Ramona Africa, the sole adult survivor of the 1985 police bombing of the home occupied by members of the MOVE organization, offered her perspective on the justice system during a March 25 event sponsored by the Drexel National Lawyers Guild.
Africa said MOVE sought chiefly to protect itself as hostilities between the black liberation group and police escalated in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The group had become a lightning rod for keeping animals and their filth on its property, using loudspeakers to broadcast profane protest messages and, according to police, gathering arms.
“There is not a species of life that does not defend itself,” said Africa, who was in the Osage Avenue home when police ended a standoff by dropping a bomb on the house, killing 11 other occupants and ultimately destroying 61 nearby homes.
The city’s confrontation with MOVE occurred as law enforcement agencies around the country were actively engaging in counterintelligence operations against numerous black radical groups, Professor Donald Tibbs said.
“Federal agencies and local and state government were at war with black liberation organizations,” Tibbs said.
The discussion followed a screening of a documentary about MOVE and its interactions with the law enforcement community that included a 1978 confrontation that ended with the death of Philadelphia Police Officer James Ramp by a single bullet, as well as the 1985 bombing of the organization’s headquarters.
In the documentary, witnesses said shots fired on Ramp appeared to have come from the opposite direction from the MOVE house and that police in the 1985 incident could have used more restraint, such as by firing teargas into the building to disable the occupants.
Eight of the nine MOVE members convicted in Ramp’s death have been denied parole simply for denying responsibility for the shooting, Africa said, adding that Merle Africa died in prison under suspicious circumstances.
“The government knows my family did not kill James Ramp,” said Africa, who served seven years in prison for inciting a riot and who continues fighting for the parole of the eight imprisoned members of the organization. “The government wanted a permanent end to MOVE, but MOVE’s fight is ongoing.”
In 1996, a jury found the city’s police and fire commissioners personally liable for the bombing and awarded Africa $1.5 million in damages, but a federal judge overturned the verdict.