In August of 1978, approximately 600 police officers used guns and fire hoses in an attempt to evict the Philadelphia-based MOVE organization from a residence. MOVE was a multiracial community founded in the early 1970s that protested injustices ranging from police brutality to animal exploitation in zoos. The MOVE 9 were arrested, tried, and collectively sentenced to 30 to 100 years for an officer’s death on the day of the eviction, though there was a dispute regarding whether any of them were actually guilty. Mumia Abu-Jamal, one of the reporters covering the MOVE 9 trial, describes the confrontation in Death Blossoms:
On August 8, 1978, after a brutal police assault on MOVE during which their home in the Powelton Village section of West Philadelphia was destroyed, nine members of the organization were arrested for allegedly killing James Ramp, a police officer. These “suspects” were in the basement of their home at the time of the shooting; Ramp, who was facing the house on the street above them, was shot from the back.
Almost 7 years after police evicted MOVE and bulldozed the MOVE house in 1978, officer Frank Powell, with Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode’s approval, dropped an explosive device on a new MOVE house on May 13, 1985, following a gun battle. The device started a fire that killed 11 of the 13 people inside, including 5 children, and destroyed 61 other homes. The city delayed commencing effective steps to extinguish the fire.
Ramona Africa, one of two occupants who survived the fire, filed a lawsuit that was consolidated with lawsuits on behalf of Frank Africa and MOVE founder John Africa, both of whom died in the fire. The trial began in April of 1996 and lasted roughly two months. On June 24, 1996, the jury found the City of Philadelphia liable and awarded $500,000 to each of the three plaintiffs.
Merle Africa, one of the MOVE 9, died of cancer in prison in 1998. The other eight MOVE prisoners, who continue to maintain their innocence, have consistently been denied parole since they became eligible in 2008. As Ashanti Alston has said about political prisoners,
We need to honor those who laid it down before us. Especially those who are still alive but are just in these dungeons. We need to let the system know that they are on the front of our minds. We want them out.