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.
The Mayor and the Police Are the Ones Who Should Be On Trial
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
Two Wrongs Make For Capitalist Justice
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.
We Will Not Forget
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.