Free at last! Three members of the MOVE 9 released from prison

July 2019 MOVE photo

Photo includes from far left: Fred Riley, Carlos Africa, Eddie in the middle, his son Little Eddie, daughter in law Sukona, and Raymond Africa Jr.
(Photo courtesy of MOVE)

By STEVE XAVIER

Political prisoner Eddie Goodman Africa, a member of the MOVE 9, was released from prison on the morning of June 2, after 40 years of unjust incarceration. Janet Holloway Africa and Janine Phillips Africa were also released recently (on May 25), becoming the third and fourth MOVE members to be set free after spending four decades in prison. MOVE member Mike Africa Sr. was paroled in October of 2018, and Debbie Sims Africa was set free in June of 2018.

Two MOVE 9 prisoners, Phil and Merle Africa, died in prison. Two members of the MOVE 9, Chuck and Delbert Africa, remain incarcerated. The fight to gain freedom for the remaining incarcerated MOVE members, and all other prisoners, must be redoubled.

In a press release, Attorney Brad Thomson said, “Eddie’s release is a victory for him, his family, and the movement that has been fighting for his freedom. This is the newest chapter in the decades-long struggle to free all the MOVE 9, which is a struggle that continues with the fight to free Delbert and Chuck Africa, who are both up for parole this year.”

Speaking at a press conference in Philadelphia on June 27, Eddie Africa spoke about his struggles in prison, the loss of Phil and Merle, and the need to reach youth before they get sent to prison. Eddie talked about coming home, saying, “It’s good to be with family. I’m telling you now, as I told them then, I am innocent. I did not—we did not—kill Ramp. They know we didn’t do it. I’ve had parole agents tell me they know we didn’t kill the cop, but somebody’s got to pay. So, they chose us.”

Following Eddie’s comments, Janine Africa took the mike. She said, “It’s really emotional because Delbert should be here too. And it’s hard to leave your family behind. They [Eddie and Delbert] have been through a lot together. They were beaten together. They spent time down at Holmesburg, where they were attacked defending us [referring to the MOVE 9 women prisoners] because we were attacked. They’ve been through a lot, and there’s no reason that Delbert’s not here except that he’s a MOVE member.”

1978 Powelton Village confrontation

Founded by John Africa in 1972, the MOVE organization was persecuted by Philadelphia cops from the beginning. Philly cops were, and still are, notorious for targeting Black activists. Frank Rizzo, a Philly cop turned police chief, and later mayor, was a hardcore racist and reactionary who encouraged his cops to treat Black people with disrespect and brutality.

Beginning in 1977, cops blockaded MOVE’s house in the Powelton Village section of Philadelphia. The attempt to force MOVE out included a 50-day siege in which no one was allowed in or out of the house and water was shut off.

On Aug. 8, 1978, at 4 a.m., 600 police surrounded the house on N. 33rd St. “The police made the first move. O’Neill ordered a bulldozer, which had a Lexan plastic shield to protect the operator from gunfire, to mow down the barricade. A long-armed ram tore the windows out of the upper floors. With the windows gone, fire hoses threw streams of water into the house” (“Frank Rizzo, The Last Big Man In Big City America” by S.A Paolantonio).

Shortly after 8 a.m., shooting started and Officer James Ramp was struck and killed, likely by police fire. Police rained bullets into the house, as well as tear gas—and more water blasted from fire trucks. MOVE members surrendered and cops savagely beat Delbert Africa in full view of news cameras. Police commanders ordered the house destroyed with heavy equipment later the same day, destroying any remaining forensic evidence. Police claimed that they found 11 or 12 weapons in the house.

Nine MOVE members were tried and convicted in the death of Officer Ramp, in spite of evidence that he was killed by the gunfire of other cops. Sentences in the case ranged from 30 to 100 years. MOVE founder, John Africa, was found not guilty on Federal conspiracy and weapons charges. Three cops who participated in the beating of Delbert Africa were later acquitted. Speaking at a support rally for the 3 cops, the head of the cop union said, “They should have killed them all.”

“At his press conference following the cop assault, Frank Rizzo, then the mayor, looked directly at Mumia (Abu-Jamal) and declared that a ‘new breed of journalism’ was to blame for Ramp’s death and that someday those like Mumia were ‘going to have to be held responsible and accountable.’” (“The Fight to Free Mumia Jamal” by Rachel Wolkenstein)

1985 MOVE bombing

After the frame-up trial of the MOVE 9, the organization moved to West Philadelphia and continued to advocate for the freedom of their comrades. Their tactics to pressure the authorities included the use of a loud sound system. Police harassment of MOVE continued.

On May 13, 1985, Philly cops surrounded the MOVE house on Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. Police Commissioner Sambor shouted into a bullhorn, “Attention MOVE! This is America! You have to abide by the laws of the United States!” Afterwards, two assault teams entered the houses on either side of 6221 Osage carrying explosives and automatic weapons. In an attack lasting for hours, police used plastic explosives to try to breach holes in the walls between the row homes in order to pump tear gas into the house. Police bombs blew the front of the house off.

Police fired more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition in 90 minutes. Fire trucks deluged the house with 450,000 gallons of water. Later that day, a police helicopter dropped a bomb on the roof of the house in order to get rid of what cops and the media term as a “bunker” and a fire broke out. Police Commissioner Gregore J. Sambor and Fire Commissioner William C. Richmond decided to let the fire burn in order to take out the alleged bunker. The fire burned out of control, destroying 61 homes and leaving more than 250 people homeless. Children trying to flee the burning building were fired on by cops, driving them back inside.

Six adult members of MOVE, including founder John Africa, and five children were killed. Hundreds who had gathered on surrounding streets shouted, “Murderers!” at police. Not one of the cops or city officials who perpetrated this crime served a day in jail. One of the two survivors, Ramona Africa, is the only person to serve any jail time in this whole catastrophe.

Continue the fight!

The Philadelphia police continue to commit acts of violence against Black and Brown communities. Recently, researchers revealed that hundreds of Philadelphia police officers had made racist posts on social media. Seventy-two Philadelphia cops are on desk duty pending investigation of their racist posts.

The struggle to free Chuck and Delbert Africa must now be redoubled until they are allowed to return home. Similarly, the legal battle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal continues. Mumia’s health is failing, and efforts to get him the medical care he needs and release him from prison continues.

Additionally, Black Panther political prisoners and Black Liberation Army (BLA) prisoners of war remain behind bars. In Pennsylvania, this includes Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, who has spent almost 50 years in prison, including 22 in solitary. Free Chuck and Delbert Africa! Free Mumia and all political prisoners!