RAMONA AFRICA interview with photojournalist Hans Bennett
In this exclusive May, 2002 interview with photojournalist Hans Bennett, Ramona Africa of the MOVE organization, talks about Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Ed Rendell, the anniversary of the May 13, 1985 bombing of her home, self-defense, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and more.
"Jail Rendell! Set MOVE and Mumia free!"
Photojournalist Hans Bennett interviews Ramona Africa.
This photo is from the Mother's Day, 2002 protest in Center City, Philadelphia commemorating the Mother's Day, 1985 bombing of the MOVE home.
Ramona Africa is the sole adult survivor of the May 13, 1985 massacre of 11 members of the MOVE organization. The FBI and the City of Philadelphia dropped a C4 bomb on MOVE's Osage Avenue home in West Philadelphia. Both Ramona and Birdie Africa (the only 2 survivors) report that as the MOVE family attempted to escape their burning home, their were met with massive rounds of automatic gunfire, forcing 11 members of the MOVE family to be burnt alive. Ramona dodged gunfire and escaped from the fire with permanent scarring from the burns.
As punishment for surviving, Ramona was charged with conspiracy, riot, and multiple counts of simple and aggravated assault. Subsequently Ramona served 7 years in prison. If she had chosen to sever her ties with MOVE and renounce the teachings of John Africa, she could have been released far earlier. In the face of this she held true to her revolutionary beliefs and was uncompromising in the face of state terror. In his essay, "May 13 Remembered," featured in his book "All Things Censored," Mumia Abu-Jamal writes:
"Had Ramona Africa emerged from the sea of flames wrapped in fear, had she not instead escaped with her aura of resistance intact, she would have been free long before the seven years she spent in a hellhole. Her prosecutor, describing MOVE as a cult of resistance, demanded the jury convict her of a range of charges that, if they did so, would have exposed her to fifty years in prison. Only her naturalist faith, the teachings of John Africa, allowed her to competently defend herself, where she beat the majority of the charges. Ramona is "free" today."
Since her release from prison, Ramona has tirelessly worked on behalf of the MOVE 9, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and all political prisoners and prisoners of war. She travels around the world, working for the revolution.
Ramona is interviewed by Hans on May 25, 2002
The media and many politicians are currently presenting gubernatorial candidate Ed Rendell as being for the people. Especially with the endorsement of Mayor John Street, Rendell is also presented as being a friend of Blacks fighting to liberate themselves from oppression. How does this image contrast with Rendell's relationship to both MOVE and Mumia Abu-Jamal?
The contrast is very clear because Ed Rendell was part of they conspiracy to murder MOVE people and Mumia. It was Ed Rendell as District Attorney that got warrants for MOVE people in May of 1985 and also in 1978 knowing that MOVE people are innocent, had not committed any crime. He sought warrants in 1985 on May 11, 2 days before the Mother's Day, May 13th bombing. He alleged minor charges that were from 2 weeks earlier, which really weren't any charges. It was minor nonsense like "disorderly conduct". He even charged us with terroristic threats, which was nonsense because cops were standing right on our steps talking to us for at least one hour. They didn't feel terrified or threatened, but Ed Rendell waited 2 weeks and then treated this situation as an emergency. He got an emergency judge--WHO HAPPENED TO BE LYNN ABRAHAM AT THE TIME—to sign warrants for MOVE people on an emergency basis. How could it be an emergency when the situation happened 2 weeks earlier?
That's what he used to send cops out to our home to murder MOVE people in 1985. Ed Rendell was the chief negotiator for the DA's office with MOVE for years before he even actually became the District Attorney. However, as District Attorney he was also the one that got warrants for cops to come out to MOVE headquarters on August 8, 1978 to attack and try to kill MOVE people.
In terms of Mumia, Ed Rendell knows Mumia's innocent. He knows that. But this is just an opportunity for him to get rid of Mumia. To kill Mumia, because of Mumia's position against the brutality and injustice of the Philadelphia police department. This is the kind of history that Rendell has with the Black community.
