Thursday, May 13, 2010

MOVE Philosophy Lives On In Survivor

(I have been a fan of Brian Hickeys writing for years and I was very happy to hear that he wanted to interview me for this piece he was writing on MOVE. Please check out his website at

MOVE Philosophy Lives On In Survivor
(From Philly Metro)

Last Tuesday, I left my house with a BlackBerry, digital camcorder and iPod. The irony? For the 25th anniversary of Ramona and Birdie Africa being the lone survivors at 6221 Osage Ave., I was heading downtown to discuss the tenets of MOVE, specifically their anti-technology platform, with Ramona.

From any perspective, May 13, 1985 remains complex and troublingly incendiary. But, I wasn’t going to let that anti-technology reality get lost amid a deluge of blame-assigning stories re-chronicling how Mayor Wilson Goode dropped a bomb, police officers’ bullets sentenced some of Ramona’s “family” to death by flame and torched homes were so shoddily rebuilt that fissures are still tangible today. While the items in my pockets betrayed the sentiment, I agreed that many people are more consumed by electronic trinkets than concern for their fellow man. That philosophy feels prophetic today.

“We had, have, a strong belief in life, not technology, and that’s in direct conflict with a system that doesn’t care about life at all,” she said. “Their god is money. That’s all they care about. Our work now is to encourage people who were conditioned by the system to come back to valuing life. That’s why they felt threatened enough to try to exterminate MOVE. They always dismissed us as crazies because they have no defense against the principles of John Africa.”

The intense hour-long conversation veered from nameless enemies, terrorism, cancer and asthma being caused by greed-governed polluters and a manipulated media to cop-killing crime scenes being demolished within hours of death (she says to keep the MOVE 9 in prison since ’78) and the need for revolution. Is it crazy to see traces of MOVE in the Tea Party movement? I think not.

All of this isn’t to say that Ramona can spurn technology: “We’ll use any means available, whatever it takes to spread our message.” She just doesn’t respect its unchecked omnipresence; she says it’s emblematic of why she’s leery about a nation’s uncertain future.

“It’s gotten frustrating that people won’t rise up and take a stand. There are people out there (including cops) who want to do good things, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that they’re not allowed to,” says Ramona, who held a press conference today yesterday at Friends Center. “We just won’t let the system force beliefs on us and they’re not going to stop until the people make them stop.”

One former MOVE member still working for change

Former MOVE member Tony Allen now calls himself “a cult-buster” dedicated to keeping the memory of slain MOVE-ite John Gilbride alive and drawing attention to the “dangerous sect” via He talks to Metro about his MOVE life and afterlife.

What was the “good” MOVE life like?
There was a strong familial aspect, hugs, encouragement, kindness,
people concerned about your problems. What MOVE tried to be was a
replacement traditional family.

And “bad” MOVE life?
The whole thing was to break bonds with society and replace it with
bonds to them. The ideal they held up was you’re completely dependent
upon the group. There’s nothing on the outside at all; the only truth
is the truth of (founder) John Africa, anything else is a falsity.
They break you down and build you back up in their image of what a
person should be for the group’s benefit, not the individual’s.
It was a means to an end, though. The leaders of the group now
embrace, in totality, the lifestyle they claim to abhor.

Why did you leave?
I got involved through the Mumia issue. In the mid-90s,
minute-by-minute, day-by-day, I became enmeshed in that life. You
don’t look at it as different … but one day you just wake up said say,
‘I have some wacked out ideas’ so you step back and look at it.
I was moving away from them for some time, but the big issue was when
John Gilbride was killed. (The MOVE member/ ex-husband of Alberta
Africa with whom he was in a nasty custody battle, was slain
execution-style outside his Maple Shade, NJ apartment in 2002. The
case remains unsolved). From the moment I heard that, I knew things
were bad, and the only thing that made sense was that it was MOVE.
That was hard to deal with.

I was subtle (in distancing myself), got in touch with a reporter (and
shared my story publicly in 2004). There were some thinly-veiled
threats, “You never know who’s going to get it next.” But every time,
I put it out publicly. I had their whole email list.

What will you be thinking about on May 13, 2010?
The kids that died. That’s so tragic. They weren’t MOVE members, just
little kids who became victims. What the neighbors went through. How
sick people in MOVE were to think what they were doing was right. It’s
an amazing waste of human potential; there are some smart people, but
they’re just wasting away. What a complete waste.

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MOVE Members Mount A Protest/Letter To Editor

MOVE mounts a protest

MOVE members and their supporters gathered at City Hall yesterday afternoon to mark today's 25-year anniversary of the Osage Avenue disaster.
"We never ever want anyone to forget the vicious murder of our family," said MOVE member Pam Africa.

"These people dropped a bomb and did that to stop us from exposing what's wrong in the system."

Carrying posters bearing the name of MOVE founder John Africa and signs with the face of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, about 40 peaceful demonstrators listened to speakers and handed out fliers to passers-by.

May 13, 1985, was the day Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on the roof of the fortified MOVE house, sparking a fire that killed 11 people and destroyed an entire city block.

