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Expensive Injustice: MOVE's 40-Years Behind Bars

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During the lengthy non-jury MOVE 9 trial, police testified that only the five MOVE 9 males had rifles on August 8, 1978. Philadelphia Police Department officials initially denied that any police had the same type of rifle as the MOVE members. Police later changed that account stating a few officers did have the same type of rifle as the MOVE men. But police then claimed those officers did not fire those rifles during the shootout. Evidence indicates police 'friendly fire' felled Officer Ramp.

The four MOVE women convicted for the August 8th shootout did not have guns, authorities readily admitted.

But the judge that convicted the MOVE 9 sentenced those unarmed women as if they were shooters. That trial judge publicly declared he gave all MOVE 9 members the same sentence because they entered his courtroom as "a family" and he sentenced them "as a family." That perverse judicial posture of 'family-based' sentencing contradicted the professed U.S. justice system principle of punishment fitting the crime.

Ironically, the harsh sentences slapped on the MOVE 9 failed in its punitive purpose of breaking the 'spirit' of the 9 and decimating MOVE as an organization.

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Janet, Janine and Eddie said they used their prison time to share the teachings of MOVE, garnering respect from other inmates and prison staff.

"Putting us in prison gave us an opportunity to work with people we would never have encountered," Janet Africa said during the press conference. "We worked to ease racial tensions in prisons, prevent suicides and help people get their lives in order. Staff told us we were honest, hard-working people."

The arrest and conviction of the MOVE 9 unleashed a chain of events that culminated in the horrific May 13, 1985 Philadelphia police assault on a rowhouse occupied by MOVE members. That assault included a bomb dropped on MOVE by a police helicopter America's first aerial bombing by police in an urban area.

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Police used a fire sparked by that bomb as a 'tactical weapon' to force MOVE members barricaded inside that house to flee. But police gunfire drove fleeing MOVE members back into that raging inferno, investigators determined. That assault killed 11 MOVE members and destroyed 61 homes.

Costs related to that destructive 1985 assault drained Philadelphia taxpayers of more than $50-million dollars.

The deadly devastation from May 1985 assault produced no charges against Philadelphia police personnel or civilian authorities. Yet, the only MOVE member who managed to escape that May 13th bombing/burning Ramona Africa landed in prison for seven years.

The 11 MOVE members incinerated during that May 1985 assault included five children, two of whom were children of the then incarcerated Janet and Janine.

"There are a lot of political prisoners left behind bars," Janine Africa said, underscoring MOVE's determination to gain the release of the two remaining MOVE 9 members.

"We will continue to fight for their release," she continue.

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One internationally recognized political prison specifically referenced by Janine Africa is Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Philadelphia journalist whose coverage of the MOVE in the late 1970's contributed to his controversial 1982 conviction for killing a policeman.

Abu-Jamal, who's authored several books and hundreds of commentaries while incarcerated, is going blind due to complications arising from inadequate medical care by Pa prison authorities.

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Linn Washington is a weekly columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune and This Can't Be Happening. Washington writes frequently on inequities in the criminal justice system, ills in society and failings of the news media. He teaches multi-media urban (more...)
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