How many cops has he ever prosecuted as DA for killing Black people, Latinos, and poor whites throughout this city? The list of people killed by cops in this city is enormous, dating back as far as I can remember with Winston Hood. That was 35-40 years ago. So we know the history of this city, and I'm saying that Rendell DOES NOT have a history of prosecuting cops for killing Blacks, Latinos, and poor whites in Philadelphia as a DA. What do people expect from him as a Governor?
This man is not a governor of the people. He has very high political aspirations just like Wilson Goode [who was Philadelphia's mayor when MOVE was bombed in 1985] and he's slimy. He doesn't care about scruples, ethics, or doing what's right. His only concern is getting ahead. He is no friend to Black people no matter what he tries to say.
This recent Mother's Day marked the 17th anniversary of the FBI & City of Philadelphia's May 13th, 1985 bombing of MOVE's Osage Ave. home. What are your thoughts on the anniversary of this horrible day?
Concerning the murder of my family on May 13, 1985 particularly disturbing is the fact that not one single official, police officer, or anybody else has ever been held accountable for the murder of my family. I have sisters and brothers who have been in prison since 1978, sitting in prison with 100-year sentences for a murder that they did not commit and that officials know my family members did not commit. As of this year, they've been sitting in prison for 24 years looking at 100-year sentences. Meanwhile the same government that says it's opposed to murder (and imprisoned my family for the accusation of murder) sat there in 1985 and dropped a bomb on my family; burnt babies alive. How come the government didn't have a problem with that murder. The whole world watched them. There's no question about who murdered my family, but not one of those responsible is sitting in prison, sitting on death row like Mumia.
Reflecting on the 17th anniversary, the hypocrisy of this system never ceases to amaze me. People should not be fooled by this government using words like "justice". Justice is not in their reference at all. It is nothing but a convenient excuse for imprisoning and murdering poor people and people of color. My family members who were parents of most of those children that were murdered on May 13, are sitting in prison 24 years to this day for the accusation of a murder that they didn't commit, that nobody saw them commit. Meanwhile, the people who murdered their babies are still collecting paychecks, still seen as respectable, and never did a day in jail.
How do you think MOVE's relationship to both the City of Philadelphia & the FBI has changed since 1985?
We really grieve for the loss of our family members in May of '85 and hurt behind that because we're alive, we have feelings, we can be hurt, and we do hurt and grieve behind the loss of our family. But we also know that this government lost something too because around the world, the United States government has always had this personae of being a land of freedom, justice, equality: the land of human rights. Having traveled to various countries, my family members and I can say without any fear of contradiction that that personae doesn't exist anymore.
People around the world are looking at the United States and looking at examples like the May 13th bombing of our family and saying "how could this happen in the United States? How can a country claim to be about human rights (that points the finger at other countries like China, Iraq, and Iran, etc. in the name of human rights) while they bomb babies and burn babies alive?"
So, while we feel the loss of our family, we know that it cost this government a lot. As some oriental cultures say, they have "lost face". Therefore this government is a little leery about coming at MOVE again. They would like to come at us and wipe the rest of us out and get rid of MOVE once and for all: they want to bring "a permanent end to MOVE" (which Wilson Goode said he was aiming for with the May 13th bombing). It didn't happen in 1985 and it will never happen, but that is what this government wants. They are more leery today because of what happened in '85.
They don't mind, killing and raping, and robbing and pillaging in the dark when they can do it behind closed doors. When they are forced to do it out in the open, where they have to do it before the whole world, then they are leery. They don't want to do that because they don't want to be exposed. That's what happens when they deal with the MOVE organization: they get exposed. So our relationship with the government is the same that it always has been except the government is a lot more leery of MOVE today than it was 17 years ago. That includes the city, state, and federal government
My brother Mike Africa, a young MOVE member was snatched into custody during the Republican National Convention in 2000 for nothing: because the cops were just going crazy here in Philadelphia. When we found out about it, we stepped right to the cops and told them: "Look, Ya'll got our brother. He didn't do anything. We want him back now, or you've got a problem on your hands".
