This photo-essay has work from both Walidah Imarisha and Hans Bennett. Walidah writes about the current emergency here in Philadelphia with the MOVE organization. Hans provides photos both from the MOVE home last week and of the demonstration on Friday. Stay Tuned both for new photos, as well as a new joint essay by Hans Bennett and Walidah Imarisha (to be featured in a special issue of Philadelphia’s INSUBORDINATION magazine—for the issue please send at least $1 in well-concealed cash to po box 30770, Philadelphia PA 19104 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
). Also attached is a press release from MOVE responding to recent editorials written in the local Philadelphia papers.
In this photo, MOVE women (including Pam and Ramona Africa) guard the entrance to MOVE's boarded up West Philadelphia home. TO view all photos, please link to the Philadelphia IMC article: http://www.phillyimc.org/article.pl
MOVE stand-off over child
By Walidah Imarisha
On May 13, 1985, the city of Philadelphia dropped a C-4 canister onto the home of the MOVE organization. It acted as an incendiary device, killing 11 people, including five children. The bomb set fire to an entire city block, leaving hundreds of predominately black working class West Philly residents homeless.
Seventeen years later, MOVE, a radical naturalist organization, sits in their well-cared-for 4504 Kingsessing house, first floor and attic windows barricaded with wooden slats, fearful a custody dispute will be used by the police and city administration to set the stage for another May 13.
MOVE member Alberta Africa is currently engaged in a custody battle with John Gilbride, former MOVE supporter, over their 6-year-old son. A recent court ruling granted Gilbride unsupervised partial custody, a ruling that MOVE finds unacceptable.
This custody case began when the child was only 6 months old, and MOVE says Gilbride deserted both his wife and child, disappearing without warning for six months. They say he then resurfaced, denouncing MOVE and demanding custody of the child.
Alberta refused, saying that Gilbride could see and had been seeing the child whenever he wanted for years; her only stipulation was that it be under her supervision. She claims he is unstable, has a history of abuse, and she believes there is a real danger he will disappear with their son. "John works for U.S. Airways as a supervisor and has access to his son's passport. He can up and leave with this boy at anytime and fly anywhere," says Tiffany Robbins, a MOVE supporter.
The new ruling by Judge Shelly Robbins New overturned a previous court ruling that granted Gilbride only supervised visits. MOVE says the judge in that case, Senior Judge Edward Rosenberg, had presided over the case for four years, had heard all the evidence, visited the homes, interviewed the child and had psychological testing done on the child before making his ruling. "He definitely wasn't sympathetic to MOVE, we had a lot of problems with things he did in the case, but he could not find a reason to give anything more than supervised visits after four years," Robbins says.
On the other hand, Robbins says, New heard one day of testimony and admitted in court she had not read the previous trial transcripts before her ruling. "We demand fairness. New didn't go to anyone's home, Alberta's or John's, and look at it. She wants to make an order, but doesn't even know where she's sending the child." Robbins says. Robbins claims New’s history as a district attorney in Philadelphia prejudicing her against MOVE and their beliefs. Judge New declined to comment, as the case is still pending.
MOVE says this custody case is being used as an opportunity to attack the organization. They point to the fact that in 1985, the city of Philadelphia said they were serving warrants when they dropped the bomb on MOVE's house. Those warrants were later ruled as invalid by a court. "The difference between 1985 and now is that people didn't find out about the warrants then until after they dropped the bomb. Now people around the world know about this. They know this government is still laying the groundwork to come in here and kill MOVE people," says Pam Africa of the MOVE organization.
MOVE has a history of confrontation with police officers. In 1978, a year-long stand off between the organization and police ended Aug. 8 when hundreds of police surrounded the MOVE house. Shots rang out, a police officer was killed, and nine MOVE people convicted of the murder, despite conflicting evidence.
MOVE is also one of the key groups supporting Mumia Abu-Jamal, a black journalist and political prisoner convicted of killing a police officer. Abu-Jamal was one of the few journalists to cover MOVE's conflicts with the police in the 1970s and 1980s.
