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

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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.

On May 11, Judge Lynn Abraham approved DA Rendell's requested emergency arrest and search warrants for four MOVE members on charges of disorderly conduct and terroristic threats, based upon statements MOVE made on their loudspeaker two weeks earlier, where, among other things, they stated that they'd defend themselves from a police attack.

Today, Ramona Africa challenges the legitimacy of these May 11 emergency warrants by citing the fact that during Ramona's later trial, all charges listed on her arrest warrant were dismissed by the judge. Ramona says that "this means that they had no valid reason to even be out there, but they did not dismiss the charges placed on me as a result of what happened after they came out."

Charged with conspiracy, riot, and multiple counts of simple and aggravated assault, Ramona Africa served the entirety of her 16-month to 7-year sentence after she was repeatedly denied parole for not renouncing MOVE.

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Concluding Ramona's 1986 trial, presiding judge Michael R. Stiles told the jurors not to consider any wrongdoing by police and city officials, because they would be held accountable in "other" proceedings. However, no official has ever faced criminal charges.

In 1996, Ramona successfully sued the City of Philadelphia and was awarded $500,000 for pain, suffering, and injuries. Relatives of John Africa and his nephew Frank James Africa, who died in the incident, were awarded a total of $1 million. Another $1.7 million was paid to Birdie Africa, now Michael Moses Ward.

The jury also ordered that Ramona receive $1 per week for 11 years directly from Sambor and Richmond, but this was overruled by Judge Louis Pollack on grounds that the two had not shown "willful misconduct," and were therefore immune from financial liability.

The Morning Assault

At 5:35 AM, on May 13, after evacuating the neighbors, Police Commissioner Sambor declared on the bullhorn: "Attention, MOVE! This is America! You have to abide by the laws of the United States," and gave them fifteen minutes to surrender.

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After the fifteen-minute deadline passed, several "squirt gun" fire-hoses were directed at the bunker on MOVE's roof, in an attempt to dislodge it. At 5:53, police tear-gassed the front and rear of the house, creating a smokescreen. Police then sent bomb squads to enter the row houses on either side of the building.

While the bomb squads entered, gunfire erupted, and in the next 90 minutes, police used over 10,000 rounds of ammunition, including 4,500 rounds from M-16s; 1,500 from Uzis; and 2,240 from M-60 machine guns. Simultaneously, the two bomb squads repeatedly detonated explosives in the side walls, and then blew off the front of the house.

Sambor later attempted to justify police gunfire by saying that police had first responded to automatic gunfire from MOVE. However, the only weapons found in MOVE's house were two pistols, a shotgun, and a .22 caliber rifle: no automatic weapons. Sambor was unable to explain this contradiction when challenged by the MOVE Commission.

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Over 40 years ago in Louisiana, 3 young black men were silenced for trying to expose continued segregation, systematic corruption, and horrific abuse in the biggest prison in the US, an 18,000-acre former slave plantation called Angola. In 1972 and (more...)
 

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