Verbena Lea, who belongs to a California-based group called Friends of MOVE, said yesterday that she traveled across to country to mark the anniversary.

"I came from a few thousand miles away to continue putting pressure until there's some justice," said Lea.

At a news conference earlier, MOVE bombing survivor Ramona Africa said her group was pursuing private criminal complaints charging former city officials who presided over the bombing with murder.

The District Attorney's Office denied the request last month, but Africa's lawyers yesterday filed motions in Common Pleas Court asking a judge to force the D.A.'s office to review the request.

- Christine Olley

Letters: MOVE anniversary's forgotten man
Philadelphia Daily News

I FOUND your comprehensive coverage of the MOVE bombing as well as its aftermath thorough and compelling in every respect except for one.
There was no mention of John Gilbride, who was murdered in September 2002.

Gilbride, a former MOVE supporter, was gunned down while he was in the midst of horrific custody dispute with his former wife, the MOVE leader Alberta Africa.

The night he was murdered was the night before he was to have his first unsupervised visit with his young son. It was a visit that MOVE members vowed that he'd never have. At the time, I was myself dedicated to MOVE and helped them wage their war on John and his family. This was something to this day that I deeply regret.

MOVE's conflict with Philadelphia took place in Powelton Village in the 1970s. In the 1980s, that fight was on Osage Avenue. This past decade, MOVE was not at war so much with "the system" as it was with one man who had decided that he was not going to allow his young son to be raised in the midst of a violent cult.

The campaign waged against Gilbride was covered extensively in the media, as was his murder. That what happened to him was completely left out of your coverage of MOVE only compounds the tragedy of his death.

The fact that his murder remains "unsolved" makes the lack of coverage even more frustrating.

Tony Allen,

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fighting MOVE Is Worth It

This past weekend has brought a huge amount of media attention in Philadelphia back to MOVE. This is of course a double edged sword. I have argued in past posts and to any reporter who will listen that to just recount MOVE’s exploits in strictly a historical context is to miss the point. Make no mistake, MOVE is still capable of carrying out evil deeds and they in fact carry them out with little regard for what you and I think. But that does not mean that we ought to just sit back and be quiet.

Today, for example, I read a Facebook comment that essentially made the point that by standing up to MOVE that you are somehow helping to perpetuate the group’s existence by giving them something to fight against. When people argue in this kind of way they are not understanding the nature of MOVE in particular and evil in general.

The fact is that this is a group that does not need you to become their enemy. By nature of the fact that you are not a member or supporter of the group you are by definition their enemy. It doesn’t matter whether or not you speak up or not. In fact, MOVE has done what they have done and gotten away with what they have gotten away with not because people spoke out and did something, but because they did not when they should have.

If the neighbors in Powelton Village had banded together when MOVE started to terrorize their neighborhood than Police Officer James Ramp would not have had to die in order to come and take care of a problem that should have been handled years before.

The same goes for what happened on Osage Avenue. The City knew what was going on down there, but they tied the hands of the police who had to sit back and watch the same cult that murdered James Ramp build a stupid bunker on the top of their house complete with firing ports! And we all know how that played out.

What I have learned from dealing with MOVE and from quite literally shutting them down on many occasions is that they are no different than your run-of-the-mill school yard bully. If you stand up to them with facts, if you control yourself, if you believe in what it is you are doing and you do it with an eye towards compassion you can make a difference and you can make that difference without “helping” them.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been asked the question by reporters and even friends and loved ones as to whether or not I am in “fear” of MOVE.

The short answer is “no” and that is not because MOVE is not cruel . There are infinite ways for me to be harmed. There are infinite ways for me to die. By disease, by accident, by my own hand, by someone elses. Our lives are finite specks of dust in comparison to the cosmos. It is really difficult for me to control how I die, but I can control how I live and I have decided that I will not stand by while murderers get away with killing people and children get abused. That is who I am and whatever consequences there are to that than those are the consequences that I am willing to accept. So there it is.

Fight Back Against MOVE

(MOVE Flyer)
Fight Back Against MOVE!

It is not surprising that MOVE is once again using the upcoming anniversary of the calamity that they instigated on Osage Avenue to serve their own ends. The cult that Mumia pledges allegiance to and whose members murdered Police Officer James Ramp in 1978 are at again.

Their bringing of “murder charges” against the City Of Philadelphia is ironic in light of the still “unsolved” murder of John Gilbride, in light of the fact that MOVE members are in jail for killing a Philly cop, not to mention Mumia being in prison for life for killing P.O. Danny Faulkner.

I would hope that the District Attorney’s office does look at MOVE with some fresh eyes. Perhaps they will notice that the cult has been abusing children since it’s inception and has been involved in the rape of young girls that are raised in the group since the 1990’s.

None of what MOVE is doing is at all surprising. What does continue to baffle me is that reputable institutions are still giving MOVE the time of day and allowing the cult to use it’s facilities.

The African American Museum in Philadelphia is a beautiful and inspiring place where the contributions of African-Americans are displayed. However, by allowing MOVE to come in and show their propaganda films, the museum is making a mistake.