Robbins says this is a religious issue for MOVE as well as a political one, that their beliefs say a child stay with its mother. "These judges are deliberately acting illegally. This is religious persecution of the organization, trying to separate a mother from a child."
"This is an issue that isn’t just happening to my sister Alberta," says Mario Africa at a press conference/rally around this issue. "It’s happening to women on every street in America, women being told to give up their children to abusive husbands or ex-husbands. This isn’t just about MOVE."
When it comes to jurisdiction in this case, however, the picture is nothing if not convoluted. The case originally went through Philadelphia courts, even though both Africa and Gilbride reside in Cherry Hill, NJ. Part of New's ruling was that any further court proceedings would take place in New Jersey. New Jersey, however, has said it will simply uphold Philly's decisions. Since MOVE is headquartered in Philly, though, there is no way the city can remain aloof from the issue. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson has stated as much publicly, and has met with the MOVE organization around this situation. According to Inspector William Colarulo, spokesperson for the commissioner, Johnson even went so far as to call Cherry Hill's police chief Brian Malloy about an incident Sept. 13 where MOVE alleges Gilbride came to collect the child for an unscheduled visit accompanied by several Cherry Hill police officers. Colarulo confirmed that when Johnson spoke with Malloy, Malloy told Johnson "he wasn't aware of anyone for the department going out to the house."
That's not what Cherry Hill police say, however. Lt. Robert English of the CHPD said he couldn't confirm whether Johnson had spoken with Malloy, but that they had sent officers out to accompany Gilbride on the unsuccessful visit, as neither Africa nor the child were present.
With muddled communication like this, MOVE says they don't know what steps to take. Their appeal was denied in Philadelphia's Superior Court Friday, Sept. 6, which means their legal options have run out.
MOVE have now turned their attention to city officials, urging them to get involved to avoid another May 13. "We've gone to every city official asking for help, and we've gotten nowhere... They're trying not to get involved, but their hands are all in it. There ain't no way their hands are ever going to be clean. They want to ignore MOVE, thinking this situation will go away. The only way this situation is going to go away is to do right by MOVE, and to do right by this innocent child," Robbins intones.
Mayor John Street's office did not return calls for an interview and City Councilmember Wilson Goode, Jr., son of former Mayor Wilson Goode who authorized the dropping of the 1985 bomb, refused to comment on the incident.
The first scheduled weekend of Gilbride's custody was Sept. 20. MOVE supporters arranged a demonstration that began in Philly at MOVE headquarters and traveled to the Cherry Hill police headquarters. However, Gilbride, who has threatened to get a bench warrant on Africa if she does not relinquish the child, did not show up for the visit. MOVE says they were told by Channel 6 TV news reporter Vernon Odom that Gilbride was in Las Vegas for the weekend.
In a press release on the incident, MOVE says, "If John Gilbride thought his son’s life was in danger from MOVE, why did he go to Las Vegas, just like if he thought his son’s life was in danger, why did he leave him behind in MOVE instead of taking him with him?"
Robbins warns that this is most definitely not the end of the conflict, that MOVE are in this for the long haul. "Unless people put pressure on these officials, we don't know what's going to happen next. We know we're going to protect our brother. This boy is innocent."
For updates, visit www.moveorg.net.
RECENT MOVE PRESS RELEASE:
Here are two editorials, the first was printed in the daily news on Friday and the 2nd Saturday in the Inquirer and they are followed by MOVE's response
MOVE AWAY TRYING TO DEAL RATIONALLY WITH AN IRRATIONAL SITUATION
SAY THE word MOVE in Philadelphia and people instantly get out of the way - and not out of politeness.
Few events scar a city as deeply as the MOVE conflagration of 1985 scarred Philadelphia. The very memory sends shudders down peoples spines.
So we can't blame Mayor Street for trying to downplay and distance his administration and the city's Police Department from the latest MOVE problem: a child custody dispute between a father and mother who is a MOVE member.
But Street is wrong in saying this isn't Philadelphia's problem. MOVE lives in the city and once again they are forcing our rational system of laws to deal with their typically irrational behavior. Or is it irrational?
By boarding up their West Philadelphia home and accusing the police of using this custody fracas as an excuse for killing "more MOVE babies," MOVE is clearly trying to invoke some painful memories and manipulate the rest of the city into ignoring a New Jersey court order giving John Gilbride the right to see his own son.
MOVE members may be hoping that history is on their side. It's not.
While we can't forget what happened 17 years ago, we can also point to one other situation where police had to make a tough call - and ultimately the right one.
Just as in Philadelphia, the Elian Gonzalez case in Miami dealt with child custody. The irrational ones in that instance were the anti-communist Cuban-Americans who felt Elian should remain in the United States rather than go to his father in Cuba. Mayor Street's role was then played by Miami-Dade's mayor who refused to help the Clinton administration return Elian to his father.
For days there was a tense stand-off, until Janet Reno ordered federal agents to seize the child - at gunpoint. Those of us who felt a child belongs with his father cheered.
No one wants another MOVE disaster. But neither can we, as a city, stand idly by while court orders are being flaunted, especially since MOVE has legal options if they have a case against Gilbride. We either are a city of laws - even when they are dangerous to enforce - or we're not. And if we're not, then MOVE isn't the only irrational element in this equation.
TO: FRANK BURGOS, DAILY NEWS EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
The Philadelphia Daily News editorial staff must owe the police a favor. There's no other explanation for that Sept. 20, 2002 editorial titled "Move Away," other than to say its sick.
There is absolutely no comparison between MOVE'S and the Elian Gonzalez case. This MOVE child's mother is alive; Elian Gonzalez's mother is dead, unfortunately. There were no issues of child abuse or abandonment against that father, but these are issues outstanding against the father of the MOVE child. Your editorial attempts to gloss over all this, cover it up, and that is very telling. What about the fact that John Gilbride is a dead beat dad, why didn't you do some investigation into the fact that this man has been known to make as much as $185,000.00 a year as a U.S. Airways supervisor, yet he's never paid one dime in child support. What about the real possibility of this child being abducted by his father who's an airline employee, can fly any place in the world at a moments notice, virtually free of charge, and proven himself to be a sneaky, devious, unfaithful, and disloyal father to this child, besides being abusive .
You have deliberately chose to overlook all these issues that are potentially life-threatening to this child, and instead you've chose to try to divert people's attention by accusing MOVE of "trying to invoke some painful memories and manipulate the rest of the city into ignoring a NJ court order giving John Gilbride the right to 'see his son.'" You sound just as insensitive, unfair, without the power of reason behind your thoughts, as John Gilbride, but John Gilbride have undergone mind-control, what is wrong with you? MOVE don't play no games, ever, so don't try to accuse us of playing games now, specially not when it's at the expense of our own child's life, happiness, welfare.
How dare you try to falsify influence people into believing MOVE'S only purpose is to play on some so call sympathy over May 13, 1985 and ignore the issue of our child's safety being threatened. What are you, some baby-hating advocate of child abuse, that's just thirsting for more MOVE children's blood? Look how you insensitively showed that picture of cops with guns pointed in the face of that little Cuban boy, with a total lack of regard for that child and the MOVE child, maliciously misusing your position at the Daily News, trying to influence the public that violence against children by the government is sometimes necessary; the whole world would be interested in hearing how you substantiate that one, Frank. You must love violence, and it's obvious you ain't got no thing about babies lives being put in danger one way or the other. You definitely have a diseased mind, a baby-killing mentality, where you in Vietnam, did you take a willing part in the Mailai Massacre?
You also mentioned something about MOVE not being allowed to flaunt court orders. Are you accusing your head DA Lynn Abraham of doing that in the Howell case? There was a court order issued by Judge Seamus McCaffery to release Howell, but Lynn Abraham came back saying that judge's decision was wrong and she reinstated the charges on this man. Don't say that was different either, because it ain't. The court order Judge Shelly Robbins New issued is wrong, so why is it MOVE is just flaunting NJ., NJ is basing everything they do in this case on Judge Shelly Robbins New's illegal, contemptible, wrong court order.
Why is MOVE wrong for taking the same stand as Lynn Abraham-that the court order is wrong an therefore should not be allowed to stand. MOVE ain't the only one who's saying Judge New is wrong, the judge before, Edward Rosenberg, indicated she's wrong through his decision; when he was involved in this custody case Judge Rosenberg didn't issue a court order that would put this child's life in a dangerous threatening situation like Judge New has. Judge Rosenberg was involved for almost 4 years, Judge New was involved for 1 day, now which judge are you gonna say had the most experience, knowledge of the case to make a decision in the best interest that would preclude him from being able to be impartial in a MOVE custody case, while Judge New on the other hand, who was a DA prosecutor for many years and is a known police sympathizer ergo anti-MOVE and Mumia Abu Jamal, could never be fair or impartial, because she has a definite conflict of interest.
This Judge should not be involved in any case involving MOVE, let alone one involving a young child in MOVE. If she had any ethics as a judge she would have immediately recused herself, and Judge Panapinto would never have signed her up to preside over this case. Obviously Judges New and Panapinto both have no such ethics, but we also notice that neither do you have any ethics because you failed to even mention any of these facts in your editorial. No judge having any kind of pre-conceived prejudices against people should ever be allowed to preside over cases involving these people. Judge New and Judge Panapinto both knew Judge News political leanings, personal affiliations and sympathies with police, was grounds for her recusal, but they both lied and covered up that fact, allowing Shelly Robbins New to get her hand son this custody case knowing full well, before-hand, her intentions were to sympathize with the father simply because he wasn't a MOVE member and that's exactly what she did, but where does that leave this child now, when we know the father's abusive, a dead beat dad, and a threat to the child's very life and safety?
Do you even care Frank Burgos? MOVE knows you don't care what happens to this child and we're gonna make sure everybody else knows it too because you have lost your credibility as an objective reporter the instant you chose to show your hatred and prejudice by focusing on this child's real urgent need to be protected. You can applaud the fact that Elian Gonzalez's father was given in his son all you want, but his father wasn't charged as being a child-abuser and a dead-beat dad, was he, and that child had no mother, so what's your point. As far as John Gilbride having a right to see his son, you better know right now that ain't the issue and never have been. John Gilbride have always been able to see his son, whenever he wanted, for however long he wanted, and those times when he was temporarily barred from seeing his sons were the times when he had committed acts of abuse, either physically or emotionally, against the child and the child was separated from the father for his own protection. MOVE ain't taking no stand to stop John Gilbride from seeing his son, and we know you know it. If MOVE didn't want this man to see his son, then you explain how he's been seeing his son all these years since he left his family, and we've never taken a stand like this, you can't have it both ways, either MOVE wants him to see his son or we don't, and our actions the past four years are certainly not indicating that we don't, but there's a line that must be drawn between a man seeing his son, and a man being given the go-ahead to mistreat, abuse and possibly threaten his son's life, and no caring parent is going to cross over that line at the expense of their own child's life, period.
Frank, your lying, sexist, prejudiced opinions could very well cause the death of an innocent 6 year old child. We know you know your editorial is full of subliminal messages about the necessity of police aggression and violence, even where children are involved, and that people should applaud fathers being given their son's despite the concerns of mothers, that MOVE'S stand should be dismissed as just some tactic to gain sympathy, nothing more, and that all court orders are right, valid, but that MOVE does have legal resources we should use, all these subliminal issues to divert the mind of the public away from the real issue, this child's safety. But who do you think is gonna fall for this, only racist, hateful, chauvinistic people like you would fall for a lie like this. Everybody know the prejudice, hate, injustice that's always being spit on MOVE by this government (see all the enclosed court ordered denials of our sister's appeals to try to protect her child's life), but aside from the above you don't have to go past the court's violation of its own rules of "objective propriety, and recusal" to see what we're saying here, so why don't you stop playing games, admit you're deliberately trying to mislead the public, with that editorial of yours, into being against MOVE'S efforts to protect and save Alberta's son.
You might as well admit this because everybody sees it, you've not coming off like you're honest, truthful, sincere; you're coming off real ugly and hateful because that's exactly what you are, and you particularly hate women and children. You have no regard for Alberta and her son's right to live in safety and security, away from the abuse of John Gilbride. You just as obviously have shown you have pro-man sentiments, but that does not give you the right to disregard the rights of women and children, or to bash women and children the way you're doing Albert Africa and her son. You're looking like a real fool, too, because right now as you're carrying the torch in favor of John Gilbride's rights as a so-call father, at the expense of this young child, John Gilbride is in Las Vegas gambling and partying. Isn't that a shame, it's like a slap in your face, Frank, ain't it! That's the feeling everybody involved in this ultimately gets, or will get in the long run, if you keep trusting this man. If he didn't have it in him to be loyal to his own wife and son, his own mother and father, than MOVE knows there's nothing you can expect from him. If you can't see that now, you will see it later. See, you think you're so smart, but you've been had too, just like so many others, by John Gilbride.
Editorial | Learn from the past- Philadelphia Inquirer (9/21)
Philly should know that neglect is not the way to deal with MOVE.
Somewhere in the fine print of Philadelphia's neighborhood anti-blight program, you'd like to think there would be a recommendation against nailing ugly wooden slats over a home's windows.
But maybe not. After all, Mayor Street has all but given his approval to the radical group MOVE's strange decision to fortify its sprawling, stone twin home in West Philadelphia.
Slats went up on the first- and third-floor windows of the Kingsessing Avenue house last weekend. A huge, hand-lettered banner appeared soon, warning of "a witch hunt so cops can kill more MOVE babies."
No law against the window treatments, says Mr. Street. District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham agrees, saying it's OK "if people want to fortify their house and live inside their own prison."
That's a shame, because home improvements like this threaten to blight the MOVE block. The real danger in ignoring them, of course, is that the woodwork could be a harbinger of far worse events.
The gradual fortification of two previous houses, coupled with escalating neighborhood harassment by then-MOVE members, led to disastrous, deadly confrontations with the city.
After the fiery May 13, 1985 clash, a mayoral commission faulted the city's early policy of "appeasement, nonconfrontation and avoidance." So it's worth remembering that, in the face of official inaction, a house with window slats was turned into a virtual fortress with a rooftop bunker.
The good news: Nothing like a repeat seems imminent. For one thing, this isn't the group described by that 1986 mayoral commission as an "authoritarian, violence-threatening cult." That MOVE perished 17 years ago, when six adults - with five children in their care - died at the Osage Avenue house in West Philadelphia after a police bomb ignited an inferno.
Today's MOVE members, among them the sole adult '85 survivor, Ramona Africa, appear focused on protecting a child - in step with their recent custom of sending baked goods to neighbors, and inviting local kids over for birthday parties.
Their beef is a long-simmering child-custody dispute involving a member, Alberta Gilbride, who now lives in Cherry Hill. A judge recently granted alternate-weekend custody of her 6-year-old son, John Zachary, to her former husband, John G. Gilbride, reversing another judge who had limited the father to supervised visits.
Let's hope that court matter plays out peacefully, however it's resolved by court officials, child advocates, and Zachary's parents.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia officials need to be working more proactively to persuade MOVE members to uncover their windows - and reclaim their recent good-neighbor status.
