Printed May 1996.
An updated version of the 1991 Publication 20 YEARS ON THE MOVE.
P.O. Box 19709,
Philadelphia, PA 19143.
Printed May 1996.
An updated version of the 1991 Publication 20 YEARS ON THE MOVE.
P.O. Box 19709,
Philadelphia, PA 19143.
February 20, 1986,
Reprinted from The Workers’ Advocate,
Vol. 2, #2.
Last May 13, the Philadelphia police carried out a murderous assault on the black group MOVE. After hours of firing ammunition, tear gas, and water cannon on the MOVE house on Osage Avenue, the police dropped a powerful bomb on the roof. The inferno which resulted was allowed by city officials to destroy 61 houses in the west Philadelphia neighborhood, leaving over 250 people homeless. Eleven people in the MOVE house, including five children, were incinerated.
Outrage among the masses has not let the MOVE massacre fade away. And the police and city officials, with black Mayor Wilson Goode at their head, continue to feel the heat for their responsibility for this atrocity. To relieve the pressure and whitewash the massacre, the government is holding a string of official inquiries. In November the Philadelphia Special Investigative Commission (PSIC) concluded 18 days of televised hearings. The finds of the hearings are soon to be released. And four more investigations are yet to come: by the Philadelphia district attorney, the Pennsylvania Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Justice Department.
The 11-member PSIC was appointed by Mayor Goode to “investigate” himself and. his cronies. It included big time lawyers, bankers, and FBI men. Some of its members were also big contributors to Goode’s election campaign.
Although its official “findings” have not yet been released, one thing is clear: in no way will this inquiry condemn Goode and company for the cold-blooded, premeditated murder of the MOVE people, and the destruction by fire of a black working-class neighborhood. Quite the opposite. The whole thrust of the hearings was that it was quite necessary and correct to stamp out the MOVE people. At the same time, it was unfortunate that the assault suffered from “miscommunications” and “mistakes”. In fact, the capitalist authorities are using these hearings to sum up how the SWAT and police assault teams can do their jobs more neatly, with better equipment, better communications, and better planning in future assaults on groups the government may want to eliminate.
The commission hearings saw a parade of, some 88 witnesses including the four key figures in the assault: Mayor Goode, then city Managing Director Leo Brooks, Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor, and Fire Commissioner William Richmond. These are the officials who bear the greatest responsibility for planning and ordering the murderous actions of the police and fire departments on May 13. To escape blame, they lied, contradicted each other, and pointed the finger. The lower officials, in turn, contradicted the chiefs, repeatedly giving conflicting testimony.
Goode, who last May thought it best for his image to accept full responsibility, changed his tune a bit during the hearings. Now he portrayed himself as uninformed, duped by his lieutenants, a bit foolish perhaps, but well-meaning, and oh-so sorry that things turned out as they did. Today, of the big four, only Goode’s job is still secure. Brooks resigned shortly after May 13. Sambor resigned shortly after the hearings. And there are reports that Richmond is considering leaving his post. This is a typical cover-up in capitalist politics while all are guilty, the subordinates withdraw in order to save the top dog.
In all fairness, Mayor Goode and his henchmen were not alone in unleashing the massacre of May 13. The hearings confirmed that they had the eager assistance of higher levels of the capitalist government, right up to the federal agencies.
Intelligence on MOVE was shared with agents from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau. It was also the ATF that approved and helped the Philadelphia Police Department acquire automatic weapons and other military equipment for the assault on the MOVE home.
Back in 1984, Goode went to the FBI and the Secret Service to solicit their help. In January 1985, the FBI gave the Philadelphia Police Department 37.5 pounds of the powerful military explosive C-4 to carry out the bombing of the MOVE home. Then on May 9 and 11, FBI agents, including an explosives expert and two SWAT technicians, participated in final tactical planning sessions for the assault. The helicopter and pilot that were used to drop the infamous bomb were provided courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Police.