There is nothing wrong with remembering and commemorating the events of May 13, 1985, but allowing MOVE to come in and give a one-sided presentation is the wrong way to go about it. People like to think of May 13th as something that occurred between MOVE and the Philadelphia police, but this was only the final battle in a long war. The people who bore the brunt of MOVE’s abuse were the neighbors who had the misfortune of living near the cult. Does the African-American museum intend to tell this story of how blacks in a working class neighborhood were victimized and terrorized by a violent and cruel sect? Sadly, it will not. The race of the perpetrators apparently mitigates the suffering of the victims in some people’s eyes.

I would encourage people to contact the African American Museum and let them know how you feel about them supporting MOVE. Especially considering that the Museum received a three million dollar grant back in 2007. Your tax money going to facilitate MOVE.

The Rotunda in Philadelphia is also sponsoring a “play” with MOVE children. This is disgusting in light of the abuse that is meted out to children in MOVE.

Please take a few minutes and express your opinion.

African American Museum in Philadelphia.
701 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 574-0380
Fax: (215) 574-3110

The Rotunda
4014 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Madness of MOVE Continues

The madness of MOVE continues
By Monica Yant Kinney
Inquirer Columnist

If this week you find yourself reliving the 1985 MOVE nightmare, allow me to fast-forward with true tales of the West Philadelphia cult's more modern madness.

I was in high school in Indiana when dim-witted Philadelphia officials bombed MOVE's headquarters, but in the 1990s I helped put a halt to the lucrative Millions for Mumia Abu-Jamal campaign with stories about MOVE's efforts to free the infamous cop killer by flouting fund-raising laws and the IRS.

As a columnist, I've written at length about the unsolved 2002 murder of John Gilbride, the ex-husband of MOVE matriarch Alberta Africa. After enduring a vicious custody fight, he was gunned down hours before his first court-ordered visit with their young son.

Later, I shared the saga of Lori and Tony Allen, devout MOVE followers who broke free and provided a rare inside account of the inscrutable group's bizarre behavior.

Such as: MOVE guru John Africa apparently decreed that no Philadelphia sports team would win a championship until the MOVE Nine were let out of prison. Guess the 2008 Phillies didn't get the memo.

In response to my reporting, MOVE picketed my office, harassed me at home, and threatened to harm my newborn.

"In the end, it is not a MOVE child who is going to be hurt," Ramona Africa said icily one night in 2004 after a contentious interview. "You need to worry about your own child. Our children are protected."

Considering the source, I reported the exchange to the Haddonfield Police Department. When a baby-faced cop knocked on my door, I found myself apologizing.

How could I possibly explain MOVE to the unknowing when I still can't figure out the group myself?

If anything, the modern MOVE is weirder than ever. But officials look the other way, relying on the same hands-off approach that led to disaster 25 years ago.

Then, and now
If you thought MOVE was strange in 1985, you should see it now.

Back then, the militant collective favored raw food. Now, members gorge on junk food.

Back then, MOVE eschewed the finer things, pop culture, and technology. Now, members vacation in Europe, listen to opera, play video games, record rap propaganda, throw Harry Potter parties, and use the Internet to spew hate.

The same toughs who rail against the "system" live off hefty settlements wrested from the city that killed 11 MOVE family members, including five children.

John Africa's widow, Alberta, resides in Cherry Hill - no urban jungle. I haven't seen her lately, but she used to drive a Volvo - hardly the ride of a radical.

"They would say they use the things in the system in order to destroy the system," Tony Allen explained when I puzzled over the hypocrisies. "When you destroy it, you bring back natural order."

Alberta Africa had a son with Gilbride at age 48 after a costly in vitro fertilization using a donor egg. So much for keeping it "natural."

What about the kids?
Today, MOVE lavishes the teenager with the spoils of suburbia. He's taken tap and modeling classes and worn Ralph Lauren fashions. He's even been a competitive fencer.

If only his two dozen or so MOVE "siblings" fared half as well.

MOVE children don't attend school. Boys get rudimentary education at home, but girls are raised primarily as future baby makers - one reason the Allens, who had a young daughter, finally fled.

"Keeping children intellectually repressed is one of the only ways MOVE holds true to its old ideology," Tony Allen marveled. "It's oddly self-serving to the adults," but hardly surprising given that MOVE evolved into a cult of personality designed to maintain leaders' comfortable quality of life.

As part of his self-inflicted penance, Allen tried to interest police and prosecutors in MOVE's unorthodox parenting. I've mentioned concerns to city officials myself and been similarly brushed off.

Twenty-five years after an unforgivable tragedy, MOVE remains the bear Philly doesn't dare poke. I can sympathize with fearful resignation. But the grown-ups who have stuck with MOVE this long know enough to stay or go. Their children, however, have no choice.

Unsettled legacy of MOVE

Unsettled legacy of MOVE
By Craig R. McCoy

For a tiny band of Philadelphians, the MOVE confrontation has never ended.

