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May 13, 1985 and the Legalization of Murder (featuring a new video interview with Ramona Africa)

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(VIDEO: Part two of our May, 2010 interview with Ramona Africa. In this segment, Ramona gives her personal account of May 13, 1985. Watch part one here.)

May 13, 1985 and the Legalization of Murder

By Angola 3 News

On May 13, 1985, a State Police helicopter dropped a C-4 bomb, illegally supplied by the FBI, on the roof of the MOVE Organization's house at

6221 Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. The bomb started a fire that was allowed to burn, and eventually destroyed 61 homes, leaving 250 people homeless: the entire block of a middle-class black community (watch video).

The Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission (The MOVE Commission), appointed by Mayor Wilson Goode, documented that when the occupants of the house tried to escape the fire, police shot at them, blocking their escape. In the end, six MOVE adults and five children died. Ramona Africa and 13 year-old Birdie Africa were the only survivors, after successfully dodging the police gunfire.

The MOVE Commission concluded that the deaths of the five MOVE children "appeared to be unjustified homicides which should be investigated by a grand jury" (curiously the Commission did not similarly criticize the murder of the MOVE adults). However, two subsequent grand juries refused to press charges against any city or police official for murder or any other wrongdoing. In contrast, Ramona Africa spent seven years in prison.

Recognizing the racial implications of the massacre, The MOVE Commission wrote that the day's many horrifying decisions, including "the use of high explosives, and in a 90 minute period, the firing of at least 10,000 rounds of ammunition at the house; to sanction the dropping of a bomb on an occupied row house; and to let a fire burn in a row house occupied by children, would not likely have been made had the MOVE house and its occupants been situated in a comparable white neighborhood."

As death row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal writes in his essay "When Massacre Is No Crime" MOVE is currently seeking murder charges against police and city officials for the deaths of eleven of their family members on May 13, 1985. The remainder of this article, organized into six sections, is a compilation of testimony and evidence that makes a compelling case for why murder charges are needed: The Legalization of Murder; The Morning Assault; Mayor Goode Refuses to Negotiate; Dropping the C-4 Bomb; "Fire As a Tactical Weapon"; Police Shoot at Fleeing Occupants.

The Legalization of Murder

As detailed in the article that accompanied the first part of our video-interview with Ramona Africa, the Philadelphia police had launched a previous military-style assault on MOVE's home in the PoweltonVillage neighborhood of West Philadelphia on August 8, 1978. During the assault, Officer James Ramp was shot and killed by what many believe was actually police gunfire because MOVE was below ground in the basement and the bullet in Officer Ramp did not enter at an upward trajectory like a bullet from the basement would have. Furthermore, Philadelphia journalist Linn Washington Jr. has reported that several different sources of his within the Philadelphia Police Department told him that Ramp had in fact been shot by police gunfire.

However, nine MOVE members (known today as the "MOVE 9") arrested in the house that day were jointly convicted of third-degree murder and conspiracy for the shooting death of Officer Ramp and sentenced to 30-100 years. In the years following the imprisonment of the MOVE 9, the headquarters for MOVE shifted to

6221 Osage Avenue, in a middle-class black neighborhood, where MOVE continually demanded an official investigation into the 1978 confrontation and the convictions of the MOVE 9.

Many of MOVE's neighbors complained to the city government about MOVE's use of a loudspeaker to air their own grievances with the city, which mostly centered around the MOVE 9 convictions. Along with sanitation complaints, the neighbors also expressed concern about a bunker built above the house, which MOVE said they had built to defend themselves from another military-style police assault on their home similar to Aug. 8, 1978.

Officially in response to these sanitation and noise complaints from neighbors, Philadelphia mayor, Wilson Goode, held a meeting with Managing Director Leo A. Brooks and Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor, District Attorney Ed Rendell (now the Governor of Pennsylvania), and others, where he first authorized Sambor to prepare and execute a tactical plan under the supervision of Brooks, allegedly to solve the neighborhood dispute.

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