Jan. 2020 Delbert cropped
Delbert Africa speaks at Philadelphia news conference, Jan. 21. Ramona Africa is by his side. (Photo: Sal Mastriano / Socialist Resurgence)

By JOHN LESLIE

On Jan. 18, MOVE 9 political prisoner Delbert Africa was released on parole from prison after more than four decades in lockup. Delbert Africa and his eight co-defendants had spent over 40 years in prison after being arrested in the police attack on the house of the MOVE organization in 1978. The MOVE 9 members were sentenced under false charges of killing a cop during the attack.

Only one of the MOVE 9 prisoners, Chuck Africa, remains incarcerated. Over the last couple of years, the state has released surviving members of the group. In 2018, the state paroled Mike Africa Sr. (October) and Debbie Sims Africa (June). In June 2019, Eddie Goodman Africa was released along with Janet Holloway Africa and Janine Phillips Africa. Two MOVE 9 members, Phil and Merle Africa, died in prison.

At a news conference in Philadelphia on Jan. 21, Delbert Africa said that despite the frame-up murder charges that sent him to prison for decades, he felt even stronger and more resolved today, and he would not stop challenging the so-called “justice” system. “I want to keep on pushing the whole front of fighting this unjust system,” he said. “I want to keep on pushing it and do as much as I can, as dictated by the teachings of John Africa. Keep on working, stay on the move.”

MOVE—a group that advocates living in harmony with nature and expresses opposition to the racism and oppression inherent in the current system—was founded by John Africa in 1972. MOVE was targeted from the beginning by Philadelphia’s violent and racist police under the control of the police commissioner, and later mayor, Frank Rizzo. PPD engaged in a reign of terror against Black radical organizations, like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panther Party, and the Black community at large.

In 1968, Mumia Abu-Jamal was savagely beaten by a racist crowd and police for trying to protest a rally of the reactionary segregationist George Wallace, who was running for U.S. president as an independent. (Today, the movement continues to free Mumia, who remains imprisoned under false charges that he killed a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.)

1978 Powelton Village confrontation

The 1978 attack on MOVE in Philadelphia’s Powelton Village neighborhood was an eerie precursor to the murderous May 13, 1985, police bombing on Osage Avenue that killed 11 MOVE members including five children, and destroyed a neighborhood. Police harassment of MOVE in Powelton Village led to a siege that lasted for almost a year, as cops surrounded MOVE’s house at 311 N. 33rd Street. For a 50-day period, no one was allowed in or out of the house, while cops attempted to starve MOVE out.

On Aug. 8, 1978, at 4 a.m., 600 cops surrounded the house: “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” (S.A. Paolantonio: “Frank Rizzo, The last big man in big city America”).

Just after 8 a.m., shooting started, and police officer James Ramp was struck and killed by so-called friendly fire. Police fired bullets, tear gas, and water cannons into the house. MOVE members surrendered, and cops savagely beat Delbert Africa in full view of news cameras. Cops claimed to find weapons in the MOVE house. However, the police leveled the house and any forensic evidence related to the standoff with heavy equipment later that day.

Delbert Africa recalled the events of the day for the press and supporters at the news conference. He told how cops beat and kicked him even after he had surrendered to them. “I’m unconscious, and that’s when one cop pulled me by the hair across the street, one cop started jumping on my head, one started kicking me in the ribs and beating me.”

Nine MOVE members, Chuck, Delbert, Eddie, Janet, Janine, Merle, Michael, Phil, and Debbie Africa, were tried and convicted in the death of Officer Ramp, in spite of evidence that he was killed by the gunfire of other cops. 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 three cops, the head of the cop union said, “They should have killed them all.”

In 1982, MOVE members took up residence at 6221 Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia and began to fortify the house against police raids. Given the history of police harassment and violence against MOVE, and the deadly assault on the building three years later, these defensive steps were sensible.

Continue the fight!

The Philadelphia police continue to commit acts of violence against oppressed nationalities and the poor. The struggle to free Chuck Africa, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and other political prisoners must continue unabated. 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 Africa! Free Maroon! Free Mumia and all political prisoners!