Friday, August 08, 2008

Tragedy At Powelton

(The killers of James Ramp)

(Jesus, here we go again. The following article is basically shit. If you read it in an attempt to learn more or really anything about the events of August 8th, 1978 regarding MOVE than you will be stupider for it. What this article does do is put on display the work of a naive reporter, conned by a cult, who ignored the people she interviewed, and an irresponsible newspaper that has been decidedly pro-MOVE in the past despite the group's victimization of African-Americans.

I spent a good deal of time with this reporter going over the abuse suffered by children at the hands of MOVE members and this disgrace of a reporter filled her space up with platitude laden quotes about nothing from cultists and MOVE's fatuous propaganda.

I similarly spent time with another reporter from the same paper talking about John Gilbride's murder. My computer is having a fit today, but I don't even see that article at the Tribune's website. What a disgrace.

Not that I needed another reason to keep up this work, but there it is...)

(From the Philadelphia Tribune)

Tragedy At Powelton

Melanie R. Holmes
Tribune Staff Writer

Philadelphia police claim it was murder.

Back to nature group MOVE contends it was friendly fire.

Judge Edwin S. Malmed said he hadn’t the faintest idea.

The only certainty that came from the confrontation that has echoed through halls of Philadelphia history since Aug. 8, 1978, is the death of Officer James J. Ramp.

The former Marine was slain by a bullet to the back of his head that neither the cops nor convicts take credit for.

After serving the minimum of their 30 to 100-year sentence, Delbert Orr, Edward Goodman, Michael Davis, William Phillips, Debbie Sims, Janet Holloway and Janine Phillips were recently denied parole despite adamantly insisting upon their innocence, while Charles Sims awaits his November hearing.

In all, they make up eight of the MOVE 9, self-proclaimed political prisoners, which include Merle Austin, who died suspiciously at the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs hospital in 1998.

Denouncing accusations of being a cult, MOVE members consider themselves a part of a revolutionary organization.

“We did oppose their release,” said Cathy Abookire, spokeswoman for District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who refuses to comment on the case. “They showed no remorse for their crime and they are dangerous to the community.”

Vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, Michael Lutz was a sergeant at the time of the attack and said the police were following orders to remove MOVE from their Powelton Village headquarters at 307-309 N. 33rd Street after failing to adhere to a 90-day eviction notice.

“There were well over a dozen attempts for them to come out,” he said. “We wanted to keep the peace.”

But MOVE maintains that the 250,000 gallons of water high-power hosed into their basement, tear gas that scorched their skin while being bombarded by bullets and brutal police beatings after surrendering was an attack on their lives that they and their children narrowly escaped with.

“They didn’t care about MOVE getting out of that house,” said MOVE minister of communications Ramona Johnson Africa. “Their intent was to exterminate MOVE.”

While MOVE denies having had any weapons on Aug. 8, 1978, making it impossible to have killed Ramp or injure eight other officers and firemen, 67 trial days concluded in a guilty verdict of third degree murder, criminal conspiracy and eight counts each for attempted murder and simple/aggravated assault.

From the beginning

Meaning to generate and never stagnate, MOVE was founded in the early 1970s by Vincent Leaphart, who adopted the name John Africa, to encourage life over the system.

“The importance of all life — human life, animal life, plant life — that’s coordinated to work together to keep life going, there is nothing more important than that,” Johnson said. “But those who run this system have spit on life. They don’t see life as important at all. Their belief is obviously opposed to life, and that’s why we’re in conflict with the system. This system’s belief is money and status, and they put money and status over life.”

MOVE met trouble when they began demonstrating against zoos, pet stores, landlords, the Philadelphia School Board, boarding homes and prisons in its early years.

“We would expose them for being against life, being liars and misleading people,” said Consuewella Dotson Africa.

Dotson was arrested with the MOVE 9, but received a lighter sentence of 10 to 23 years for simple assault.

Due to public pressure, she was released in 1994 after serving 16 years.

“They kept constantly harassing us,” Dotson said. “There was no let-up. We have been through all types of dissonance by the system.”

Tired of their men being beaten bloody, women suffering miscarriages at the hands of police and outraged at the trampling of Janine and William Phillips Africa’s 3-week-old baby, MOVE took a militaristic stance against the police on May 20, 1977.