All they need do is step out onto their block - Osage Avenue, ground zero for the lethal city bombing and fire May 13, 1985. Up and down the street, homes sit empty and decayed.

"It's not over, not by a long shot," said Ernest Hubbard, 67, one of a group of holdouts who have refused city payments to leave. "You don't forget it, because there's always something to remind you every day."

And for a time, when the ashes were still smoldering, just after the bodies of children were hauled out of the rubble, it seemed as if the entire city would never get the smoke out of its nostrils.

But a quarter-century after the disaster, which left 11 dead, 61 homes destroyed, and 250 people homeless, its legacy is uncertain.

For some, including Hubbard and his neighbors, the day remains unshakable in their minds.

"This unprecedented action by the city on Osage Avenue and on the MOVE members will, I think, forever be etched in the memory of the city and the nation," said Andre Dennis, the lawyer who represented MOVE leader Ramona Africa in her successful 1996 lawsuit against the city.

But for others, the disaster has faded from memory - and perhaps even from meaning.

"It kind of exists in its own strange zone," said playwright Thomas Gibbons, whose drama 6221 is named after the address of the MOVE compound.

MOVE was "so singular and so unique that what happened with them didn't really reverberate in the city or have any impact."

Certainly, among the far left and right nationwide, MOVE has been eclipsed by other deaths and other causes - Waco, Ruby Ridge, Mumia.

In the Philadelphia region, the fading imprint of the disaster seems to reflect MOVE's peculiar nature and Philadelphia's response to it.

While the cult was primarily African American, the disaster seemed to spawn little long-term racial tension, quite possibly because those whom MOVE victimized were also African American.

It certainly helped that the mayor and the managing director on May 13, 1985, were black. Indeed, even though W. Wilson Goode had presided over Philadelphia's most deadly municipal mishap, black voters rallied strongly behind him in 1987, when he won reelection.

It helped, too, that the MOVE Commission set up to investigate the disaster acted as a kind of domestic "truth and reconciliation" panel, swiftly holding televised hearings, publicly grilling Goode and his cabinet, dispelling rumors, and affixing blame.

"The plan to bomb the MOVE house was reckless, ill-conceived, and hastily approved," the panel found in its final report. "Dropping a bomb on an occupied rowhouse was unconscionable and should have been rejected out of hand."

And while no one could argue that MOVE provocations justified the bombing, let alone the deaths of five of their children, it turned out that not even its victimization could make MOVE sympathetic.

Ever-mystifying MOVE

MOVE is not an acronym. It stands for nothing.

In a nutshell, that is MOVE's problem. Despite decades of coverage, MOVE remains mystifying and its message incoherent.

The group's prophet and founder was a Mantua handyman named Vincent Leaphart. In the 1970s, he flourished in Powelton Village, a last bastion of 1960s fervor, for a time joining with others in a housing co-op.

"All decision-making is nonhierarchical, nonauthoritarian, and open to the entire membership," read the co-op's manifesto. "The collective does not claim to be a substitute for revolution in our oppressive society."

Before long, Leaphart had adopted a new name - John Africa - and had attracted a small following, all of whom also adopted the last name of Africa. He preached a philosophy extolling animals and rejecting technology. In fact, Africa was so distrustful of modern bridges that he would not cross one without carrying a life preserver.

"Monkeys don't shoot people, but people will shoot monkeys. Yet monkeys are seen as unclear and people as intelligent," he once said. "You can go as far as you want in the forest, and you won't find no jails. Because the animals of the forest don't believe in jail. But come to civilization, that's all you see."

"Back-to-nature" became journalists' unhelpful shorthand for describing the group. As it staged protests for animal rights and other causes, disrupting community meetings and tangling with leftist groups as well as police, MOVE soon became anathema to many of its liberal neighbors. Worry grew after John Africa and others were indicted in 1977 on federal charges of stockpiling 50 pipe bombs, as well as rifles and other firearms. (Africa was acquitted.)

The next year, police and MOVE had their first fatal confrontation. It took place after the cult barricaded itself inside a large Powelton Village building, refusing entry to city inspectors investigating complaints that the compound had become a health hazard - a shelter for dozens of dogs and a breeding ground for rats.

After a months-long standoff, police tried to force MOVE out with fire hoses. Gunfire broke out, and a police officer, James J. Ramp, 52, was killed. Nine MOVE members - five men and four women - were arrested and charged with murder.

At the trial, prosecutors presented evidence tying the bullet found in Ramp's chest to one of 11 rifles found inside the MOVE house. Prosecutors also said a "palm print" on a federal firearms-purchase form demonstrated that a MOVE member had bought the rifle before the shoot-out.

The prosecutors never showed which of the nine fired the deadly shot; indeed, none of the four women had ever been seen brandishing a weapon. The District Attorney's Office argued that all nine shared responsibility.

Judge Edwin S. Malmed agreed. Without a jury, he found all defendants guilty and sentenced them to 30 to 100 years apiece, triple the typical Pennsylvania sentence for third-degree murder. They are still behind bars.