We read your editorial of September 21, 2002 regarding the stand MOVE is taking as a result of the August 8, 2002 court order Judge Shelly Robbins New issued, to give our sister Alberta Africa's child over to an abusive father for unsupervised weekend visits. We won't burden you with a lot of talk here, because we know you already know a lot of the details, we just wanted to take this opportunity to comment on your talking about MOVE'S boarded up windows, and Lynn Abraham's remarks about it being OK if people want to fortify their home and live inside their own prison. That is such a cold, callous, insensitive remark, especially coming from what's supposed to be a woman. It's understood by MOVE that Lynn Abraham has no love for us, but what does that have to do with a young child's life, welfare and security? A child who she can't even hallucinate has ever done anything wrong to her. Is she saying because this child is in MOVE he doesn't deserve the same concern of consideration that she's claiming she's giving little Sasha Fogle?
Listen, Lynn Abraham can feel anything she wants about MOVE adults, but to direct that hate at an innocent 6 year old child, just because he was born in MOVE, is unconscionable and we want to make you, her and all people aware of this. Everybody knows MOVE is not crazy, Lynn Abraham should be more honest, if that's possible. Why would MOVE take the position we're taking for no good reason. It should be obvious we have a damn good reason for us to be brought to these extremes. Does anybody think MOVE people prefer to have to live like this, would you prefer to have to live like this, no we do not want to live like this, we're people just like you, but we have a child, who's only 6 years old and his very life is in danger because of this unethical, biased, prejudiced, hateful Judge Shelly Robbins New, and we have no choice but to take a stand we're taking because nobody in the courts or this government will come to the aid of this child.
Its evident, by all of the court's denials of the child's mother's appeals for help, that the courts are condoning Judge New's order that this child be put into the hands of a father who's a child abuser, all alone, unsupervised, with nobody to protect him. Which calls to mind the words of Gregor Sambor, the commissioner of police in 1985, who testified during the MOVE Commission hearings after the bombing of MOVE'S children, that this government is particularly targeting MOVE'S children because they see them as more of a threat than the adults-a vicious tactic that have been used historically by aggressors against a people that they want to exterminate, destroy. MOVE is in no way unaware of the tactics this government used in the past against MOVE children and we ain't unaware now of what the real deal is. John Gilbride is just a pawn, a convenient excuse to justify this government's present tactical maneuver against this little MOVE child, and ultimately against MOVE.
Based on the way we know this government thinks, we know they see this child as having committed a crime just by being born in MOVE and that is insane, just as insane as this government wanting to eliminate him, and setting the stage for his destruction by handing him over to a man they know will destroy him, because John Gilbride does not love his son, in fact, he is jealous of the boy and has made no attempts to hide it. On top of that, John Gilbride is emotionally immature, unaware, reckless, and abusive to his son. Add up all these things together and anybody with any common sense would know what would happen to this child if left alone in this man's hands. Don't think for one minute this government doesn't know all of this, but that's exactly what they're counting on, that once John Gilbride gets his hands on the child he'll do their dirty work for them. That's why they're denying the mother's petitions to protect the child and standing behind Judge New's court order to put the child in the position of being taken by the father alone and unsupervised. What do you think the purpose for all of this illegal maneuvering by the courts to get Shelly Robbins New, a DA prosecutor posing as a Family Court judge, on this case is all about. Open your eyes, if you have any feelings for children at all, don't allow yourself to be diverted. This whole situation stinks to high heaven, it is intolerable and people need to stop focusing on MOVE'S windows and focus on the rotten behavior of this government in its handling of this child.
For more information check out:
or the Front Page Feature on the website of the Philadelphia Independent Media Center:
To view Hans Bennett’ last essay written about MOVE, please link to: http://www.phillyimc.org/article.pl?sid=02/09/17/0737248
To view Hans’ May, 2002 interview with MOVE Minister of Information Ramona Africa (featured on the AWOL magazine website), please link to: http://awol.objector.org/articles/ramonainterview.html