“It was the day that was coordinated for us to make the public aware of all that MOVE had been through at the hands of the system,” Dotson said.

In what Lutz called a “violent” manner, MOVE demanded the release of their imprisoned family and an end to police harassment and murder of their babies.

“They had bullhorns and peppered their language with threats,” Lutz said. “[They said] ‘We’re going to make widows of your wives’ and ‘I hope you’re paid up on your insurance.’ They made good on their word with the killing of Ramp and injuring several others.”

The incident resulted in a police-imposed blockade from May 1977 to March 1978.

MOVE openly admits to parading guns on their property that day, but emphasizes that the weapons were inoperable and May 20, 1977, was the only time anything that could be mistaken for a deadly weapon was in their possession, including a bottle of car wash soap disguised as a bomb.

“It was to show people that these cop are cowards and punks,” Johnson said. “When they feel like they can come up on you and you’re defenseless and they got weapons, they will attack you like the cowards that they are. But when they feel like you’re in a position to defend yourself, they don’t mess with you.”

Shortly after, negotiators were sent to MOVE headquarters and an agreement was made, ultimately leading to further dissent between MOVE and the city.

The city agreed to release imprisoned MOVE members in return for a weapons search and evacuation of the house in 90 days due to alleged health code violations.

MOVE claims they agreed to look for another home if their family was released and police harassment ended.

After about a year, MOVE prisoners were released and the house was searched for weapons.

Several items were confiscated, which MOVE claims were the dummy firearms used on May 20, 1977.

However, when police presence did not cease around their home, MOVE refused to leave the house, resulting in a starvation blockade starting in March 1978 that lasted over 50 days.

“The blockade was to keep them from entering or exiting,” Lutz said. “We had warrants for some of the members. Some of the people did leave, saying they didn’t want any part of it. It was a peaceful way for them to exit the house.”

According to Lutz, Aug. 8, 1978, was the city’s final attempt to remove MOVE from the home.

“We were abruptly awakened around three in the morning,” Dotson recalled from Aug. 8, 1978. “Our children were crying, the dogs were barking, the neighbors were alarmed. Bright lights were glaring into our home, the sound of cops marching down the street 600 strong with heavy artillery threatened us to come out of our home under the guise that they had warrants for the arrest of people who weren’t even in the house. It was all a set up just to have an excuse to attack us. They drilled holes into our home so they could have better access to kill us. They had the crane and bulldozer tearing down our house literally while we were in there.”

It had been over a year since the city evicted MOVE, and on Aug. 8, 1978, the police prepared to use force, if necessary.

With several defied demands to exit, about 45 police entered the house at 6:55 a.m., only to find that MOVE had barricaded themselves, their children and animals in the basement.

Events following police retreat from the home remain hazy, but Lutz is sure of one thing.

“They shot first,” he said. “We didn’t want any confrontation. George Fencl, the top peacemaker of the police department, was there.”

While it is unclear whether the gunshots or the water came first, 250,000 gallons of water from a truck-mounted water cannon inevitably flooded the tear-gassed basement where MOVE sought safety.

Even though police claim to have recovered several high-powered weapons from the crime scene, MOVE members proclaim they were set up, that all items that could be mistaken for deadly weapons were taken after their home was searched a few months prior and the artillery recovered from the crime scene was conspicuously planted.

“Police were seen on national television putting weapons into the house to set us up,” Dotson said. “Lynne Abraham, as usual, dismissed it and tried to put blame on us. They came to our homes to kill us. They will use all manner of tactics, even if it means to lose one of their own.”

In the midst of the confrontation, Ramp, who survived combat in World War II and Korea, was found lifeless on the ground from a single bullet he received while allegedly pushing someone out of the line of fire.

Having served the police force for 23 years, he was on the verge of retirement.

“He was facing our home,” Dotson said. “How in God’s name can anybody shoot a person in the back of the head when he’s facing you?”

Ramp’s original autopsy report indicated the bullet entered at the back right of Ramp’s head and traveled left on a downward angle.

“When it came time to review James Ramp’s autopsy, the prosecutor [Wilhelm Knaur] penciled in from left to right to change the way the bullet entered,” Dotson said. “The judge [Malmed] allowed it because of his arrogance, hatred and racism toward the MOVE organization. He said we shot him as a family so we’ll be sentenced as a family.”

But with no crime scene to investigate, MOVE had a hard time proving their case.

After the 12 adults in the MOVE house were arrested and their children were placed in police custody, the home was bulldozed to destruction allegedly to prevent reoccupation of the home.

“If they thought for one second that MOVE people killed James Ramp on Aug. 8, 1978, they would have preserved every bit of evidence to prove it in court,” Johnson said. “They destroyed the scene of the crime, which is a crime to destroy evidence. The house became a murder scene, which is more reason why you’re supposed to secure it and not allow anything to be done to it. They demolished it.”

Despite having court-appointed attorneys, MOVE chose to represent themselves but struggled to prove their case after being removed from the courtroom for much of the trial.

They attempted to prove impossibility of the ability of a bullet shot six feet below where Ramp stood to travel downward, hitting him in the back of his head, as the original autopsy showed.

“Any bullet that they’re saying came from MOVE hitting Ramp would have to be on an upward angle,” Johnson said. “MOVE people were in a basement. Ramp was on street level. They’re lying. They know MOVE didn’t kill that cop.”

According to the parole board, the MOVE 9 have not been released for several reasons including refusal to accept responsibility, lack of remorse and minimization/denial of the nature and circumstances of the offenses committed.

“It was really sad that people weren’t more outraged about the parole denials,” corresponded Charles Sims Africa in a letter sent from SCI at Graterford. “I thought it would spark an uproar. What kind of society releases thousands of rapists and child molesters into society while vilifying and spitefully keeping men and women in prison for decades?”

But defense attorney Norris Gelman, the court-appointed lawyer for Janine Sims Africa during the trial, trusts the decision of the parole board and applauds Malmed for being a “thoughtful, conscientious, scholarly judge.”

“He did everything he possibly could to be fair,” Gelman said.

Anthony Allen, who joined MOVE in 1996 and defected in 2006, also favors the decision of the parole board and firmly maintains the guilt of MOVE 9.

Calling the information they presented to the court fictitious, he believes the evidence overwhelmingly concludes in MOVE’s guilt.

“I spent a lot of time visiting them in jail,” Allen said. “I was able to see the way they were presenting things. They were making things up to conform to martyrdom. MOVE says Ramp was shot by other officers. What about the other officers who were shot? When you look at it in totality, the defense of the MOVE 9 falls apart.”

However, Paul Hetznecker, another former MOVE defense attorney, is concerned that the parole board’s rationale could be used to deny the release of the MOVE 9 until the end of their sentence.

“They should be released,” Hetznecker said. “They spent the better part of their adult lives incarcerated and there was insufficient evidence to convict them at trial. The real issue is do they pose a threat to the community now and I don’t think they do. That needs to be the focus of the parole board.”

Abookire refused to elaborate on the threat Abraham deems the MOVE 9 poses to the community in the event of their release, but MOVE contends that the police are the true danger.

“MOVE is accused of killing one cop,” Johnson said. “It’s not true that they killed a cop, but how many people have these cops killed? When they talk about gun control and talk about guns in the hands of the people, they ain’t talking about controlling the guns these cops have. People really need to focus on where the real threat is. MOVE ain’t no threat. We ain’t murderers, but these cops are.”

Johnson calls the decision of the parole board “blatantly unconstitutional and illegal” for requiring her family to incriminate themselves by admitting to guilt.

“Have these people ever heard of the Fifth Amendment?” Johnson said. “Where does the parole board get off demanding that somebody say they’re guilty, especially when, for 30 years now, they have told you they are innocent?”

Insisting that she and the MOVE 9 did nothing wrong on Aug. 8, 1978, Dotson feels the real reason her family was denied parole is because of their dedication to John Africa, who was killed on May 13, 1985, after the mayor of Philadelphia ordered a bomb dropped on the MOVE home at 6221 Osage Ave.

The bomb killed six adults and five children, with Johnson and a small child barely escaping.

“Why should we show remorse for something we didn’t do?” Dotson said. “What did we do? We were inside our home in our basement. I had my breastfeeding baby in my arms. Life is our belief. We don’t believe in killing in any form, including cops.”

Approximately 120 miles outside of Philadelphia and up a curvy road made scenic with luscious greenery and peaceful creeks sits State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Dallas.

Two of the approximately 2,000 inmates of the medium security prison are Delbert Orr Africa and William Phillips Africa.

Orr, very calm with a commanding presence, is offset by Phillip’s youthful energy. Their bodies are in prison, but their spirits remain free.

“We give thanks to John Africa that we have been able to withstand the stress,” Orr said. “Nothing they do has the effect on us they want it to. One of the things that keeps us going is we’re not criminals. We truly are political prisoners.”

The two MOVE 9 members blame a “ludicrous” trial for their “unjust” sentence, in which they claim their lawyers were often drunk and largely unconcerned with the fate of their clients.

Additionally, they believe the prosecution presented a weak case that was bought wholeheartedly by the judge and jury.

“Four firemen were allegedly shot by us,” Orr said. “They never presented any evidence about them being shot. The only evidence they used to convict us is we’re MOVE members. Are we on trial for being MOVE or killing a cop?”

Davita Johnson and Cassandra Davis, the other two adults in the house on Aug. 8, 1978, with the MOVE 9 and Dotson, were cleared of all charges shortly after their arrest when the court determined there was no proof they were MOVE members.

“It was an example of what the American justice system is like,” Orr said. “It’s not about justice. It’s not about fair. Aug. 8 was strictly about getting rid of the MOVE organization.”

Thirty years later, Orr and Phillips are not expecting any favors from the parole board and believe their release was denied due to their opposition toward the system.

“When we walked to the parole board hearing, the first thing I saw was hate in their eyes,” Phillips said. “I went in there just as strong and militant as I was 30 years ago. I’m just in the worst situation possible. They got me locked up in an 8-by-11-foot cage, but when I think about my family and my children, I always get filled with hope.”

Confident in the will of the people, Phillips knows a day will come when the parole board will feel more comfortable with the MOVE 9 out of prison than behind bars.

“As people begin to take interest, the more pressure the system will begin to feel,” Phillips said. “The pressure caused by people realizing the injustices is what’s going to release us.”

As the rest of the MOVE 9 accepts a minimum of one more year in prison until their next meeting with the parole board, Charles Sims Africa awaits his hearing, slightly delayed after a small skirmish with a prison guard added six months to a year onto his already lengthy sentence.

Nonetheless, MOVE members are remaining positive as they continue to fight for their release.

On Saturday, Aug. 9, MOVE is hosting a community forum at the District Counsel 1199 to discuss issues surrounding parole.

In attendance will be Judge John C. Young, defense attorney Michael Coard, Mary Catherine Roper of the American Civil Liberties Union and others to answer questions from concerned citizens regarding the prison system and parole criteria.

“We want them to deal with these issues,” Johnson said. “They’re always going against people being paroled. As far as my family, they’re scared. Their aim is to stop us, our aim is to stop them, so they’re not going to do anything as they see in our favor. That’s why the people are so important. It’s not going to be some legal argument that gets MOVE out of prison. If it was a matter of legality, MOVE people would never have been in jail.”


At 10:10 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your assessment of the article. But if you go to The Tribune website and click the link for the "e-dition" and turn to page 5C you'll see the article on John Gilbride's murder. It's different from what Melanie Holmes wrote. Check it out.

At 12:53 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is just a general comment about MOVE's sense of veracity. Back in the 1970's when I was just a fledgling reporter I was covering a meeting of the Black Student Union at a local college and some MOVE members were present. This was several weeks after the August 8th battle with police and MOVE was going on about the fact that they had no weapons.
I went to the Powelton Village site where their house had been bulldozed. There wasn't much left on the empty lot but then I saw something on the wall of a small office building that used to stand across the street. To my amazement it was riddled with bullet holes where police officers had been standing. Hmm...if MOVE members had no weapons, why are there bullet holes in this wall, I wondered?
From that point on, I took everything MOVE had to say with EXTREME skepticism. 'Nuff said.


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