---Linn Washington, Jr.
Linn Washington, Jr. on Mumia Abu-Jamal, MOVE, and the Philly Media
---Dissecting May 13, 1985, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s May 17 oral arguments, the FOP, racism, police brutality, and mainstream media bias
Interview by Hans Bennett
“Attention, MOVE: This Is America!” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sambor declared through a loudspeaker 22 years ago, minutes before the May 13, 1985 police assault on the revolutionary MOVE organization’s home. This assault killed 5 children and 6 adults, including MOVE founder John Africa. After police shot over 10,000 rounds of bullets into their West Philadelphia home, a State Police helicopter dropped a C-4 bomb, illegally supplied by the FBI, on MOVE’s roof. The bomb started a fire that eventually destroyed 60 homes: the entire block of a middle-class black neighborhood. Carrying the young Birdie Africa, the only other survivor, Ramona Africa dodged gunfire and escaped from the fire with permanent burn scars.
The 1985 police bombing was the culmination of many years of political repression by Philadelphia authorities. At the time of the 1985 confrontation, MOVE was working to publicize the imprisonment of the “MOVE 9”: Janine, Debbie, Janet, Merle, Delbert, Mike, Phil, Eddie, and Chuck Africa. These nine MOVE members were jointly sentenced in the 1978 killing of Officer James Ramp after a year-long police stakeout of MOVE’s Powelton Village home. Their parole hearings come up in August, 2008.
In this interview, veteran black journalist Linn Washington, Jr. talks about reporting on the city of Philadelphia’s confrontations with MOVE, mostly focusing on the August 8, 1978 standoff, and the subsequent evidence used to convict the MOVE 9 prisoners. Washington passionately critiques the mainstream Philadelphia media’s bias against MOVE: “when you look at the media coverage of MOVE, everything that was perceived as MOVE doing something wrong, was publicized. In contrast, the attacks on MOVE, the injustices, and the deprivations that they endured never found any coverage in the mainstream media.”
On May 17, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case of Linn Washington’s former colleague, black death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. Widely considered to be a political prisoner, Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in a 1982 trial that Amnesty International has declared a "violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures and the use of the death penalty."
Abu-Jamal is a longtime supporter of the MOVE organization, dating back to his days as a Philadelphia journalist in the 1970s. Since his imprisonment, MOVE has spearheaded the international support network for Abu-Jamal that is now organizing for a new trial.
Concerning the injustice in Abu-Jamal’s case, Washington is just as passionate in calling for a new trial, and in this interview, he documents the bias of the Philadelphia media: “It’s not for the press to take a position one way or the other, but it is the responsibility of the press to scrutinize all sides with the same rigor. One side (the Danny Faulkner side) can say anything they want, even if it makes no sense at all, yet it gets credibility and traction in the media. On the other side, Abu-Jamal’s side can say anything they want, and irrespective of the substance and factual accuracy, and they get no coverage at all.”
Washington concludes: “Where’s the journalistic fairness, balance, and accuracy? These are the three things that are supposed to be fundamental to journalism. Are they happening in this case? No, they are not.”
Linn Washington, Jr. is currently a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune newspaper and a freelance journalist for publications nationwide. He writes extensively on matters involving the criminal justice system and racism. An Associate Professor in the Journalism Department at Temple University in Philadelphia, he holds a Master Degree from the Yale Law School and a B.S. in Communications from Temple University.
This interview was conducted on May 8, 2007. While the full text transcript of the interview is available below, here is the audio, available in three featured short selections and in a five-part version of the complete one hour interview.
THREE SHORT SELECTIONS:
Mumia, Racism, and the FOP: