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Hans Bennett photoessay: REMEMBER AUGUST 8, 1978! FREE THE MOVE 9!

by Hans Bennett Friday, Aug. 16, 2002 at 10:29 PM

On the corner of Broad and Walnut in Center City, Philadelphia, August 10, 2002, more than 25 MOVE members and supporters (including several visiting from Spain) gathered for a demonstration to commemorate August 8, 1978. On this day, 24 years ago, more than 500 heavily armed police officers attacked MOVE headquarters in the Powelton Village neighborhood of West Philadelphia. When the MOVE family fled into the basement to avoid the attack, police countered by flooding them out and imprisoning the MOVE 9 for the murder of Police officer James Ramp.

Hans Bennett photoes...
aug81.jpg, image/jpeg, 429x576

In this photo, Philadelphia City Hall looms in the background as a protester on Broad St. holds a poster of Delbert Africa, seconds before he was savagely beaten by the Philadelphia police.

To view the complete set of photos, please link to:

On the corner of Broad and Walnut in Center City, Philadelphia, August 10, 2002, more than 25 MOVE members and supporters (including several visiting from Spain) gathered for a demonstration to commemorate August 8, 1978. On this day, 24 years ago, more than 500 heavily armed police officers attacked MOVE headquarters in the Powelton Village neighborhood of West Philadelphia. When the MOVE family fled into the basement to avoid the attack, police countered by flooding them out and imprisoning the MOVE 9 for the murder of Police officer James Ramp.

The MOVE 9 remain imprisoned today as they serve 30-100 year sentences. The imprisonment of the MOVE 9 rips the mask of justice away from U.S. courts and reveals that they are a weapon of the system and the ruling class that constructs, maintains, and benefits from it. Likewise, the openly white supremacist and unapologetic blood-lust of the Philadelphia police department was exposed for all who chose to see it. The story of August 10, 2002 begins back in the early 1970s.

In an interview, Mario Africa of MOVE explained that “brutal beatings of MOVE people began in the early 1970’s when MOVE began to have peaceful demonstrations at locations like the Philadelphia Zoo and the University of Pennsylvania’s animal testing laboratories to protest the mistreatment and overall oppression of animals. They also protested at unsafe nursing homes where the elderly poor were forced to live, at police precincts, and at reservoirs (against the pollution of drinking water).

At the demonstrations MOVE children would be attacked and beaten, with several arms being broken. When they raided the MOVE house, they would throw babies over banisters from the second to first floor of the home. After one demonstration at the zoo, our sister Alberta Africa was beaten when she was 7 or 8 months pregnant. She was beaten specifically in her stomach and lower regions until she miscarried her baby. 2 other sisters were beaten as they were walking to the grocery store. They were handcuffed by police officers and rammed stomach first into the side of a police cruiser. They were both pregnant and miscarried their babies. Rhonda Africa was beaten in the stomach when she was 8 months pregnant until she gave birth to a still born baby. Life Africa was stomped to death in 1976 in front of an entire community. To this day, no police officer has ever been convicted for any act of police brutality.”

After the murder of Life Africa, the police publicly claimed that because their was no birth certificate, there was no baby and that MOVE was lying. In response, MOVE invited journalists to their home to view the corpse. Journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal cried when he read the newspaper and saw a photo of the corpse. Because of the intense media campaign to slander MOVE and support the police aggression, even the former Minister of Information of the Philadelphia Black Panther Party thought that MOVE was crazy, and for a while he did not think that MOVE was important enough to report on.

This was beginning to change when Mumia went to interview an eyewitness, who watched Life Africa’s murder from a window directly across the street . “I saw that baby fall,” the old man said. “They were clubbing the mother. I knew the baby was going to get hurt. I even reached for the phone to call the police, before I realized that it was the police. You know what I mean?” Mumia answered, “I know what you mean.”

Mario Africa explains that the “Philadelphia experience during the Frank Rizzo regime was overtly a police state. Dissent was crushed with brute force. If you spoke up during the late 60’s and 70s you were brutally beaten. You were stripped, tortured, taken for rides in police cruisers to beaten for hours and then dropped off in Fairmount Park. This wasn’t even done behind closed doors. It was done in the open to show people that ‘this is what we do with niggers, spics, and uppity white folks’ who were speaking up. During his televised press conferences, Frank Rizzo would often use word like ‘nigger’ and ‘spic’.

Unfortunately for even non-political citizens of Philadelphia, police brutality was not just confined to MOVE. One black protester (who lived in Philadelphia in the 1960s & 70s) told me that while he did support MOVE, he didn’t go to their rallies and was not generally politically active. Nevertheless he would be routinely stopped and thrown into the police car just for being black. He said that he “didn’t know anyone he had not been roughed up by the police. That’s the way it was. If you were black and living in Philadelphia, you were a target.”

MOVE’s militant confrontation of the Rizzo regime grew from this highly repressive environment. Mario Africa believes that the police state has only gotten worse since the Rizzo era, but that back then it was much more overt. He explains that “the Rizzo PD was the first PD to be indicted on brutality charges from the federal government. At the time, MOVE was living under extreme brutality.”

Another major step towards the Aug.8, 1978 police attack was the police starvation blockade around an entire block in Powelton Village. Residents who had lived in Powelton Village their whole life had show their ID’s whenever they left and returned home. Mayor Rizzo bragged it would be so tight “a fly couldn’t get through”. Due to subsequent demonstrations and worldwide pressure, Mayor Rizzo and the City of Philadelphia were forced to make a considerable concession. The MOVE prisoners were released from state prison, and flown home via helicopter and police van. As Mario Africa points out: “That was the first time in US history that political prisoners were released on demand. It had never happened before and hasn’t happened since.”