The testimony at the hearings — despite all the contradictions, lies and cover-up — painted a picture of the city officials and police working out a careful plan for the murder of the MOVE people. And when they put the plan into effect it was clear that they wanted no survivors, neither men, women nor children. Here are a few of the pieces of this murder plan that came out in the hearings.
In their testimony, Goode, Sambor and Brooks all repeatedly, said that uppermost in their minds was the safety of the MOVE children. (What kind-hearted gentlemen these child bombers are!) They said that there was even an order to seize the children prior to May 13. Yet on May 11, two days before the confrontation, a cop opened a police barrier on Osage Avenue to allow a carload of MOVE children to return to the house.
The truth is, Goode, Sambor and Brooks were out to see that the MOVE people fry, no matter their age. In the days before the assault, the people living in the MOVE house frequently went out and the police could have picked them up on the street. But that would have spoiled the plans to bomb MOVE, plans which the city and police had devoted so much time and energy to.
Ex-Police Chief Sambor testified that the bombing was “the safest and most conservative plan” (safer than what? nuclear-tipped artillery?) for ending the siege, supposedly because it would poke a hole in the roof, allowing the police to drop in tear gas bombs. Needing a hole for inserting tear gas is the official claim for why the bomb was used. But this official claim is a flimsy cover-up. In fact, the building was already full of holes and full of tear gas. For hours the police had been pumping gas into the house through holes in the walls created by nine earlier explosions. If anything, the problem the police had was that the gas was dissipating through big gashes in the house, with the lower front portion of the house ripped wide open.
The police didn’t want a hole, but a fire. That’s why they dropped a bomb on the roof after a helicopter pilot reported that large-gas cans (fuel for MOVE’s generators) were “obvious” on the roof.
That’s also why they dropped an exceptionally powerful and hot bomb. The Tovex TR-2 and C-4 explosives dropped on the house threw off an intense heat of some 7,200 degrees.
And that’s why, once the fire had started, the police and fire chiefs did nothing to put it out. A fire expert testified at the hearings that the blaze could have been extinguished even up to 45 minutes after it began. But the top City brass stood by as the fire descended deep into the house – raging at 2,000 degrees, which is the temperature customarily used for cremating bodies – before they allowed the water hoses to be turned on. But by this time the inferno was out of control.
During the hearings, City Director Brooks explained that he gave the go-ahead to drop the bomb out of concern that MOVE people might try to escape under cover of darkness if the siege lasted a second day. “Concern about the children” sounds good at the hearings afterwards. But at the time the mayor’s office and the police had only one concern: they were hell bent that none of the MOVE people escape the punishment that had been prepared for them.
A good deal of the testimony in the hearings showed how the police did everything they could to make sure no one escaped from the MOVE home after it had been turned into an inferno by the police bomb.
The testimony showed that people trying to come out of the home were fired on by the police. Birdie Africa, 13 years old, succeeded in fleeing the burning house and, along with Ramona Africa, was one of only two survivors. In videotaped testimony played at the hearings, Birdie stated that the adults shouted repeatedly that the children were going to come out through the garage. Conrad Africa attempted to take out one child as others followed, but the police opened fire, driving them back into the garage.
Even after the bomb had set the house ablaze, television footage recorded the sound of the police continuing to pound away at the building with automatic weapons. At first, all the adults and children sought refuge from the fire in the basement. As the fire spread and grew more intense, they began to shout that they wanted to come out.
Birdie, Ramona Africa, and two other children ran out as flaming debris was falling on them in the alley. Birdie recalled seeing the other two children west in the alley, but did not know what happened to them. It appears that the others who attempted to escape the fire with Ramona and Birdie were cut down by the police. Among other things, a detective who kept a log of events recorded a cop telling a crane operator taking part in the cleanup after the siege to “dig over here, you’ll find a body of a male I dropped when the female and the child came out.”.
