Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dr. Marc Lamont Hill on Freeing the Move 9

Nearly thirty years ago, the city of Philadelphia was embroiled in one of the most bloody and tragic confrontations in its history. On August 8, 1978, Philadelphia police were involved in a shootout with members of MOVE, a pan-African organization situated in the Powelton Village section of West Philadelphia. Despite competing accounts about what happened, particularly regarding who instigated the violent exchange of gunfire, the confrontation ended in massive bloodshed and the death of Philadelphia Police Officer James Ramp. Nine members of MOVE were charged with third-degree murder and, after a long and expensive trial, convicted and sentenced to 30-100 years in prison.

Next month, seven of the eight living members of the MOVE 9 are scheduled for parole interviews. To no one's surprise, a string of protests have come from the city's law enforcement community, including the District Attorney's office and the Fraternal Order of Police, requesting that their parole be denied and they remain incarcerated for a full 100-year sentence. While I understand their concerns and empathize with their pain, such a decision would be a gross miscarriage of justice.

Based on the evidence used to convict the MOVE 9, there is still serious doubt about whether or not Officer Ramp was murdered by MOVE members or police fire. Given the Frank Rizzo administration's well-chronicled history of racist terrorism, both as mayor and police commissioner, there remains considerable doubt about the integrity of the investigation. Still, even if we were to trust the ballistic reports, which claim that Officer Ramp was shot in the neck at a downward angle, it would be impossible to rationally believe that a MOVE member could perform such a feat from their position in the basement. Also, based on all accounts, the three female defendants were in the basement protecting the children from gunfire. At the very least, the parole board must recognize the absurdity of keeping these women incarcerated for a full century.

Pretend for a moment that everything that the police and prosecutors said was true and everything that MOVE members claim is untrue. This would still mean that one MOVE member fired a fatal shot and eight others (who authorities insist were brainwashed cult members) were in the vicinity. Even if they were criminally negligent in other ways, do their actions call for a 100 year sentence? If we are to believe that prisons are really 'correctional' facilities why are we denying them the opportunity to demonstrate their rehabilitation? In the interest of justice, we have only one choice:


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