“We were listening to the radio, and they started talking about cops gathering at Cobbs Creek Park , basically for a showdown with MOVE. That’s when we first heard about it. Slowly but surely the block was being evacuated.
People were leaving; cars were being removed from the block. We were listening to all of this on the radio. What we were planning was to protect ourselves as much as possible, and toward that end, late that night I took all the kids down into the basement, because that was the strategy, that’s where we were supposed to go.”
Ramona goes on: “The first thing that happened was they trained deluge hoses on the house. The water was just pouring down into that basement. It had to be from the roof down. After an hour or two, that stopped. Then, they claim, they tried to insert tear gas, they wanted to breach three-inch holes in the party walls on both sides of our house to insert tear gas. Well, ‘breach’ to them meant to explode, to blow holes in the walls. And by the time they finished their explosions, they had blown the whole front of the house off. Then they did fill as much of the house as possible with tear gas. “When that didn’t work, they shot over ten thousand rounds of bullets at us – according to their own estimate. At one point they used up all their ammunition and had to send back to the armoury for more.”
As in the 1978 confrontation with MOVE, the city claimed MOVE members inside the house fired first – but when city workers combed the debris the next day, they found no trace of the automatic weapons the police had accused MOVE of firing to initiate the battle. Ramona describes the calm before the fire storm: “After the shooting, it was quiet for a long time. I guess that’s when they were preparing this bomb. They want to call it an ‘entry device’ or put some name on it that will soften the context, but you can’t soften the context of what they did. At 5:27 or so on the afternoon of May 13, they dropped that bomb on the roof of the house, and it ignited a fire.”
Ramona recounts the city’s reaction – or lack of it – to the spreading fire: “The Fire Department had been out there from the beginning. they’re the ones who had trained the deluge hoses on our house and poured tons of water down on us. But when that bomb ignited that fire, they made the decision that they weren’t going to fight it, they weren’t going to extinguish it: they were going to let it burn, knowing that innocent men, women, and babies were in that house. Innocent not just by my standards, but by their standards – we had not been convicted of any wrongdoing. But they decided to let that fire burn on innocent people.”
The next day, Mayor Goode claimed that fire fighters had been prevented from fighting the inferno by MOVE members who had escaped from the house into a back alley, from where they shot at fire fighters. But the water cannons that had poured 640,000 gallons of water on the house had been unmanned.
At the next day’s press conferences, Mayor Goode and Police Commissioner Sambor, contradicted each other about whether police had fired on MOVE members coming out of the back of the house. The mayor appeared startled that Sambor was admitting to the firing. Whereupon an aide stepped in to inform Sambor that the police had not fired any shots at escaping MOVE members after all.
Mayor Goode, who after the bombing described the whole operation as, “perfect – except for the fire,” also garnered the praise of Los Angeles Police Commissioner Daryl Gates, who called Goode, “an inspiration to the nation. I hope he runs for national office. He certainly made my heroes list – and that’s not a long list.” Frank Selgrath, editor of the police union newspaper, Peace Officer, boasted that “every action was taken to see that there was no loss of life or property.”
Since her release from prison in 1992, Ramona Africa has once again been spearheading MOVE’s crusade to free their nine brethren imprisoned for the 1978 shooting of Officer James Ramp. She said; “The issue now, as then, is our family in prison. We are not going to sit back and watch our innocent family members rot in prison for something we know they didn’t do and that the government knows they didn’t do.” Ramona says her purpose in suing the City of Philadelphia in federal court now is to draw attention to the continued oppression of MOVE members by police and government.
Twenty-Two Years After the Philadelphia Massacre
1 July 2007