Today, Debbie Africa of the MOVE organization was released from prison. Debbie had been incarcerated, as a political prisoner, for almost 40 years. After naturally given birth to her son, Mike Africa, alone in her prison cell, she spent decades unable to physically mother her children. Today, she is reunited with her family.
Below: Debbie pictured upon release, with her son Mike Africa Jr.
In order to understand the significance of Debbie’s release, it’s necessary to have a basic understand of 1970’s Philadelphia, particularly in regards to Black people. Black people were terrorized by Philadelphia police just for existing. The police were led by racially charged commissioner Frank Rizzo, known for his brutal treatment of Philly’s Black and Gay communities. A good comparison for Rizzo from today might be Arizona’s former egomaniac Sherriff Joe Arpaio, an unrepentant rouge enforcer, who did things his own way and served up his own version of the law. He used the word ‘nigger’ regularly and casually, sicced dogs on and beat up non-violent student activists, and raided a Black Panther office forcing members to strip naked on the street. Despite all this, Rizzo was popular among white Philadelphians and was elected as mayor.
John Africa, a revolutionary Black man, recognized what this system (that would elect someone like Rizzo as a leader) was doing to his people. He saw the brutality, the drugs, the disregard for life. He created the MOVE organization as a way to confront the system and create change. MOVE was and is a ‘family of strong, serious, deeply committed revolutionaries’. The name MOVE, not an acronym, means ‘exactly what it says: MOVE, work, generate, be active’. They believed (and still do) that Life should be everyone’s number one priority. They viewed the system as imposing on life while promoting government, industry, military, and big business- all entities that poison the earth and corrupt the people.
In some ways, MOVE in the 1970’s, was ahead of their time. They had compost piles, ate healthy whole food diets, and exercised regularly. While criticized at the time, these activities are gaining popularity in today’s America. MOVE took up causes against a variety of issues. They protested on behalf of animals at the zoo. They strategically backed up the court system through confrontational tactics. Eventually, Mayor Rizzo couldn’t handle the perceived disrespect any longer, and started cracking down on MOVE. Police efforts resulted in several incidents of brutality against MOVE, including the death of a MOVE baby.
In 1977, Rizzo ordered MOVE to vacate their home in West Philadelphia. A year later, after MOVE refused to leave, the police invaded and attacked the home in a military styled attack. During the invasion, there were shots fired. Several people were injured and a police officer, James Ramp, was killed. MOVE claims that the police took the first shots and that Officer Ramp was killed from friendly fire. MOVE eventually surrendered. One MOVE member, Delbert Africa, was severely beaten by several police with his hands in the air.
Despite a lack of evidence and a variety of police and judicial misconduct, nine MOVE members were convicted by a judge and sentenced to 30 years to life for the death of Officer James Ramp. Now, almost 40 years later, two of the MOVE 9 (Merle and Phil) have died in prison. Seven remained in prison (Delbert, Eddie, Mike, Chucky, Debbie, Janet, and Janine), until today. Now, with Debbie Africa’s release, there are only six left incarcerated. MOVE members and supporters have fought diligently over the last 39 + years to fight for the release of Debbie and the rest of the MOVE 9, sometimes with deadly consequences.
On Mother’s Day in 1985 police attacked another MOVE home in West Philly. Police eventually dropped a bomb that they acquired from the FBI on the house. The bomb started a fire, resulting in the deaths of 5 children and 7 adults. They burned to death. Survivor Ramona Africa claims that police fired at MOVE members as they were trying to escape, ensuring that they would either die by bullets or be forced back into the home to burn to death. The fire also burned down an entire neighborhood, leaving over 300 Black families homeless.
Members of the MOVE 9 have been up for parole for almost 10 years now, consistently being denied. They were tried as a family for the death of one person, and they have been denied parole as a family. So, it comes as a huge surprise that Debbie Africa has been freed at last. She has been liberated from 40 years of unjust shackles.
Debbie Africa’s freedom should serve us as motivation to keep fighting. To keep resisting. The MOVE family and supporters have never given up on Debbie and the MOVE 9. They have continuously fought, day after day, week after week, decade after decade, for their freedom and liberation. Freedom for Debbie Africa is a victory for freedom fighters everywhere. We should step up to the plate and fight the system with the spirit of MOVE. We should get ‘on a move’ and stand up for life.
LONG LIVE JOHN AFRICA!!!!!
Watch the video below to learn more about the 1978 MOVE confrontation, produced and directed by Karen Pomer & Jane Mancini as Temple University students. The video contains 100% original footage.
You can find out more about MOVE at onamove.org.