Workers Vanguard No. 910

14 March 2008


Imprisoned for Surviving 1978 Cop Attack

Parole Hearing Approaches: Free the MOVE Prisoners!

For the first time since their imprisonment 30 years ago, the eight surviving members of the MOVE 9 are eligible for a parole hearing in April. Framed up on conspiracy and murder charges stemming from the killing of Philadelphia police officer James Ramp during a vicious police assault on MOVE’s home in the Powelton Village neighborhood on 8 August 1978, the MOVE members were sentenced to prison terms of 30 to 100 years. In 1998, Merle Africa died in prison, having spent nearly 20 years behind bars. Despite persistent persecution and repeated harassment, the MOVE members remain strong and outspoken, steadfast fighters not only for their own freedom but also for the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s foremost death row political prisoner and a longtime MOVE supporter.

MOVE has been the victim of some of the worst racist atrocities meted out by a capitalist class whose rule is founded on the oppression of black people. On 13 May 1985, the Philadelphia police, on orders from black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode and assisted by the Feds, bombed MOVE’s Osage Avenue home. Eleven black people, five of them children, were killed and an entire city block burned to the ground. As we said in protest at the time, this mass murder was the bloody signature of the Reagan years, intended “to send a message to black America and ‘radicals’ of every stripe. ‘Anti-terrorism’ means massive government terror against anyone who is out of step in Reagan’s America” (WV No. 379, 17 May 1985). All opponents of racist oppression and cop brutality must demand freedom for the MOVE 9!

The city in which the back-to-nature MOVE organization emerged was a racist hellhole lorded over by a force of killer cops led by Frank Rizzo, first as deputy police commissioner, then commissioner and later mayor. In the “city of brotherly love,” any expression of black dissent was met with brutal police repression. In the mid 1960s, Rizzo instituted special roving arsenals stationed in black neighborhoods so that buses of riot cops armed with machine guns, tear gas and heavy weaponry could meet up without losing a minute in smashing some political demonstration. As acting commissioner in 1966, Rizzo led 80 cops, with a reserve contingent of hundreds, in publicized raids on apartments associated with members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee on the pretext of busting up a bogus plot to blow up buildings in the city. And in 1967, with the racist cry “get their black asses,” Rizzo unleashed busloads of baton-wielding cops against black students protesting outside the Board of Education, sending 15 of them to the hospital. His raids on Black Panther Party offices in 1970, when Philly cops stripped Panthers to their underwear outside their Wallace Street office, earned Rizzo national notoriety for racist “law and order.”

The cops also turned their attention to the predominantly black MOVE organization, which appeared in 1972 protesting against the “system” and which would come to proclaim their right of armed self-defense. Police planted themselves on MOVE’s doorstep, hounding members and supporters every time they left their home. Arbitrary stops, beatings and hundreds of arrests were standard procedure. In 1973-74 some 40 MOVE members had been arrested 150 times, fined approximately $15,000 and given sentences of up to several years in jail. By 1976, the Philly cops’ vendetta against MOVE had escalated into a full-scale war. Blackjack-wielding cops descended on a MOVE celebration, and in the resulting melee Janine Africa’s newborn infant was trampled to death.

May 1977 ushered in 15 months of round-the-clock surveillance and a massive police offensive. The following March, police implemented a full-scale barricade, sealing off a four-block area of Powelton Village with eight-foot-high fences and cutting off gas and water lines to MOVE’s house. At 6 a.m. on August 8, 600 cops surrounded the home. Two hours later, one or two gunshots were heard. Though cops claimed the gunfire came from the MOVE house, witnesses, including a reporter for KYW radio, identified the gunfire as coming from a building behind the police lines. For the next two minutes police fired thousands of rounds of ammunition into the home. When the dust cleared, Police Officer James Ramp was dead, killed by the police cross fire.

Standing alone among journalists in defense of MOVE was Mumia Abu-Jamal. By the time of the 1978 assault, Mumia had already interviewed victims of police brutality and was acquiring a reputation as the “voice of the voiceless.” At a press conference after the August 8 cop attack where Mumia and others asked a series of embarrassing questions, Rizzo railed on about the need to reinstitute the death penalty and blamed a “new breed of journalism” for Ramp’s death. Looking in Mumia’s direction, Rizzo spewed, “They believe what you write, what you say. And it’s got to stop. And one day, and I hope it’s in my career, that you’re going to have to be held responsible, and accountable for what you do.” At the same press conference, D.A. Edward Rendell declared that the police would have been “within their rights to have, subsequent to the shooting of Officer Ramp, stormed the house and killed all of the 12 people in the basement.”

Two months after the attack on MOVE, Rizzo campaigned for a change to the city’s charter that would allow him to run for a third mayoral term under the call, “Vote White.” He declared, “Philadelphia wouldn’t be the same without Frank Rizzo.” Rizzo lost, but for the oppressed black masses little changed. In August 1981, the MOVE 9 were sentenced. Four months later, Mumia was arrested and framed up on false charges of killing Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. The following July he was sentenced to death explicitly for his political views. Mumia’s imprisonment, removing a powerful and effective voice in MOVE’s defense, cleared the way as the state escalated its war against MOVE culminating in the 13 May 1985 bombing. Ramona Africa, sentenced to seven years in prison for the “crime” of being the sole adult survivor, served every single day of her term.