"They have repeatedly shouted they were a family and that they act in concert," the judge said. "I have therefore treated them as a family with equal guilt shared by all."

The cult's mission

MOVE resurfaced, and winning freedom for its imprisoned members became its mission, indeed virtually its sole reason for being.

Before too long, it had begun to disrupt a new neighborhood: The cult set up shop in the rowhouse at 6221 Osage Ave., owned by one of John Africa's sisters. She had fled the house, chased away by her hatchet-wielding son, Frank James Africa.

John Africa was living there, too. After his indictment on the bomb charges in the 1970s, he became a fugitive and was not in the MOVE headquarters in Powelton Village during the 1978 shoot-out. He was arrested later in Rochester, N.Y., and returned to Philadelphia for the federal trial that ended in his acquittal.

To draw attention to the MOVE Nine, the group began broadcasting harangues over loudspeakers hour after hour.

"We knew exactly what they were doing. They were using us as political prisoners," said Hubbard, a retired Acme employee. "They figured that if they aggravated us enough, we would start contacting city officials to get them to do something.

"They were talking about getting their members out of jail, which we had nothing to do with."

The strategy worked, sort of. As in Powelton Village, the neighbors began to complain - but about MOVE, not on their behalf.

In heartbreaking testimony before the MOVE Commission, neighbors talked of how hungry children from the cult would go through their trash cans (prompting the residents to buy new and clean ones to stash food for them), of how the group hung raw meat from trees, of how vermin began to spread from the MOVE building into their homes.

As their predicament mounted, and as MOVE erected on its roof a steel-reinforced bunker with gun slits, the neighbors were ignored. Goode's administration adopted what the MOVE Commission blasted as a "hands-off" approach.

When the city did act, it did so with terrible swiftness and lethality. The city's approach laid waste not only to a neighborhood, but also to Goode's reputation as a superb manager, the ultimate technocrat.

Even though the city knew well that its last confrontation with MOVE had ended in death, the approach in 1985 was a horror show of inadequate intelligence, inept planning, and slapdash execution.

That Mother's Day, May 12, police surrounded 6221 Osage, carrying arrest warrants for petty violations for four MOVE members inside.

The next morning, police and MOVE exchanged 90 minutes of gunshots. Much of the gunfire on police was "friendly fire," investigators concluded, as they had established sharpshooter posts diagonal from each other.

Police fired thousands of bullets at the MOVE house. MOVE was armed with a rifle, a shotgun, and two handguns, according to the weaponry pulled from the wreckage.

Even though the neighbors had seen the group carry tree trunks inside, police were dumbfounded to discover the place fortified from within.

At a midday news conference in City Hall, a grim Goode made his agenda plain. "We intend to evict them from the house. We intend to evacuate them from the house. We intend to seize control of the house," he said. "We will do it by any means necessary."

To knock out the bunker late in the day, police improvised on the spot. Using a state police helicopter, they dropped a satchel filled with four pounds of the military explosive C-4 and the commercial explosive Tovex onto the building's roof.

Though the bomb failed to destroy the bunker, it started a small fire. Police Commissioner Gregore J. Sambor and Fire Commissioner William C. Richmond then made the worst decision in a unbroken line of bad decisions: They let the fire burn.

Richmond assured Sambor that his firefighters could put the blaze out after letting it grow to destroy the bunker. He was wrong.

As it happened, the threat of MOVE gunfire kept firefighters at bay while the flames spread out of control. As firefighters tried to fight the blaze, Richmond said later, police repeatedly "chased them out."

"The policemen would say, 'There's movement, there's shooting, take cover,' " he said at a civil trial.

"We gave it all we had, given the constraints of the situation," Richmond said. "We did everything we could, all night long."

Bodies in the rubble

It wasn't enough. Over the next week, crews kept pulling bodies out of MOVE rubble. Killed were John Africa, his nephew, and four other adult MOVE members.

And five children were dead, too: sisters Katricia, 14, and Zanetta, 12, and three unrelated youngsters, Delicia, 12, Philip, 12, and Tomasso, 9. The parents of all five were imprisoned MOVE members.

Five years later, the city agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle lawsuits filed on behalf of the dead children. With this money, MOVE bought its latest headquarters, putting down $265,000 in cash in 1991 to buy a Victorian house on Kingsessing Avenue near 45th Street, still in West Philadelphia.

Ever since, MOVE has lived there, for the most part quietly. There have been no loudspeakers. Members watch TV, use a refrigerator and a washing machine, and live a lifestyle seemingly little different from those of their neighbors.

One worrisome note was struck in 2002 when a bitter custody battle arose between John Africa's widow, Alberta, and John Gilbride, a supporter she had married and divorced.

Just hours before his first scheduled visit with the boy, Gilbride was gunned down in the parking lot of his Maple Shade apartment complex. The homicide remains unsolved.

Aside from the MOVE members still behind bars for Ramp's murder, the organization has perhaps 40 members. Its growth, such as it is, has essentially come as children of members have been incorporated into the fold.

