[Ppnews] The Forgotten MOVE Victims - a tale of 2 bullets and one blaze

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 20 16:18:47 EDT 2010



BY: Robert Zaller

Twenty-five years after the Osage Avenue bombing 
and more than 30 years after the Powelton 
shootout, Philadelphia’s bizarre MOVE math 
remains clear: One police officer killed, nine 
life sentences; 11 men, women, and children killed, no indictment ever issued.

A tale of two bullets, and one blaze:
Justice in Dallas, justice for MOVE


Once upon a time there were two magic bullets. 
One of them, it is said, killed a president. 
Fired from an antiquated Italian carbine of World 
War II vintage, it supposedly penetrated the neck 
of John F. Kennedy to the right of the spine, 
exiting below the Adam’s apple and proceeding, 
like a heat-seeking missile, to enter beneath and 
behind the right armpit of his traveling 
companion, Texas Governor John Connally, 
shattering four inches of rib before exiting 
below the latter’s right nipple, passing through 
his right wrist and lodging two inches deep in 
his left thigh, whence it would be recovered, 
according to legend, in virtually pristine condition.

The legend’s author, Arlen Specter, is still, 46 
years later, holding and seeking public office. A wondrous world we live in.

The second bullet possessed no less magical 
properties. It was the one that killed police 
officer James Ramp in the shootout at the MOVE 
compound in West Philadelphia on August 8, 1978. 
Apparently it was fired from nine guns at once, 
because nine individuals were found guilty of 
firing by Common Pleas Judge Edwin Malmed, who 
sentenced all nine of them to prison terms of 30 to 100 years each.

Actually, the bullet was originally attributed to 
no fewer than 12 guns, but the murder charges 
were dropped against two MOVE members after they 
agreed to disavow their affiliation with MOVE, 
and a third at first charged couldn’t be 
conclusively identified as a MOVE member.

Judge Malmed’s rationale

Of course, the fatal bullet could have come from 
hundreds of guns, since that many armed police 
had converged on the compound and no single 
source or trajectory for the bullet was ever established.

When asked on a radio interview about condemning 
and sentencing nine people for a crime that 
couldn’t be forensically imputed to any one of 
them, and of which eight at least were by the 
laws of physics necessarily innocent, Judge 
Malmed replied, “They called themselves a family. 
I sentenced them as a family.”

The Nazis used to go in for that kind of thing. 
Kill one of theirs, they’d take revenge on ten of yours, or a hundred.

Actually, the Nazis were fairer. The odds seem 
better than even that Officer Ramp was killed by 
friendly fire, given the number of guns in play.

No matter. If you belonged to MOVE that day, you 
were guilty of murder. But just as magically, if 
you renounced MOVE, your guilt was removed.

The MOVE Nine were sentenced for one crime, and 
one alone:  For calling themselves a family.

Thirty-one years have gone by since the MOVE Nine 
were sentenced. Eight have served their minimum 
sentence; one, Merle Austin Africa, died in 
prison in 2000. The eight survivors remain imprisoned.

Thirty-one years down. Only 69 to go.

Still in court

This week marked the 25th anniversary of the 
infamous bombing of the MOVE house on Osage 
Avenue that left 11 dead, five of them children, 
and burned two city blocks. MOVE survivors and 
their attorney, Leon Williams, appeared in court 
to file civil criminal complaints against former 
mayor Wilson Goode and ten other officials. It 
isn’t the first time they’ve done it, and it very likely won’t be the last.

The current district attorney, Seth Williams, 
thinks that justice can still get two bites at 
the apple in the case of William Barnes, who 
after spending nearly a lifetime in prison is 
being retried because a cop he shot in 1966 died 
in 2007. But Williams has shown no interest to 
date in what happened on Osage Avenue in 1985, 
for which only MOVE survivors were prosecuted.

When civilians shoot cops in Philadelphia, time 
is never served.  When state agents kill citizens, no harm and no foul.

Ramona Africa, one of the two Osage Avenue 
survivors, addressed the issue of trauma at the 
May 12 MOVE press conference at the Friends’ 
Center on Cherry Street. “People ask me if I have 
nightmares,” she said.  “I don’t have nightmares. 
. . . Have any of you looked at Wilson Goode lately?”

Goode gets religion

Mayor Goode, also reflecting on the bombing’s 
anniversary, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “I 
view it as an aberration in my life. I don’t view 
it as part of a continuum in my life
 You don’t 
let enemies or anyone define you by it.”

Mayor Goode is said to have gotten religion after 
leaving office, something probably every 
departing Philadelphia mayor should consider. He 
earned a degree in divinity and for a while 
pastored souls.  Apparently, no one ever tended 
to his. The first thing a Christian is called upon to do is repent.

MOVE cannot be separated from the race war of the 
1960s, when entire cities burned, nor from the 
repressive regime of Mayor Frank Rizzo in the 
1970s. If MOVE offered provocation, it never 
resorted to violence except in self-defense.

The math is still clear: one police officer 
killed, nine life sentences; 11 men, women, and 
children killed, no indictment ever issued.

Ramona Africa up close

I’ve come to know Ramona Africa fairly well. She 
is an impressive, self-possessed and remarkably 
eloquent woman.  She speaks with quiet force, and 
without rancor. Over the years she has become a 
kind of civic icon, an image of a city in quest 
of justice, of its own lost soul.

Ramona says she isn’t interested in revenge. 
There was sorrow in her voice when she spoke of 
Wilson Goode, sorrow not merely about him but for 
him, the man who by his own admission has never 
spoken of Osage Avenue with his wife and his 
now-grown children (one of whom is himself a City Councilman).

Justice isn’t about retribution. It’s about 
setting to rights. In the case of the MOVE Nine, 
it is about setting free, at long last.

Justice may wait. It sometimes sleeps. In 
Philadelphia, it often seems to be in a coma. But 
it always comes in the end. In the meantime, we all suffer from its absence.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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