We don't know what they did (and we don't care) but within 15 minutes they took our brother out of the police van that they put him in and let him go. They didn't do that with any other person that they snatched up during the entire RNC. They didn't do that because they wanted to be fair. They didn't do that because they fear Ramona Africa, Pam Africa, Mike Africa, or any other MOVE member. They did that based on the 30-year consistent example, serious unwavering example of the MOVE organization here in Philadelphia. This government has been FORCED to respect the MOVE organization
In his essay "Pacifism as Pathology," indigenous scholar/activist Ward Churchill has argued that the real question for today's revolutionaries is not WHETHER to engage in armed struggle, but WHEN. If you agree with this, when do you think is the appropriate time to engage in armed struggle?
Let me just say that MOVE people do believe uncompromisingly in the principle of self-defense. So in terms of when to engage in armed struggle, MOVE's position is: as a matter of self-defense. We are not offensive. We don't go out attacking anybody, but if someone attacks us then we certainly believe in the principle of self. That is the law, the true law, the law of life, the law of Mother Nature. There's not one species on the face of this earth that doesn't defend itself when attacked. Humans have the same instinct in us, its just been twisted and distorted by the system.
So in terms of armed struggle, Yeah! When you're attacked you have every right and every responsibility to defend yourself. In May of 1977 when MOVE took to the platform of our home bearing arms, we made it very clear to this system. We said: Look. Pregnant move women have been beaten into miscarriage, so babies were killed that way. A three-week-old baby had been stomped by cops to death; his head crushed on the concrete in front of MOVE headquarters. Men, women and children have been attacked and beaten by police over the years. MOVE took a position.
We took to the platform in front of our home displaying arms and said "Look. We're not suicidal, sacrificial scapegoats. We believe in defending ourselves. You come at us with fists, You're gonna be met with fists. You come at us with sticks, you're gonna be met with sticks. You come at us with guns, you'll be met with guns. We intend to defend ourselves. We're not going to allow our family to be brutalized and murdered just because the brutalizer or murderer wears the title of police officer. We're not gonna do that. The time for armed struggle is in terms of self-defense.
Could you tell me about when you first met Mumia Abu-Jamal. Then, what's going on today in the struggle for both his life and freedom?
I remember very clearly when I first met Mumia. As a new MOVE supporter coming around and starting to go to the MOVE trails back in 1979, Mumia was a regular attendee of the MOVE trails and any kind of demonstration or rally or whatever MOVE members and supporters would have. He even went into the prisons to interview MOVE people regularly. So I would see him around. I knew of him, but didn't really know him personally.
One day I ended up getting arrested from the MOVE trail because the judge was trying to bar me from MOVE trials, telling me that I couldn't get back in there. I wouldn't accept that. I wanted to know how the public could be barred from a public trail. That wasn't his courtroom. That was the people's courtroom. So I ended up being arrested and I was taken to the Roundhouse, the police administration building. I was there overnight and got out early that morning, went home, showered, got changed, and went right back down to City Hall. Mumia was right there and came right up to me asking about my arrest. He wanted to do an interview with me about what had happened. I was very new to activism -to this kind of work—of revolution. So I was kinda nervous and he was doing everything he could to make me comfortable and everything. We did the interview and laughed and talked. That was my first real interaction with Mumia. From that point on we would talk and go up to the prison sometimes together, because he would interview MOVE people. I spent some time in prison and we would come up and do interviews with us.
