Eyewitness to explosion of frustration, death

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

The gunfire came from inside the MOVE house. It was 8:14 a.m. yesterday. I could see a couple of cops through an open window standing on the first floor of the house, just after a torrent of water blasting the front cellar window had stopped. Stakeout cops behind metal protectors lay beneath the third-floor kitchen window where Daily News photographer Norman Lono and I watched, just 30 feet away. Police hadn't fired yet.

WITHIN SECONDS, a barrage of gunfire came from the cellar window. Flak- jacketed stakeout police - behind trees, crouched near the house, lying behind metal protectors on the city streets - fired back with their rifles. It seemed to go on endlessly. It was war.

The culmination of six years of frustrations blasted out on the city streets.

It had finally happened. The ultimate confrontation. MOVE and police. It took MOVE almost a year to plan and almost another year to carry out. It seemed to be a death wish no one could prevent.

I had slipped into 311 N. 33d St., the apartment building adjacent to MOVE headquarters, ostensibly to use the phone. That's where I bumped into Lono. Police were evacuating the apartment buildings in the area. Neither of us wanted to leave. I crouched in a 4-foot-high metal broom closet, biting on my pen and holding my bracelets still. Lono stood behind a partially drawn shower curtain in the bathroom, pressing his two cameras to his body.

A POLICE officer asked the two college students who lived there to leave. They didn't want to. One stalled, using the phone about 2 feet from where I was hiding behind a partially open cabinet door.

"Hey, this is a great view," said the police officer, looking out the kitchen window. Eventually, the cop and two students left. We breathed again.

On the street below were about a dozen MOVE sympathizers, shouting hysterically about the impending confrontation. Only moments earlier, they had hurled epithets at me. "Murderer . . . You started this," a couple shrieked as I passed MOVE headquarters.

I was not one of their favorite people after a series I had written this spring. MOVErs do not like to be reminded of past misdeeds: the violence, the threats, the drugs, the weapons, the bombs which could have leveled two city blocks, the extortion plot to blow up U.S. embassies to force Mayor Rizzo to "leave them alone."

SUDDENLY I was jolted back to reality. "Oh my God, they shot a cop," I yelled into the telephone to an editor.

Just below our kitchen window, I could see the blood oozing from both sides of a blond stakeout cop's mouth. His helmet had fallen off, his shield lay on the pavement. And he was sprawled beneath me, his eyes glazed. I choked on my words. I fought tears. I had never seen anyone killed in front of me before. I could hardly dictate. It makes me cry now to write it.

The gunfire stopped. Three police officers hovered over him. Meantime, other cops threw tear gas into the cellar. An armored car pulled up. The cops lifted the officer's limp body into the truck. I knew he was dead. I later learned that just five feet from where James Ramp, 52, a stakeout cop for 17 years, had died, Police Officer William Krause had been critically wounded in the right shoulder, right side and stomach.

ELEVEN TIMES MOVE was asked to surrender: 6:01, 6:05, 6:52, 6:39, 6:54, 7:28, 7:30, 7:31, 7:49, 7:56 and 8:12. By police, by Msgr. Charles Devlin of the Cardinal's Commission on Human Relations and by Walt Palmer, chairman of the Citywide Black Coalition for Human Rights.

MOVErs screamed, "Where's Rizzo, where's (City Solicitor Sheldon) Albert, where's (Judge G. Fred) DiBona?" They put their crying babies on the microphone. Dogs barked. Wails came from the building. Sirens. A cacophony of sounds.

And sights: A bulldozer had knocked down the fence, pushed back the planks from the former parapet, uprooted a tree. Dozens of rats run across the debris throughout the morning. Scores of dogs are taken from the building. Then, the sparrows come, alighting on wood used to barricade the windows.

BILLOWS OF tear gas pour from the cellar. When it clears, Janine Phillips Africa, clutching a naked infant, and Merle Austin Africa emerge from a side cellar window. Two others come out a front cellar window. Merle is screaming, "You goddamn moth- er------, you done killed her, you done killed my baby."

Another woman with a naked baby, then a man. An officer brings out a man in handcuffs. A child's voice comes from the basement: "My mommy's dead." The child, wearing a muddy, knee-length T-shirt with blood on his face, crawls from the front cellar window and leans against the building. Police ask the child to come into the street. "No, you hurt my mommy," the child says, refusing to move. A plainclothes officer, from a nearby window, grabs the child.

(No MOVE members or their children were seriously injured or killed. )

Uniformed officers walk from room to room through the upper floors of both sides of the twin- Victorian, ramshackle house. A stakeout officer motions to the cellar.

THE DELUGE hoses are turned on again, aimed at the front cellar window. Dogs are wading or swimming in the water.

Then comes smoke cannisters.

"Help, help, I'm trying to come out," a voice calls from the cellar. A naked baby, about 6, is pushed out the front cellar window, followed by Consuela Dotson Africa, 25, carrying an 18-month-old naked infant in her arms. She pulls another naked child through the window and puts up her hand not to shoot. "There's more babies, there's one more." Another woman and a child about 4 emerges. Then, Frank James Africa, holding his hands up.

In the rear of the house, a MOVEr is crawling from a cellar window. It's Delbert Orr Africa, MOVE's leader. His arms are spread wide. He's coming out the side where two officers were shot and put into vans by the the same police who will apprehend Delbert. Photographer Lono takes over the kitchen window, keeping up a steady commentary.

AN OFFICER swings a helmet, hitting Delbert in the head. Delbert scrambles to get up. I see the officer grab him by the hair and drag him up the street. Lono can see better now. I repeat to the editor what Lono says: The cops are kicking him in the face. They handcuff his wrists and pull him up on his feet. Another officer lunges for him - he's trying to hit him in the head. But an officer jumps the angry cop, who has split his blue shirt from the rear.