In the days after the assault, the police took a lot of care to destroy evidence of what actually took place; including allowing the badly burned corpses of their victims to further decompose. Nevertheless, a forensic expert, Dr. Ali Z. Hameli, was able to find shotgun pellets in the remains of three of the bodies. The fragments matched the buckshot. used in the shotguns of the Philadelphia Police Department. This is consistent with other evidence that the police may have shot down some of the MOVE people attempting to escape, and then threw their bodies back into the burning house to cover up their murderous plan to take no prisoners.
In the future rounds of hearings and inquiries, the mayor, the police and the others, will continue to spin their web of lies to cover themselves. But their crimes in the assault against MOVE are too monstrous to hide. Through the cracks in their own self-serving testimonies comes ‘a picture of a carefully planned and gruesome murder of 11 men, women and children by the Philadelphia police, acting under the directives of Mayor Goode and his lieutenants, and aided by the FBI and other federal agencies. No amount of cover-up can wipe the blood from the capitalist authorities who are responsible for the west Philadelphia massacre of last May 13, 1985.
(An article on the outrageous trial of Ramona Africa is in the February 1, 1986, issue of The Workers’ Advocate.)
February 1, 1986,
Reprinted from The Worker’s Advocate (original link),
Vol. 16, No. 2.
The sole adult survivor of the police bombing of the MOVE home in west Philadelphia is on trial, facing 62 years of prison. Ramona Africa is in the middle of her trial for three counts of aggravated assault, three counts of recklessly endangering another person, and resisting arrest, riot and conspiracy. The police who took part in last year’s May 13 assault on MOVE are pressing charges in the case.
Showing the importance the state has attached to putting her away, Ramona Africa is being held in the women’s section of the House of Corrections, unable to meet the $2.5 million bail.
On top of this, the city of Philadelphia filed suit in federal court last November to make Ramona Africa and Louise James, the owner of the MOVE house, financially liable for the police bombing and fire, which destroyed some 61 homes and caused $10 million in damages.
The state’s case against Ramona Africa is built on the smokescreen of police lies and hysterical propaganda that was used to justify the May 13, 1985, police assault. A cornerstone of the prosecution’s case is that on April 29, 1985, Ramona Africa and others allegedly made threats against the mayor and the police over their loudspeaker. At that time warrants were drawn up for Ramona Africa and three other MOVE members, charging them with harassment, conspiracy, disorderly conduct, etc. It was in the name of serving those warrants that the police massacred 11 men, women, and children in the MOVE home, and burnt down the surrounding neighborhood.
But last November, Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Stiles, the same judge who is presiding over the present trial, had to dismiss all the original charges against Ramona Africa for lack of evidence. The judge’s admission of lack of evidence for the April 29, 1985, charges blows a big hole in the original hysteria about “threats” and “terrorism” used to justify the May 13 police assault and bombing.
It also shows the nakedness of the state’s case against Ramona Africa. In fact, they haven’t even been able to come up with a witness to identify that Ramona Africa had anything to do with the loudspeaker broadcasts, or any of the other charges against MOVE. What it has come down to is that she lived in the MOVE home and is therefore guilty by definition.
Judge Stiles and the prosecutors are working closely together to make sure the frame-up sticks. A key to this is their attempts to bar any mention of the events of May 13, 1985, from the trial. The prosecutor claims that the police assault and bombing are “irrelevant” to the case. And Judge Stiles carefully weeded out prospective jurors who may have bad opinions of the Philadelphia police in general and of their May 13, 1985, bombing of MOVE in particular.
What the government is afraid of is that the trial will backfire. They fear that it will become another forum to expose that it isn’t MOVE, but Mayor Goode, the police and other capitalist authorities, who should be up on trial on a thousand and one counts of conspiracy, assault, recklessly endangering hundreds of persons, malicious destruction of an entire neighborhood, and premeditated murder of six men and women and five children in the MOVE home.
