVE as "railing against anything that smacked of the system.... Its members were disruptive and tumultuous, abrasive and unyielding, hurling obscenity after obscenity at the system they despised."
The authorities began a campaign to destroy the MOVE organization. Between 1974 and 1976, there were over 400 arrests of MOVE members, resulting in bail and fines of more than half a million dollars.
MOVE women who were pregnant were a favorite target of the police. On May 9, 1974, two MOVE members were attacked by police, arrested and held overnight with no food or water--both women had miscarriages. On April 29, 1975, Alberta Africa was held spread-eagle by four cops and kicked in the stomach and vagina repeatedly by a fifth. As a result of this, Alberta had a miscarriage. On November 5, 1976, Rhonda Africa, who was nearly nine months pregnant, was beaten by police. Rhonda went into premature labor and gave birth to a bruised and injured baby that died within minutes.
On March 28, 1976, police attacked Janine Africa and several other MOVE members in front of their Powelton Village headquarters. Janine was thrown to the ground with her 20-day-old baby Life in her arms and stomped on until she was nearly unconscious. Life died as a result of a crushed skull from this beating. The police denied they were responsible and claimed Life probably didn't even exist since there was no birth certificate. No charges were filed against the cops who murdered Life Africa. District Attorney Ed Rendell's office filed charges against six MOVE members who were beaten and arrested that night.
Many of the confrontations between Philadelphia police and MOVE members took place around their Powelton Village headquarters. The pamphlet 25 Years On the MOVE describes MOVE's analysis of the situation in the spring of 1977:
"MOVE foresaw the possibility that Philadelphia police could storm their 33rd Street headquarters, kill those inside, and blame the victims for their own deaths in an operation similar to the type of government terrorism used against the Black Panthers. Information from sympathetic sources inside city government confirmed that plans for some type of police operation had indeed been made. To safeguard the Philadelphia base, MOVE staged a major demonstration May 20, 1977 on a platform outside their house. They demanded the release of their political prisoners and an end to the violent harassment by the city.
"We told the cops there wasn't gonna be any more undercover deaths. This time they better be prepared to murder us in full public view, cause if they came at us with fists, we were gonna come back with fists. If they came with clubs, we'd come back with clubs, and if they came with guns, we'd use guns too. We don't believe in death-dealing guns, we believe in life. But we knew the cops wouldn't be so quick to attack us if they had to face the same stuff they dished out so casually on unarmed defenseless folk."
The Siege at Powelton Village
In her book "Attention, MOVE! This is America!", Margot Harry describes how the major confrontation between MOVE and the police developed:
"Rumors flew through Powelton Village on May 20, 1977 that the police were on their way to evict MOVE members for its refusal to allow inspections.... Two hundred cops were dispatched to the MOVE house.... Police surrounded the house and began what would turn out to be a one-year siege of the MOVE headquarters. Police sandbagged apartment windows across from the MOVE house and also established an extensive blockade of several streets around the MOVE house.... A large percentage of Blacks in the community supported MOVE, as did a significant number of whites. For many of these, MOVE's headquarters became a center of resistance."
During the siege, the authorities stepped up their attempts
to crush the MOVE organization. On May 24, Judge Lynne Abraham issued warrants for 11 MOVE members for riot and possession of an instrument of crime. City personnel were telling MOVE off the record, "We'll kill all of you before we let your people out of jail." A federal agent told MOVE the FBI planned to infiltrate and destroy their organization. On September 1, 1977 the FBI handed down indictments against MOVE founder John Africa and Alfonso Africa on phony charges of bomb-making and gun-running. They were based on "information" from an FBI informant. (On May 13, 1981, the FBI arrested John Africa and nine other MOVE members in Rochester, New York. They were extradited to Philadelphia. In July of 1981, John Africa and Alfonso Africa were found not guilty by a jury.) Philadelphia politicians and reporters went to Virginia where MOVE had purchased a large farm. They spread vicious rumors about MOVE. As a result, the realtor demanded MOVE pay off the entire mortgage at once. They were unable to raise the money and lost their farm.
Ten months into the siege, and with MOVE showing no signs of backing down, the authorities attempted to starve MOVE into submission. In March 1978, the city shut off water to the MOVE house and stopped deliveries of food to them. Hundreds of cops sealed off all access to the MOVE house. Sharpshooter posts and machine gun nests were set up on nearby houses. People who tried to rush the barricades to deliver food were beaten and arrested by the police.
