Sunday, May 23, 2010

On the 25th Anniversary of MOVE Bombing: No Justice--No Peace!

On 25th anniversary of MOVE bombing: ‘No justice – no peace’

By Betsey Piette and Audrey Hoak
Published May 21, 2010 7:51 PM

When a supposed attempt to set off a car bomb in New York City fizzled in early May, with no one injured, a massive government investigation was launched to bring the alleged “terrorists” to justice.

Yet 25 years ago, when the authorities dropped a bomb on the roof of the MOVE house in West Philadelphia, causing a fire that killed 11 men, women and children and destroyed 61 homes, this act of terror against an African-American community resulted only in a government cover-up. Not one of the city, state or federal government officials responsible was ever brought to justice.

The MOVE Commission, which investigated the events of May 13, 1985, described the actions of government officials, including Philadelphia’s mayor and police and fire commissioners, as “reckless,” “ill-conceived” and “unconscionable.” A powerful, military-style bomb containing C4 was dropped from a police helicopter on the row house on Osage Avenue where MOVE members lived. Officials allowed the resulting fire to burn down an entire city block and then had police shoot at MOVE members, including children, who were attempting to flee the fire. Yet not one of these officials has ever faced criminal charges.

On May 12, a day before the 25th anniversary of this blatant act of murder by government officials, members of the MOVE organization filed a civil lawsuit against those in charge and responsible for the 11 murders. The court filing was followed by a press conference at the Friends Center.

Eight MOVE children stood at the front of the room, each holding a sign naming a family member who had been killed. One read, “My sister Delisha was murdered by cops on May 13, 1985.”

Ramona Africa, the sole adult survivor of the 1985 fire, addressed the media on their obligation to tell the truth. Africa stated she is filing the criminal complaints not to seek justice - she isn’t that naïve — but rather to continue to expose the system.

Following the press conference everyone participated in a Honk against Police Terror outside City Hall and later marched to the African-American Museum for an evening screening of two films on MOVE. Speakers at the indoor event included Fred Hampton Jr. and journalist Linn Washington.

In an interview with Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! on May 13, Ramona Africa explained why MOVE believes that the system intended to kill its members and exterminate the organization.

“I want people to understand that bombing did not happen because of some complaints from neighbors,” Africa told Democracy Now!. “This government had never cared about Black folks complaining about their neighbors ... . They bombed us because of our unrelenting fight for our family members, known as the MOVE 9, who have been in prison unjustly going on 32 years now as a result of the August 8, 1978, police attack on MOVE.”

Africa described how, in 1985, the MOVE house was first deluged by fire hoses and then “tons of tear gas, and then being shot at ... the police admit to shooting over 10,000 rounds of bullets at us in the first 90 minutes. ... It was quiet for a little bit and then, without any warning at all, two members of the Philadelphia Police Department’s bomb squad got in a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter, flew over our home and dropped a satchel containing C4, a powerful military explosive that no municipal police department has. They had to get it from the federal government.”

Then-Mayor W. Wilson Goode claimed he had not been informed about police plans to drop the bomb. However, Goode had picked Leo A. Brooks, a retired Army general, to supervise the efforts to force MOVE members from their Osage Avenue row house.

Africa related what it was like to be in the house following the bombing. “We heard the loud explosion. The house kind of shook ... not long after that it got very, very hot in the house, and the smoke was getting thicker ... we could hear the trees outside of our house crackling and realized that our home was on fire. We immediately tried to get our children, our animals and ourselves out of that blazing inferno.

“The adults were hollering out that we’re coming out, we’re bringing the children out,” Africa reported. “And we know that the police heard us. But the very instant we were visible to them ... they immediately opened fire. We were met with a barrage of police gunfire ... and it forced us back into that blazing inferno.”

Ramona Africa escaped the fire with major burns by crawling out a basement window with a 13-year-old boy, Birdie Africa. She went on to serve a seven-year prison term on riot charges — the only person to face any jail time in connection with the attack.

Africa told Gonzalez that firefighters stood there and allowed the fire to burn. Fire Commissioner William Richmond “tried to explain away their actions by saying he wasn’t going to have his firefighters in danger or come under fire from MOVE,” Africa said. But earlier, when there was no fire, “they had four deluge hoses, each of which pumped out 10,000 pounds of water pressure ... aimed at our home for hours in the morning of May 13. Why wasn’t it a danger then?”

The MOVE Commission in a report issued in 1986 concluded that police gunfire stopped adults and children from escaping. They cited statements from Ramona and Birdie Africa as well as police and firefighters who said they heard automatic or semiautomatic gunfire that evening. Investigations at the scene after the fire found no evidence that MOVE had those types of weapons. However, two months after the MOVE Commission issued its findings, a state grand jury reached the opposite conclusion and no charges were ever filed against the police.

The MOVE organization and their supporters continue to fight the unjust incarceration of the MOVE 9, one of whom died in prison. It’s an uphill battle.

Africa told the gathering at the African-American Museum, “There is no justice in the legal system. Not just for MOVE, but for anybody.”
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