"We're not recruiting," Ramona Africa, the group's main representative, said in a recent interview. "MOVE is here to set an example for people, to give them information that people need to protect themselves and their families."

Besides, Africa added, MOVE makes strong demands of recruits, and that "may be a little bit intimidating."

Africa, now 54, was the only adult to emerge alive from the 1985 fire. She served seven years in prison for her role in the confrontation and was the only person ever charged in connection with it. In 1996, a federal civil jury awarded her $500,0000 in damages in her lawsuit over the clash.

For a time, MOVE seemed to catch a bit of fresh wind because of its connection to Mumia Abu-Jamal, an acolyte of John Africa's who became an international cause célèbre after his conviction for murdering a Philadelphia police officer. But once a federal judge set aside Abu-Jamal's death sentence in 2001, much of the force went out of the campaign on his behalf.

John Edgar Wideman, author of the MOVE-inspired novel Philadelphia Fire, said he was struck by how much Philadelphians had distanced themselves from the disaster. Wideman recalled how only about a hundred people turned out for an event to mark the 10th anniversary. "It was sad," he said.

He added: "What we learned from the event was almost nothing."

An elusive quest

MOVE's mission remains unchanged, said Ramona Africa: "To get our family home."

This quest remains elusive.

The MOVE Nine are down to eight. Merle Africa died in 1998 of natural causes in prison. The others became eligible for parole two years ago - having served their minimum 30 years - but the state parole board has rejected their release, citing their "refusal to accept responsibility" for Ramp's killing.

To mark the anniversary this week of the Osage Avenue debacle, MOVE plans to go into Philadelphia criminal court Wednesday to file a motion demanding that Goode, former Managing Director Leo A. Brooks, Sambor, Richmond, and other former officials be arrested on murder charges for the 1985 deaths.

Last month, the District Attorney's Office rejected MOVE's private criminal complaint asking for the arrests. MOVE is to appeal that decision in its filing Wednesday.

Curiously, the group has nothing scheduled for Thursday, the 25th anniversary.

Perhaps this should be no surprise. Tony Allen, a former supporter who has become a severe critic of the group, argues that MOVE's time in the spotlight is long past.

"Whatever MOVE could have meant or was intended to mean, it doesn't mean now," he said recently. "It just really exists for the benefit of the older members."

Allen was blunt about this in a recent message on his blog ( MOVE, he wrote, was "fading into oblivion. . . . MOVE will disappear, and is disappearing."

Friday, May 07, 2010

Rant About Daily News Coverage

(Mike Africa at MOVE Headquarters days before John Gilbride's murder)

After reading the meticulous coverage by the Philadelphia Daily News of the “25 Anniversary of MOVE”, I was struck by the fact that there was not one mention, one blurb, nothing to remind readers of the murder of John Gilbride that occurred on Sept 27th, 2002.

Osage Avenue is pretty far from Maple Shade New Jersey, but it isn’t that far.

With the ashes of Osage Avenue buried beneath shoddy, poorly constructed replicas of the 60 homes that were burnt down on May, 13 a quarter of a century ago, “The Daily News” casts a glance backwards. I commend them for doing so. However the fact that they ignored the ongoing tragedy that is the still “unsolved” murder of John Gilbride and the abuse of children in MOVE’s midst is cause for concern.

I kind of expected as much.

While I have yet to talk to a journalist yet who did not candidly admit to me that MOVE at least made it seem like they had executed John in front of his apartment building eight years ago, very few have seen fit to try and tackle the issue head on. And it is not that I totally blame them either. Dealing with MOVE under the best of circumstances is potentially unpleasant work and besides you aren’t going to get much in the way of truth out of them anyways. You will get the same “anti-technology” game that the more articulate members of the group have been running on people since MOVE was spawned out of the damaged mind of John Africa and the collapse of 60’s radicalism.

MOVE must be drinking up all of the attention that they are getting. Granted it could be considered “negative” attention, but what the fuck, isn’t that the kind of attention that MOVE has been getting since its inception? There is not a group on the face of the earth that sucks up negativity like MOVE does. That kind of thing coarses through veins and keeps hearts hardened I suppose. After all, it is not like anyone is out there really asking Ramona Africa hard questions. I am not counting on anyone asking why child-rape is acceptable, encouraged, and indeed forced on girls in MOVE as young as 11-12 years old in the group. I would like to hope that someone would ask someone in MOVE why those same girls are not afforded any semblance of a proper education, but after all, those questions are hardly pertinent to the “Anniversary of the Bombing”. It is probably more appropriate to ask me what kind of appliances MOVE members have in their house. Maybe next year the Daily News could try and find out what Ramona Africa has on her motherfin I-Pod. Perhaps “The Roof is on Fire”?

With the ashes of Osage Avenue buried beneath shoddy, poorly constructed replicas of the 60 homes that were burnt down on May, 13 a quarter of a century ago, members of the media cast a glance backwards and rightfully so. They should be commended for really digging deep and telling the truth about the things that MOVE subjected people to on Osage Avenue, the Police and firefighters on Powelton, and numerous other people whose lives have been damaged by MOVE over the years. I sincerely think that the Daily News did a good job on those things.