In a recent interview with the RW, Mumia talked about his experience in covering the siege as a radio journalist: "No one dared talk to the MOVE people. You talked to the police chief, you talked to the mayor, you talked to the district attorney.... I don't think it was so much officially verboten [to talk to MOVEñ as the presumption that the other side had nothing to say that was worth hearing. Almost a dehumanization of the other side, if you will. And I think that was what irked me the most. These were people, literally, with their lives on the line. And I think that's also what irked my bosses the most, because that part of Philadelphia wasn't supposed to hear those voices."
The radio station Mumia was working for criticized him for not being "objective"--and he was eventually forced to leave the job.
The Police Assault
The attempt to starve MOVE out did not break the resistance of the MOVE members. A compromise agreement was hammered out by some officials who feared that the siege was sparking widespread anger at the police and support for MOVE. But on August 2, Judge DiBona ruled that MOVE had violated a 90-day deadline, and signed bench warrants authorizing police to arrest most known MOVE members, whether they were in the house or not. Three days later, police stormed into a Richmond, Virginia MOVE home at gun-point and arrested Gail and Rhonda Africa for their alleged failure to leave a house they were hundreds of miles away from.
The police prepared to take MOVE out by force.
Margot Harry's book gives an account of the military-style police operation against MOVE: "The assault began in the early morning hours of August 8, 1978. Six hundred cops surrounded the Powelton Village house, including Rizzo's sharpshooters from the stakeout unit. A bulldozer first destroyed the protective fences MOVE had constructed around the house, then a crane was deployed as a battering ram, punching out the wooden slats MOVE had nailed across the windows. Cops actually went into the house at one point but found no one. All of the MOVE members were in the basement.
"Firemen then axed down the wooden slats across the basement windows and turned on their deluge guns. Within minutes water in the basement was so high that MOVE adults had to hold babies, young children and some of their dogs over their heads to prevent them from drowning. Shortly after 8 a.m. there was a outbreak of gunfire that lasted for about two minutes. Officer James Ramp fell dead and other cops and firemen were wounded....
"From 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. the deluge guns continued to flood the basement and minutes later the MOVE people climbed out through the basement windows, drenched, shivering, and staring down the barrels of the stakeout unit guns. The women and children went first. The last to come out was Delbert Africa, one of the most militant and well-known MOVE members. Naked from the waist up and with arms over his head to indicate he was surrendering and had no weapons, Delbert Africa was grabbed by one stakeout officer who smashed him across the face with his helmet, grabbed him by his dreadlocks and held him down while three other cops beat, kicked, and stomped him. Since the whole thing was being filmed by TV cameras, other cops pulled the four off Delbert Africa but he says the beating resumed once he was out of public view and in their custody."
In a column written for MOVE's newspaper First Day, Chuck Africa wrote: "I was shot twice in the arm by police with a automatic weapon.... I was thrown face first in the back of a police wagon and tortured during the ride to the roundhouse at 8th and Race. A stakeout cop and detective stayed in the back of the wagon and beat my heart with a leather slap-jack with steel inside and I was beat in the testicles."
MOVE Members Railroaded, Cops Go Free
Nine MOVE members were tried for the killing of the cop Ramp. Even before the trial began, they were convicted and sentenced by the authorities and the media. At a press conference right after the assault, Mayor Rizzo declared: "The only way we're going to get rid of them is to get the death penalty back in, and I'll pull the switch myself."
When the trial began, the accused MOVE members were defiant. Several weeks into the trial, the judge told the defendants they could answer only yes or no to his question of whether they would obey his courtroom rules. When the defendants answered with "We'll do what's right," they were expelled permanently from the courtroom and tried in absentia.
As soon as MOVE members were arrested, the authorities destroyed the house. It was leveled by bulldozers on August 8. This prevented MOVE from proving conclusively that they did not shoot Ramp, but that he was killed by police gunfire. During a preliminary hearing, MOVE presented a motion to dismiss the charges based on this destruction of evidence. Their motion was denied.
Just after the police attack, Mayor Rizzo held a press conference and displayed weapons he claimed were taken out of the MOVE house. But shortly after the May 20, 1977 demonstration in which MOVE members brandished weapons, police entered the MOVE house as part of the agreement reached between MOVE and the authorities. They found the "weapons" were inoperable dummy firearms or road flares disguised as dynamite. From May to August, the house was under 24-hour police surveillance. The police knew that MOVE had no weapons inside the house. No fingerprints of any MOVE members were found on the weapons that Rizzo displayed at his press conference.