In exchange for the release MOVE allowed the city to inspect their home for weapons. Mario explains that “when MOVE opened up our home to the city for inspection, the police found that they had been faced down with toy guns, some carved out wood, some didn’t have firing pins. They didn’t find any operational weapons in the house. So it was extra embarrassing for the city government and police forces. Not long before that, Frank Rizzo had made the public assertion that his ‘police force was so well-trained that could invade Cuba and win’. He said he was going to launch an all-out assault on radicals that was going to be so brutal that it ‘would make Attila the Hun look like a faggot.’ To be faced down by a bunch of black folks with nappy hair with toy guns an inoperable weapons as well as having to release 3 political prisoners made his nationally (as well as internationally) respected administration look like fools. The police then chose to save face with the August 8 siege.”

AUGUST 8, 1978

Current Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Ed Rendell had been the chief negotiator for the District Attorney’s office with MOVE for years before he actually became the District Attorney. As the DA in 1978, Rendell obtained, what Mario Africa describes as a “bogus and illegal warrant” for the Aug. 8 assault by claiming that MOVE had agreed to fully evacuate their headquarters in exchange for the release of the 3 prisoners. As Mario explains: “We agreed to let them inspect the house. MOVE never agreed to leave our headquarters on Powelton Ave”.

Mario explains that the police attacked to show MOVE that they were “in charge and that MOVE didn’t win,” following the earlier release of the 3 prisoners. “The Philadelphia Police force maintained their iron fist rule by coming in and firing over 2000 rounds of ammunition at MOVE’s home. The police had all MOVE’s (inoperable) weapons because they’d been turned over. Their mission was to kill MOVE.”

That morning, hundreds of riot police moved in as bulldozers toppled their fence, outdoor platform, and cranes smashed out their home’s windows. As MOVE fled into the basement, the police followed by attempting to flood them out with high-pressure hoses. As MOVE adults found themselves holding children and animals above their heads to prevent them from drowning, things suddenly got much worse.

At 8:30 am, the first shot was fired which appeared to be across the street from MOVE. A city negotiator inside MOVE’s home at the time insists that the shot came from outside (as well as journalists and other eye-witnesses). After this shot police immediately opened fire, wounding several firemen & cops as well as both Delbert & Chuck Africa. These bullets were meant to kill. In his book All Things Censored, Mumia Abu-Jamal writes that during the trail of the MOVE 9, “one policeman testified how he stood looking into the basement window of the now-demolished headquarters, peering at Chuck Africa trying to stand up amid swirling, rushing waters pumped into the house by water cannons, and opened fire, point-blank, emptying his pistol.”

When MOVE eventually surrendered and came out of the house, their children were taken from the adults and they were viciously beaten. Caught on televison was the brutal beating of Delbert Africa. Walking towards the police with shirt off, and arms spread, he was smashed in the head with a rifle butt and once on the ground, it only intensified. The TV footage shows Delbert’s head flapping back and forth on his neck as 2 cops on each side of this head stomp and kick his head. In what journalist Linn Washington described as “the fastest destruction of a crime-scene site in history,” Mayor Rizzo ordered the police to bulldoze their home by noon that day.

Later that day, Mumia Abu-Jamal confronted Mayor Frank Rizzo during a well-attended press conference. Rizzo was enraged and publicly threatened Abu-Jamal, proclaiming: “The people believe what you write and what you say—and it’s got to stop! One day—and I hope it’s in my career—you’re going to have to be held responsible and accountable for what you do.”

During the assault, police officer James Ramp, (stationed towards the front of the assault formation) was shot in the back of his neck by a bullet traveling downwards: apparently from police fire. Mario Africa told me that “a lot of people living here in Philadelphia at the time will tell you that the TV and radios initially reported Ramp being killed by friendly fire. That’s the way it went out. It has already been admitted by the city of Philadelphia and the police department that when they attacked MOVE’s home, the residents were in the basement six feet below the ground.”

Twelve MOVE adults were arrested. 2 people denounced MOVE and were released, and Consuela Africa was tried separately because the prosecutor didn’t find any evidence that she was a MOVE member.

On May 4, 1980, Judge Malmed pronounced the MOVE 9 guilty and excessively sentenced them for 30-100 years for the third degree murder of Officer Ramp. When Malmed was a guest a few days later on a talk radio show, Mumia Abu-Jamal called in and asked him who killed Ramp. The Judge replied: “I haven’t the faintest idea.” He explained that since “they call themselves a family, I sentenced them as a family.”

The evidence is clear. MOVE could not have shot Ramp in the back of the neck at a downward trajectory when they were in the basement. As they were facing power hoses and saving their children from drowning, the would have been lucky to have even fired a gun. Indeed, the case of the MOVE 9 are obvious political prisoners that have been encaged under a false pretext.

I will conclude with a quote from Mario Africa:

“The struggle for the MOVE 9, educating people, and putting pressure on the government and people like Ed Rendell, Ron Castille and Lynne Abraham continues today. Our family members are as committed, strong, and innocent as they were on day one. It’s apparent all around the world. Just as is the case with Leonard Peltier, you don’t have to be a lawyer, a progressive, a radical, or anarchist to look at these cases and say ‘THIS IS BULLSHIT’. It’s obvious that they are in prison because they’re MOVE members committed to life, revolution, and John Africa.”

To view Hans’ recent interview with Ramona Africa, please link to:

To view Hans’ photo essay from MOVE’s May 12, 2002 demonstration in Philadelphia, please link to:

Hans Bennett is an anarchist and independent photojournalist currently working with Philadelphia’s INSUBORDINATION and AWOL magazines. He can be reached via email:

or c/o INSUBORDINATION p.o. box 30770 Philadelphia, PA 19104

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