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 to6221 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
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.
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
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
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
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