MOVE points to videotape evidence that shows the police commissioner "actually handing, passing rifles through our basement window to fellow police officers!" This film was presented in a pre-trial hearing to dismiss the charges against the MOVE 9 but the judge denied the request despite the videotape.
The MOVE 9 were convicted largely on the contradictory testimony of the police who attacked them and a doctored pathologist's report. All the initial reports from the police, the press and the pathologist who conducted the autopsy indicated that the bullet that killed Ramp entered his body and traveled downward. Thus, it could not have been fired by any MOVE members, since they were all in the basement of their house at the time of the shooting. But the prosecution presented a pathologist's report that was altered so that it would appear MOVE had fired the shots that killed Ramp.
The accounts of two radio reporters, Richard Maloney and Larry Rosen, were disregarded by the judge. Both heard the first shot come from a house across the street, where they saw an arm hold a pistol out of a second floor window. Even the city's own negotiator, Walt Palmer, says the police opened fire on MOVE. He wrote in the Philadelphia Tribune: "I don't care if you don't like the way MOVE dresses, how they eat garlic or run their dogs, people have a right to live. The moment one person's rights are denied, all of our rights are in jeopardy. Look at Nazi Germany. It started with small deprivations of rights."
The nine defendants were convicted of murdering Ramp, of attempted murder, conspiracy and seven counts of aggravated assault on other cops and firefighters. And on August 4, 1981, almost three years to the day after the police assault on MOVE's Powelton Village headquarters, a judge delivered the sentence: 30 to 100 years for each of the defendants, despite the fact that they had no prior felony convictions. Two people who had been in the house were not convicted because they were not MOVE members. Consuewella Dotson Africa was tried separately because authorities thought she was only a MOVE supporter. She refused to disavow MOVE and was sentenced in a separate trial to 10 to 20 years.
In contrast, the cops who beat Delbert Africa almost to death went free. One of the cops never stood trial. In the case of the other three cops, a judge intervened before the trial even started and acquitted the three, claiming that the cops were acting in "self-defense"--even though the police's own video showed that Delbert Africa had nothing in his hands when he came out of the MOVE house and was set upon by the cops.
Then, on May 13, 1985 the Philly police dropped a bomb on the MOVE house at Osage Avenue, setting an intense fire. Of the 13 MOVE people in the house, 11--six adults, five children--were killed. The fire spread through the neighborhood, leaving 61 row-homes totally destroyed or gutted.
FREE THE MOVE 9!
The MOVE 9 appealed their case to the Pennsylvania and U.S. Supreme Court. These appeals were both denied. Most of MOVE's legal papers from the Powelton Village attack were destroyed when the authorities bombed the MOVE house on Osage Avenue on May 13, 1985. In the early '90s they hired an attorney to begin the process of filing a Post-Conviction Relief Appeal (PCRA). But the courts have repeatedly postponed a decision on the MOVE 9's PCRA petition.
The MOVE 9 and other MOVE members in prison have had to endure harsh treatment at the hands of authorities intent on forcing them to back down from their revolutionary beliefs.
MOVE describes the conditions of its imprisoned members this way: "At prison locations in the remote areas of Pennsylvania, MOVE members have endured years of repeated physical and mental abuse. Delbert, Carlos and Chuck Africa were kept in solitary confinement for over six years for refusing to violate MOVE belief by cutting their hair. MOVE women Janet, Janine, Merle, Debbie, Consuewella, Sue and Alberta Africa upheld their religious belief by refusing to give blood samples and were repeatedly put in solitary confinement, sometimes for as long as three years. Sadistic prison guards were delighted to inform Delbert, Janet, Sue, Phil, Janine and Consuewella Africa that their children were killed in the police assault on May 13, 1985."
Despite threats and years of solitary confinement, MOVE members have not backed down. In a letter published in MOVE's newspaper First Day, MOVE women held at Muncy Prison wrote: "MOVE people ain't in prison for committin' no crime, we ain't criminals, we're in prison for puttin out the truth about this corrupt government, for confronting this lyin murderin government uncompromisingly.... People should do whatever you gotta do to get justice and don't stop til you get it. People gotta stop believing these judges is right, just, fair because until you do you'll always have judges sanctioning the May 13th bombings, the Rodney King beatings, the extermination of the SLA, the Black Panthers, Wounded Knee and another whole race of people virtually extinct and enslaved on reservations like the government got the American Indians."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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