Courier Post, Sep. 21, 2002
By TOM LOUNSBERRY
Some wore black-and-orange T-shirts and shouted anti- government slogans over a bullhorn. They denounced Philadelphia and Cherry Hill as partners in a plot to deny the basic rights of MOVE, a radical, back-to-nature group.
Calling themselves On The Move, they protested about what they called governmental interference in a five-year child custody battle between a MOVE member, Alberta Africa, a Cherry Hill resident, and her estranged husband, John Gilbride of Maple Shade. No MOVE member was at the scene.
“We are here to show support for Alberta Africa and the unjustified court decisions that have brought this issue to the forefront,” said Kevin Price of Pennsauken. “There was never an issue until the government got involved.”
The protesters’ T-shirts depicted the dropping of a bomb by Philadelphia Police in May 1985 on MOVE’s Osage Avenue compound. The sympathizers held posters reading “Hands Off MOVE” and “John Gilbride is a Deadbeat Dad.”
The demonstration forced Cherry Hill officials to close the municipal building at 1:30 p.m. and send its employees home early. Police cordoned off the area around the building, closing the area to all traffic.
For the past four years, Gilbride has been allowed supervised visits with his son, Zachary, 6. A social worker or other person appointed by the court always had to be present in the room when Gilbride visited with his son.
That changed Friday. A Common Pleas Court order by Judge Shelly New of Pennsylvania allowed unsupervised weekend visitation by Gilbride. That court order was upheld by the Family Division of Superior Court in New Jersey because the boy’s mother has a Cherry Hill address.
Cherry Hill police said Alberta Africa has a home in the 100 block of Thornhill Road, in the township’s Old Orchard section. However, for the past few months she has been living at MOVE’s three-story home in the 4500 block of Kingsessing Avenue in West Philadelphia, police said.
On Sept. 13, Cherry Hill police escorted Gilbride to Africa’s house in the township to pick up his son for his first unsupervised visit. The person who answered the door said neither was home, and Gilbride left.
Gilbride’s weekend-long visits with his son were to begin Friday. But Cherry Hill police said Gilbride was out of town and had told them he would not try to pick up the boy.
MOVE argues Gilbride is an unfit father who abused his child and his estranged wife. The group alleges Gilbride has refused to pay child support for his son. MOVE believes once he has the boy in unsupervised custody, he will flee with the child.
Gilbride has denied the accusations.
MOVE has let it be known that it will not turn over the child to his father.
The protest began at about noon outside the MOVE compound on Kingsessing Avenue in Philadelphia, where speakers denounced the judge’s decision.
After a two-hour demonstration, which Philadelphia police called “quiet and uneventful,” the sympathizers got into about a dozen vehicles and drove to the Cherry Hill Municipal Building.
Ten people spoke outside the municipal building, including Price, as other members walked through the neighborhood handing out literature.
Fewer than a dozen spectators heard the speeches in Cherry Hill. Among them were some who live across the street from the municipal building and others who were curious to see why police had closed off the area between Hollis and Graham streets.
“I don’t know much about this, but they say it concerns the safety of a child, which is paramount,” said Marcella Petrosky, who was carrying her 2-year-old daughter Isabella.
Rick Paoline, who lives across the street from the municipal building, also said he knew very little about the issue.
“I know it involves a child, and as a parent I know I would be reluctant to give up my child if I thought he would be in danger,” he said.