Thursday, May 06, 2010

Bloody Scars


Philadelphia Daily News 215-854-2595

IT WAS AN UGLY confrontation.

Long-brewing tensions between the Philadelphia police and MOVE came to a head outside MOVE's Powelton Village compound. The day would end in bloodshed.

But this wasn't 1985, when a MOVE-police battle would level a neighborhood. It was 1978, and the events of that August day - one police officer was killed, three others suffered severe and career-ending injuries, and four firefighters were also shot - laid the foundation for the later tragedy.

This month, a state board is considering parole applications from the eight MOVE members imprisoned for more than 30 years for their role in the 1978 death of Officer James Ramp during the confrontation. A spokesman for the State Board of Probation and Parole said decisions on inmates would be made by July.

Some of those most affected by that day - including the three police officers who were seriously injured that day - are adamant in their opposition to the release of the MOVE members.

"Every year, it's the same stuff. It's a merry-go-round," said Tommy Hesson, 72, a retired officer who has an ugly scar stretching from his collar bone to his waist from a chest wound he suffered in the gunfight. "They should do 100 years. They show no remorse. They're cop-killers."

This is the third time members of the "MOVE 8" - called the "MOVE 9" before one member died in prison - have been eligible for release. Each time, the parole board has denied the request for various reasons, including lack of remorse or refusal to accept responsibility.

MOVE spokeswoman Ramona Africa said the MOVE members aren't accepting responsibility because they're not guilty. Besides, she said, there's no requirement that an incarcerated person admit guilt before being freed.

"How arrogant is it of the parole board to demand someone say they're guilty in order to be paroled?" she asked. "They have my family in prison doing 30 to 100 years, nine people for the death of one person, with one bullet, from one gun?"

Meanwhile, she said, no one was incarcerated for the events in 1985 that resulted in the deaths of 11 MOVE members, including five children.

"The whole world witnessed who murdered my family," Africa said.

Still living with the pain

"It completely ruined my life," said Bill Krauss, 74, who was shot in the arm and the side, losing the use of his right arm and suffering serious internal damage.

And "Jimmy Ramp . . . didn't get a chance at all."

Ramp was the stakeout officer who was killed that day. For years, his fellow officers say, his death was downplayed.

"The city pretended it never happened. They didn't want to acknowledge it," Krauss said. "It was too politically incorrect. They certainly didn't do anything for us."

Ramp, a father of four, was 52 years old on the afternoon he died and looking forward to soon retiring. He'd survived a stint in the Marine Corps, fighting in the Korean War.

Twenty years after Ramp's death, a memorial plaque commemorating his sacrifice was laid in front of the Fraternal Order of Police headquarters on Spring Garden Street near Broad.

The plaque-laying was a reunion of sorts for those who almost died in 1978. Hesson said then-Commissioner Sylvester Johnson wondered aloud why it had taken so long for Ramp to be memorialized.

"It put some closure to it," said Hesson, whose police pension is frozen at the 1978 level of $15,000 a year.

In most cases, memorial plaques are laid at the spot where the officer was killed. In this case, some FOP officials worried that MOVE members would deface the plaque if it was put at the scene of their compound, 33rd and Pearl streets.

Told of this, Africa said MOVE would not have defaced the memorial wherever the city placed it.

She said that MOVE doesn't seek to discredit Ramp, even though "he strapped on a gun and came out to our house. We're supposed to feel sorry for him. We didn't go out to his house to kill. He came to our house to kill."

On the contrary, she said, MOVE "wants justice for James Ramp as much as they do."

Africa ticked off reasons that the MOVE 8 were unfairly imprisoned: The fatal bullet came from above and MOVE members were in the basement, she said; police quickly bulldozed the crime scene, destroying evidence; some witnesses said they heard the first shots coming from police.

"You don't have to like MOVE or be a MOVE supporter to be a fair person," she said. "You just have to look and say, 'Something is wrong here.' "

Wounded and forgotten

"What happened to us is probably ancient news, and if nothing's said, it will be forgotten," said Charlie Stewart, 73, the third officer who was seriously injured. Stewart was shot twice, but had five entry/exit wounds as the bullets entered and emerged through parts of his body. He still suffers vision loss and headaches.

The 1985 siege wouldn't have gone down the same way if it weren't for '78, Africa said.

"People don't really understand that the root of the bombing, the government attack on us, is a result of our unrelenting fight for our family, the MOVE 9," she said.

Media accounts describe the events of Aug. 8, 1978, this way:

MOVE professed to be a back- to-nature movement but had also amassed a significant arsenal.

After more than a year of negotiations and after a police blockade failed, MOVE members refused to leave their compound. Acting on complaints from neighbors and armed with an eviction order, Mayor Frank Rizzo ordered police to remove MOVE members from their home.

Stewart was aiming a water cannon through one of the house's windows when he was struck by a bullet. In film of the incident, the cannon can be seen snaking in the air while bullets pierce the water, he said.

Stewart then saw Ramp, who'd been to his left, on the ground, fatally wounded. Bullets kept flying. Hesson was shot while trying to go to Ramp's aid. Krauss, too, was felled.

Four firefighters were also shot, but suffered less serious injuries.

About an hour after the shooting stopped, MOVE members in the house surrendered. Police were videotaped by news cameras kicking and beating MOVE member Delbert Orr Africa as they dragged him from the house by his dreadlocks.

And then it was over, at least for the general public. There was a widely publicized trial for the MOVE 9 and public "welcome homes" for the injured officers, but MOVE 1978 gradually faded from memory, disappearing almost completely after MOVE 1985.

But for the people who lived through it, and saw friends and family suffer, it's still not over.

"I try not to think about it," Krauss said. "It's nothing I want to remember."

The 1978 confrontation between MOVE and police was later overshadowed by the 1985 confrontation. Among the reasons: The loss of life in 1985 was greater; the property damage was massive; the confrontation was seen on live television.

More than 30 years later, the injured officers are still affected by the injuries they suffered that summer day.


At 10:19 PM , Anonymous Dinah Bee Menil said...

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