Ramona Africa, acting as her own attorney, is pursuing a defense along these lines. “All the charges also need to be lodged against the people who tried to kill me and my family,” she declared as the trial started. “You know a bomb was dropped on me and my family. Police officers have acknowledged that they have fired 10,000 rounds of ammunition on me and my family. If that’s not assault, if that’s not recklessly endangering, if that’s not in fact murder, even according to the description you have of aggravated assault and conspiracy, I don’t know what is.”
“All the charges also need to be lodged against the people who tried to kill me and my family. You know a bomb was dropped on me and my family. Police officers have acknowledged that they have fired 10,000 rounds of ammunition on me and my family. If that’s not assault, if that’s not recklessly endangering, if that’s not in fact murder, even according to the description you have of aggravated assault and conspiracy, I don’t know what is.”— Ramona Africa, acting as her own attorney on trial for surviving the May 13, 1985, Federal-State-City bombing of her home
The lack of evidence revealed in the trial, and the lack of anything but the most absurd charges, pose the question: Why is the government so driven to lock up Ramona Africa? After all, one might think, the police have already executed 11 MOVE people for “crimes” that amount to cursing over a loudspeaker and a mess of housing code violations. Why, then, are they so hungry for more punishment?
As every victim of police brutality knows — whether the victims are black youth, picketing workers, or progressive demonstrators — the courts and the capitalist press inevitably find the police in the right and their victims to be the real felons. To justify the worst police crimes, it is common practice to charge the victims for the crimes of the police (conspiracy, assault, or whatever). This is typical of capitalist oppression and injustice. This is what’s happening on a massive scale in South Africa today; each police massacre of blacks is accompanied with more mock trials of activists for treason and conspiracy. And this is what is happening in a Philadelphia courtroom with the trial of Ramona Africa.
Crucifying Ramona Africa has become the obsession of the police and capitalist authorities to justify the police assault and bombing of May 13. Putting Ramona Africa behind bars for life is aimed at giving the police massacre a legal polish. They want to paint it up as simply a job that needed to be done to deal with exceedingly dangerous criminal terrorists. No matter that the police and prosecutors haven’t been able to come up with a shred of evidence that Ramona Africa was in any way dangerous or criminal, much less a terrorist.
The truth is that MOVE is a small religious cult that advocates change by adopting a “back to nature” lifestyle. While they can be accused of having foolish ideas about how to change the world, they have posed a threat to no one. At the same time, MOVE has been defiant in the face of the harassment by the city government and police. As the level of police threats and violence has escalated, over the years MOVE has taken a stand of self-defense.
This stand of defiance has enraged the police and capitalist officials. They won’t accept anything short of complete obedience. So they set themselves the task of wiping out MOVE, and in the process teaching a lesson to the black people and working class militants who may dare defy the capitalists’ dictate.
But in the process they have helped to open the eyes of millions to the brutality of capitalist rule. With their May 13 bombing, they have shown that the capitalists trample on the people just as ruthlessly under a black Democrat like Mayor Goode as under a racist Democrat boss like ex-Mayor Rizzo. And now the trial of Ramona Africa is only further exposing the cynicism of capitalist justice.
The anti-racist fighters and revolutionary workers will not forget the MOVE massacre. We will keep its lessons alive among the people, showing the burning necessity to organize mass struggle against the reactionary and racist offensive of the bourgeoisie, to build up the revolutionary movement on the road of the proletarian revolution that can put an end to the growing terrorism of the police against the working people.
November 5, 1985,
By Lee Linder,
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The children who died in the fiery confrontation between police and the radical group MOVE were victims of homicide, not an accident, and city officials were partly responsible for the deaths, a pathologist testified on Tuesday, November 5, 1985.
Dr. Ali Hameli, Delaware’s chief medical examiner, also blamed the MOVE adults in the deaths, and said that five children, not four as previously determined, died in the May 13, 1985, confrontation.
Hameli said he attributed the deaths of the six adults to suicide or homicide, rather than natural causes, and that one of the adults killed was a co-founder of the radical back-to-nature cult.
In other testimony before the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission, a fire expert said authorities easily could have extinguished the raging blaze even two hours after police dropped a bomb on the MOVE fortress, saving 61 homes and possibly the lives of the 11 victims.
