The 1985 MOVE bombing will forever be seared into Philadelphia's collective memory as the day police bombed a neighborhood, killing 11 and decimating dozens of homes in West Philadelphia. But seven years earlier, on Aug. 8, 1978, Philadephia police first laid siege on the radical black group at its Powelton Village headquarters.
Amid the tear gas and hail of bullets, city Officer James Ramp was killed. Nine MOVE members were eventually convicted of third-degree murder and conspiracy and sentenced to between 30 and 100 years. The eight remaining (one died in prison in 1998) are still behind bars 34 years later after being denied parole in May.
The most recent reasons for the denials range from "failure to accept responsibility for the offenses committed" to "failure to demonstrate motivation for success," but family members claim they are political prisoners and continue to push for their release.
"Guilt or innocence is not an issue with parole," said Ramona Africa, a survivor of the bombing. "They're making an issue that my family repeatedly tells them that they're innocent because they are. ...They just make up these reasons, so-called justification, to deny MOVE people parole."
Leo Dunn, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, responded by saying, "...the board weighs all the information and does a face-to-face interview with every offender before making a case specific decision."
But the rationale does not hold much water with Linn Washington, a longtime journalist with the Philadelphia Tribune and Temple University professor, who covered both the 1978 incident and the bombing. He described the police investigation as "shoddy" and "incomplete."
"Clearly, these individuals have served their minimum term, which makes them eligible for parole. To demand that they accept responsibility for it really is extralegal and should not be a parole consideration," he said. "Other people who have done far more in terms of criminality have been paroled and they have abided by the terms of their parole."
Legends of MOVE 9
Some observers have concluded that Ramp was killed by friendly fire based on testimony that the bullet struck him from a “downward trajectory” and testimony that MOVE members were stationed in the basement.
Another issue that raises questions about the investigation’s credibility was the demolition of the MOVE Powelton Village headquarters hours after the final arrest. MOVE members insist it was an intentional act to destroy a crime scene.
Judge Edwin Malmed, who presided over the 1981 trial, has been criticized for his handling of the case. Shortly after sentencing, journalist Mumia Abu Jamal called into a radio show and asked Malmed who killed James Ramp, to which Malmed replied, “I haven’t the faintest idea,” according to reports.
Aug. 8, 1978: Confrontation between Philadelphia police and MOVE members resulting in the death of Officer James Ramp.
1980: Chuck, Debbie, Delbert, Eddie, Janet, Janine, Merle, Mike and Phil Africa were sentenced for Ramp’s murder.
1985: Police dropped a bomb on 6200 Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia, killing 11 people and destroying 61 homes.
2008: First time the eight surviving MOVE inmates were eligible for parole.