However, when I think of MOVE I do not just think of the violence and pain of the distant past, but also the injustices that continue. The un-avenged apparitions of John Gilbride and whomever else MOVE buried or tossed in rivers once those people were of no use to “John Africa’s Revolution” need a voice.

Don’t count on the media to be that voice.

Send a letter to the Philadelphia Daily News to remind them what happened to John Gilbride at

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25 Years After "The Bombing"

Today's Philadelphia Daily News has a large amount of content on the MOVE bombing

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Like Living In A Cemetary

'Like living in a cemetery'
Why some Osage Avenue residents refuse to leave
Philadelphia Daily News
(From 215-854-5933

THE HOLDOUTS live on a block of plywood and padlocks, so eerie it looks like a street ravaged by war.

Twenty five years ago, it was.

The aging neighbors of Osage Avenue have treated each other like family since May 13, 1985, when the city dropped a bomb on the house at 6221, home of the radical group MOVE, killing 11 people inside and igniting a fire that leveled their block.

The city quickly rebuilt their homes, but botched the job, leaving residents with a litany of problems including massive water leaks, blocked drainage pipes, missing support beams and falling bricks.

Bonded by tragedy, the neighbors celebrate birthdays and holidays, and keep copies of each other's keys.

They saw some neighbors pack up and leave, then doors and windows get shuttered. A few vacant houses are littered with graffiti. Shredded insulation blows in the breeze. But the diehards stay, determined to fight what some call "the second bombing."

Facing millions of dollars in repair work on the rebuilt homes, the city wanted to buy the residents out and write the final chapter of MOVE. Over the years, some agreed to accept buyouts, mostly ranging from $75,000 to $150,000.

But 28 families - 25 on Osage Avenue and three on Pine Street - remain, fierce, steadfast and strong. Most are older than 60.

"It's almost like living in a cemetery," said Lucretia Wilson, 62, who lives next to the vacant rebuilt MOVE house that until a few years ago had round-the-clock police guard.

"I don't mean like it's haunted with ghosts," Wilson said. "It's like we're waiting to die. One by one, we're dying. And when we're all dead, that's when it will be over."

Block captain Gerald Wayne Renfrow, 64, said that the city has boarded up home after home to create blight and force the diehards out.

"It's so bad now," Renfrow said. "People think it's a ghost town so they come here to have sex in cars and deal drugs."

The oldest woman on the block, Elizabeth "Gerri" Bostic, moved to Osage Avenue in 1983 from New York with her husband, Kermit, who died June 26, 2007, at age 95.

"I want to live here until I die," said Bostic, an 89-year-old wisp of a woman. "At my age, where am I going to go?"

Seeing the boarded houses doesn't bother her much. "I saw all the plywood before I lost my sight," she said. "Now I can't see much.

"It used to be a street of people. Now so many people are gone."

Like Mattie Coles, the first African-American to move to the block 62 years ago.

"This old lady ain't going nowhere," Coles told a Daily News reporter in September 2000. "They're going to have to carry me out. And when they carry me out, they'll have to bring a coffin up this street and lay me in it. That's the only way I'll leave."

Coles did die at home on the block she loved - on April 28, 2003.

Thomas Mapp, 78, accepted a settlement but stayed on Osage with his 60-year-old wife, Betty, and believes that the city didn't give them their due.

"I like it here," he said. "I don't want to leave. But we're still waiting for the city to do right by us. I don't think the fight will ever be over."

They huddled around the dining-room table making plans for a party to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary May 14.

Everyone on the block will be invited.

For one day, they will put the fight on hold.

Eight families, including block captain Renfrow, have not accepted a buyout. "We're still fighting City Hall," Renfrow said.

"It was a second bombing," he said. "We expected the city to rebuild the houses the right way and we'd be able to heal. But we're 25 years and counting and we have yet to have one second of healing."

Yet, they call it home.

"This is their family," said Kim Foskey Jackson, whose mother, Carrie Foskey, 73, lives on the block.

"This has been it for 50, 60 years," she said. "You don't leave your family just because your house burned."

Bond Formed By MOVE Seige Lasts

Bond forged by MOVE siege lasts
Philadelphia Daily News


THESE MEN shouldn't be friends.

They are opposites. Where one's chatty and emotional, the other's more stoic.

Even physically, they're mismatched: the shorter, wiry guy and the tall, hulking one.

Yet Jim Berghaier and Charles "Reds" Mellor are best friends.

They stood by each other 25 years ago in a West Philadelphia alley, risking their lives to save 13-year-old Birdie Africa from an inferno.

They stand by each other today, still dealing with the emotional fall-out from the events of May 13, 1985, the day Philadelphia police confronted the radical group MOVE and everything went wrong. In the end, 11 people-including five children-were killed as an entire city block went up in flames.

"He's my very, very, very good friend, and he'll always be my very good friend," the more stoic Mellor said. "That's one of the most important things in life: to have a friend like Jimmy."