That's how I really met Mumia and what struck me about him was his sincerity. He wasn't just doing a story. He wanted people to know what was going on with MOVE. He wasn't sensationalizing anything or just trying to get his paycheck. This was personal to him because he related to what was going on and wanted to get the information out. He wanted to use his skills as a journalist to call attention to things to things important to him and should be important to all poor people, particularly Black people, Latinos, Asians, all people of color as well as poor whites.
When it started out I'm sure Mumia was just like covering a story and was just curious about this MOVE organization. As he began to understand what MOVE represents it became very personal to him. That doesn't mean that he slants any stories in our favor or anything. Mumia simply told the truth: something that no other journalist had done when it came to MOVE. They simply told the system's version. Mumia told the truth and that's what separated him from other journalists.
In terms of what's going on today, contrary to a lot of rumor and misinformation, Mumia is still on death row. He has not been removed from death row, because even though a Federal Judge (Judge Yohn) overturned his sentence, he did not overturn his conviction. Mumia is appealing the affirmation of his conviction. He wants the conviction overturned. To simply overturn the sentence leaves Mumia open to another sentencing hearing which just means that he can be resentenced to death or sentenced to life imprisonment. Those are the only 2 options there. Mumia is innocent. He's not content being still seen as guilty. If he doesn't have a more crystallized death sentence, he will have a more devious so-called life sentence. Right now Mumia's case is on appeal. The same applies to the MOVE 9. They're case is on appeal in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and we're waiting for a decision on their post-conviction appeal right now.
If people want to help, how can they best contact you and the organizations which you work with
Anybody who wants more information about MOVE or Mumia can contact us at P.O. box 19709 Philadelphia, PA 19143. They can call MOVE at (610) 499-0979. They can call the Mumia office at (215) 476-5416. The MOVE website is www.moveorg.net the Mumia website is www.mumia.org
Is there anything else you would like to add for the interview?
People who are involved in this revolution should make up their minds here and now that this is a life long commitment. It's not something that's going to end in five or ten years. It should be our life, not just some part-time extra-curricular activity that we're involved in because it is serious. It is a life and death situation. Everybody needs to be involved and do whatever it is that they can. I would never presume to tell anybody what they should be doing. The only thing I can say is that you should be doing whatever you can and only each individual can determine that. So honesty is the key. People need to do this for themselves. Not for Ramona, not for MOVE, not for Mumia, not for Leonard Peltier, but for themselves and their families
With that I'll say Ona Move! Long Live the MOVE 9, Mumia, Leonard Peltier, the Puerto Rican indepentistas, those protesters fighting for their very lives out there in Vieques, those Native American grandmothers fighting for their existence at Big Mountain in Arizona... Long live the Zapatistas, Earth First, the Earth Liberation Front, the Animal Liberation Front... Long Live all those who fight for life, who fight for freedom, who love freedom enough to fight for it, Long Live the Spirit of Resistance. Long Live Revolution! Long Live John Africa, and down with this rotten ass system!
Hans Bennett is an anarchist and independent photojournalist currently working with the Philadelphia-based INSUBORDINATION and AWOL magazines. He can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Or via:
INSUBORDINATION po box 30770 Philadelphia, PA 19104
Look out for 2 more photoessays this week from Hans Bennett. First, is a photoessay documenting the protest Tuesday afternnon at the University of Pennsylvania Police Department at 40th % Chestnut, including photos of Pam Africa giving a classic fiery speech decrying the white supremacy, injustice and brutality of this system. Second, is coverage of the press conference in front of Ed Rendell's campaign office here in Philadelphia on Friday.
To view Hans' recent photo-essay documenting the Mother's Day, 2002 demonstration in Center City, Philadelphia in commemoration of the Mother's Day 1985 bombing please link to:
To read Hans' recent interview with Pam Africa of MOVE and the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, please link to:
Also check out Hans' recent interview with Mario Africa of AWOL magazine, MOVE, and the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Please link to:
address: c/o INSUBORDINATION po box 30770 Philadelphia PA 19104
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