Instead, authorities waited four hours, he said.
Hameli disputed a ruling of accidental death made in all 11 cases last July by the Philadelphia medical examiner’s office.
The children died because of ″the consequence of the measured and deliberate acts of, and the interractions between, the adults responsible for the MOVE house and the officials of the city of Philadelphia,″ he said.
Under questioning, he said he was referring to the effort by police to break into the headquarters by force and the MOVE adults’ refusal to free the children before the confrontation began.
He said he determined none of the victims died from accidental or natural causes, leaving only two classifications remaining for the adults – suicide or homicide.
″The manner of death could best be left unclassified until all inquiries are finalized,″ he said.
A pathologist’s determination of homicide does not necessarily indicate criminal intent but only means a victim died at another person’s hands.
The special commission, which Mayor W. Wilson Goode appointed to investigate the tragedy, has no power to indict. District Attorney Edward Rendell said he has virtually ruled out filing homicide charges against officials or police officers but was investigating whether evidence supports charges of recklessness.
Federal prosecutors has said its investigation focuses on whether the victims’ civil rights were violated.
The confrontation began when four radicals refused to surrender on arrest warrants the morning of May 13 after months of neighborhood complaints about filth, threats and assaults.
After a daylong attack that included tear gas, water cannons and gunfire, police bombed the MOVE fortress to destroy a rooftop bunker, setting off a fire that caused up to $20 million in damage and displaced more than 250 residents.
Hameli, who was hired by the commission along with two associates, said his team determined that MOVE co-founder John Africa, also known as Vincent Leaphart, was one of six victims the Philadelphia medical examiner’s office was unable to identify.
Several relatives have contended that Africa, who required all MOVE members to take the same surname, was in the house during the confrontation. But skepticism surrounded the reports because police said they had lost track of Africa several years ago.
Hameli, who helped identify the remains of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele earlier this year, also said examination of pelvic and thigh bones showed that a victim identified previously as an adult was a girl 13 to 15 years old named Katricia “Tree” Dotson.
The only child known to have survived the blaze, Michael “Birdie” Ward, has testified he saw Katricia fleeing the burning house through a back alley as he headed in the opposite direction.
Hameli said his team found metal that could have been a bullet jacket in Africa’s chest. He also said he found shotgun pellets in Africa, a woman and three children.
Hameli said his team found metal that could have been a bullet jacket in [Katricia] Africa’s chest. He also said he found shotgun pellets in [Katricia] Africa, a woman and three children.
Hameli said his team found metal that could have been a bullet jacket in [Katricia] Africa’s chest. He also said he found shotgun pellets in [Katricia] Africa, a woman and three children.– Dr. Ali Hameli, MOVE Commission Expert Pathologist
Earlier Tuesday, Charles King, who once served as a fire marshal with the New York City Fire Department, said authorities invited disaster by failing to control the fire, which they started by bombing the MOVE roof.
The bombing was designed to destroy a bunker and knock a hole in the roof as a conduit for more tear gas after water cannons, tear gas and gunshots failed to drive out the radicals during a daylong seige. The confrontation began with four MOVE members refusing to surrender on arrest warrants.
King said police and fire officials decided to let the fire burn to gain a tactical advantage over the MOVE members.
″The decision invited a major fire,″ King said. ″Anytime you drop an explosive devise, you have the potential for fire.″
King, who was hired by the commission, said three gasoline cans on the roof added to the danger.
Authorities could have allowed the fire to burn for up to 2 hours and still brought it under control relatively quickly, he said, if firefighters had not faced the threat of MOVE gunfire.
″Osage Avenue (where the house was situated) was a no man’s land. You go in and fight a conventional operation and you can put that fire out. If it wasn’t for the gunfire, firemen might have been able to get it out,″ he said.
King said firefighters were unable to get into the street to fight the blaze until 9:30 p.m., four hours after the bomb was dropped.