Mellor's 65 now. Berghaier's 60. Twenty-five years ago, they were part of the Philadelphia Police Department's stake-out unit.

The initial plan-to fill the MOVE house with pepper gas so members would leave - had failed that morning. Now, seven hours later, Mellor and Berghaier found themselves in an alley behind the MOVE house as it burned out of control. The building, Bergheiser recalled, was "rolling," with flames shooting out of the lower floors and circling to the upper ones.

"I was thinking 'No way anybody could come out of that,' " Berghaier said.

Then, over the police radios, they heard, "They're coming out! They're coming out!"

Ramona Africa emerged first. She began to walk down the alley. Then a child seemed to appear amid the smoke. Birdie Africa was barefoot and moved slowly, perhaps in shock.

It was Berghaier's son's birthday, so he had family on his mind. He called to Birdie, "Son, come over here! Son, come here!"

He watched as the boy fell over into a deep puddle and didn't move. He passed his shotgun to Mellor. "I'm going to go get the kid."

Mellor watched his partner go, and realized the only way to protect him was to stand, exposed, in the middle of the alley. He didn't hesitate.

Mellor watched his partner moving away from him. He watched Ramona Africa coming toward him. He watched the burning MOVE house, waiting for a gunman to appear. "It was very uncomfortable, but if I hadn't done it and something had happened to Jimmy, I would never have forgiven myself," Mellor said.

He ignored the bullets flying around him.

All day, Mellor said he'd heard MOVE members threatening officers over a loudspeaker, things like, "Tell your wives to make sure your insurance policies are paid up because you're not going home."

Standing there, Mellor thought of those threats. At one point, he said he pulled his wallet from his pocket to say goodbye to a picture of his kids.

"I didn't think I was going to see them again," he said, his eyes filling with tears at the memory.

During his days on the force, Mellor was known for his size and competency. But standing in that alley, and talking about it later, he said it was Berghaier who deserved the accolades that day.

"A lot of people always thought of me as being the tough guy, the one that's going to make that pinch," Mellor said. "But at the time, I was looking at Jimmy and thinking, 'That took a lot of balls to do what he just did.' "

Berghaier sloshed through the waist-deep water that had pooled from the fire hoses to reach the fallen boy. Every once in a while, he would look back at Mellor's face for reassurance that things were OK.

When Berghaier reached Birdie, he put his hands under his arms and pulled the boy through the water to a sheltered part of the alley.

"Don't shoot me," was the first thing Birdie said to him.

After pulling the child to safety, Berghaier was hailed as a hero. He didn't feel like one.

Later that day, he'd gone to a staging area where fellow officers had gathered. He'd thought they'd all swap stories, like, "I saved this one" and "I saved that one."

He was shocked that he was the only person with a story to tell.

He felt even worse when he realized that the other MOVE children had been so close to him, "in essence, a brick wall away," and he hadn't known to save them.

"I have a real hard time with the kids dying," Berghaier said. "The adults chose that. They wanted to go to war."

In the weeks and months that followed, Berghaier was alternately praised for the rescue and denounced for being part of the MOVE fiasco. Did he fire his weapon on MOVE members that day, investigators wanted to know? Had he done anything to keep members from exiting the house?

It broke him emotionally, even after a grand jury in 1988 cleared him of any wrongdoing.

He got a divorce, considered suicide, spent time in a mental ward. Through it all, Mellor was there for him, sometimes just as comic relif. During a hospital stay, Berghaier looked out his bedroom window to see Mellor walking like Frankenstein, jerkily with arms outstretched, across the grounds.

Berghaier left the Police Department after the MOVE incident. The turning point came one day when he and Mellor were out on a dangerous job. Berghaier realized he'd put himself in harm's way and he had no desire to reach for his gun.

It was Mellor who first knew Berghaier's career was over. He put his arm around his pal's shoulders and said, "You're done, Jimmy."

After that, Berghaier bounced from odd job to odd job. He's remarried now, working for a local non-profit. But even now, speaking of MOVE is an emotional experience.

"Honestly, do I think about it every day? No. But when it's brought up, it's like it happened yesterday. I've lived with it my whole life," he said. "I'll probably find peace when I pass."

For his part, Mellor felt betrayed by "the system" and angry that outsiders were second-guessing his role that day. "I'm a police officer. I deal with black and white. Right and wrong . . . I was sent to do a job, I did the job to the best of my ability."

He, too, left the department. He took another job in law enforcement, but away from Philadelphia and MOVE and the questions, spending 12 years with the Attorney General's Office SWAT team in Harrisburg.

Yet he and Berghaier stayed in touch. Their constant has been each other.

Together recently, they told stories from the old days on the "Granny Squad" when they took turns dressing like an elderly person to attract muggers. Mellor's has health issues that require him to use an oxygen tank, and Berghaier was careful to make sure his friend was comfortable at all times.

Asked why they were still friends, Mellor quipped, "I think he still owes me money."

Berghaier was more serious.

"I appreciate his loyalty," he said, teary-eyed. "He's a friend no matter what."

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.

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