The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal represents what the death penalty in the U.S. is all about—a legacy of chattel slavery, the lynch rope made legal. Targeted by the state from the time he was a 15-year-old Black Panther Party spokesman, Mumia became a MOVE supporter while covering the prosecution of the MOVE 9. Already well known and despised by the cops, Mumia was made a marked man by his prominent defense of MOVE . Despite mountains of evidence of his innocence, including the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot Faulkner, Mumia remains on death row. Last May the Third Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument in Mumia’s case, and a decision restoring the death sentence, condemning him to prison for life or ordering a trial or new hearings could come any day. Free Mumia now!

After 30 years, the vendetta against MOVE has not subsided. In September 2006 the Philadelphia police awarded its “Valor Award” to nine of the cops who participated in the August 8 attack. The 2008 Guinness Book of World Records grotesquely classified the May 1985 bombing as a “cult suicide,” a characterization first coined in 1985 by then D.A. Edward Rendell, who declared, “These are people who essentially committed suicide and murdered their own children.” Currently Pennsylvania’s governor, Rendell was the D.A. who prosecuted the MOVE 9 and Mumia Abu-Jamal, and is one of a number of leading figures in the Pennsylvania state government for whom the vendetta against MOVE and Mumia has played a key role in building their careers. His wife Marjorie Rendell sits on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that is about to rule in Mumia’s appeal. Ronald Castille, chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, was the D.A. who prosecuted Ramona Africa and who fought Mumia’s appeals in the state courts. Longtime Philadelphia D.A. Lynne Abraham was the judge who in 1985 issued warrants for the arrest of MOVE members and the search of their Osage Avenue home, laying the basis for the cop massacre. Abraham, a staunch advocate of the racist death penalty, has fought to carry out Mumia’s legal lynching for the past 17 years.

The Partisan Defense Committee—a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League—has since 1986 been sending monthly stipends to the imprisoned MOVE members as part of the PDC’s program of support to class-war prisoners. We print below the text of a March 6 PDC letter to the Parole Board demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the MOVE prisoners. Letters demanding freedom for MOVE should be sent to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, 1101 South Front Street, Suite 5100, Harrisburg, PA 17104-2517. The names for each of the commissioners are at: Copies of letters should be sent to: William Phillips Africa, AM 4984, SCI-Dallas, 1000 Follies Road, Dallas, PA 18612-0286.

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The Partisan Defense Committee joins with those supporting the release of the eight surviving political prisoners who have been collectively known as the MOVE 9. These men and women were victims of racist police brutality and they should not have spent 30 seconds in jail, much less nearly 30 years in state prison. They are innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted and imprisoned.

After a yearlong siege, on August 8, 1978, an army of nearly 600 police surrounded the MOVE home to evict its defenseless residents. Three months before the attack MOVE had allowed the police to search their home, resulting in the removal of what were inoperable weapons. The police turned on “deluge guns” flooding the basement of the house and then unleashed a furious fusillade so intense that one of their own officers, James Ramp, was killed in the police cross fire. When the adults emerged, police publicly beat, dragged, kicked and stomped on Delbert Africa. The outrage sparked by Delbert’s savage beating, captured in slow motion on television news cameras, ultimately led to a federal civil rights lawsuit and indictments against three of the police attackers. Following the police assault, the police completely bulldozed the house, destroying not only evidence of their own wrongdoing, but proof that the MOVE members’ only “crime” was to survive.

The trial of the MOVE 9 was a travesty of justice. At least eight witnesses confirmed that no gunshots came from the MOVE house. Three firemen said they did not know where the gunshots came from and had seen no MOVE members with guns. When weapons supposedly found at the MOVE home were brought to court, none of them had any fingerprints of the defendants on them and none of the MOVE prisoners were ever charged with illegal weapons possession. Despite contradictory ballistic and forensic testimony, all nine defendants were pronounced guilty of third-degree murder, attempted murder and seven counts of aggravated assault. They were also convicted of conspiracy, a catchall charge used especially to prosecute people for their shared political beliefs when prosecutors are unable to prove that a criminal act was committed. After the trial, the presiding judge Edwin Malmed was asked “Who shot James Ramp?” His reply was, “I haven’t the faintest idea.”

The victimization of the MOVE 9 was part and parcel of a years long vendetta against MOVE and its supporters. In 1985 they watched in horror from their Pennsylvania prison cells as the Philadelphia police, in league with federal authorities, dropped a high-powered explosive bomb on MOVE’s Osage Avenue home, burning to death eleven black people, including five children, and leaving an entire black neighborhood in smoldering ruins.

It is an injustice that these men and women have been incarcerated at all. They are innocent survivors of premeditated police assaults. We are mindful that a common ruse for denying parole for those who have been falsely convicted is the claimed failure to show “remorse.” Having committed no crime, the imprisoned MOVE members have no reason to demonstrate any so-called “remorse.” We do not forget that Merle Africa died in prison in 1998 having undergone nearly two decades of wrongful imprisonment. We call for the immediate, unconditional release of Debbie Africa, Janine Africa, Janet Africa, Chuck Africa, Eddie Africa, Phil Africa, Delbert Africa and Mike Africa.