By JOHN LESLIE
Chuck Africa, the last of the remaining MOVE 9 political prisoners, was released on parole from prison on Feb. 7, 2020, after almost 42 years behind bars. Chuck Africa’s release follows Delbert Africa’s parole in January. Chuck is now recovering from cancer and the debilitating effects of chemotherapy.
Chuck Africa and his eight co-defendants spent more than 40 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. They were arrested following the police attack on the home of the MOVE organization in Philadelphia’s Powelton Village neighborhood in 1978. The MOVE 9 members were convicted of third-degree murder and sentenced for the killing of a cop, James Ramp, during the raid. Evidence points to Ramp’s death being the result of police gunfire.
Chuck Africa was the youngest of the MOVE members who were incarcerated for the killing—only 18 at the time of his arrest. He had been inspired by the Black Panther Party while still a child, and in his early teens met people from the MOVE organization. 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.
“I met MOVE in 1973,” Chuck said in a statement on the ona-move.com website. “It was a cold winter night. Me and a few of my gang stepped in my mother’s house and in the middle of the floor sat numerous men and women with long un-combed hair. The things that I heard stayed with me for the rest of my life.
“No one had ever explained the school system and its purpose before I met MOVE. There were things being told to me that I knew were true instinctively but I could never put them into words myself. I was always told all my life to go to school, obey the laws, etc., but never what was the purpose, whose education I was learning or why damn near every cop I saw in my neighborhood was white and hostile to us blacks. My introduction to JOHN AFRICA’s Guidelines opened my mind up to actually use it and question the norm, the constraints of every day life, the lies, the hidden truths in a world of constant dishonesty.”
All of the MOVE 9 were repeatedly denied parole since they refused to admit “guilt” for the killing they had been falsely charged with and refused to renounce their beliefs. But the demand for their release never subsided. Finally, over the last couple of years, the state released surviving members of the group. In 2018, the state paroled Mike Africa Sr. in October and Debbie Sims Africa (Chuck’s sister) in June of that year. 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, shortly after his release, 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.”
1978 Powelton Village confrontation
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.
The 1978 attack on MOVE in Philadelphia’s Powelton Village neighborhood was a precursor to the murderous May 13, 1985, police bombing on Osage Avenue that killed 11 MOVE members including five children, and destroyed 65 homes. 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.
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. In the 1985 attack, cops fired more than 10,000 rounds and threw plastic explosive bombs, while fire trucks sprayed more than 450,000 gallon of water into the house. Later in the day, a bomb was dropped from a police helicopter starting a conflagration that city officials decided to let burn.
Continue the fight! Free them all!
The Philadelphia police continue to commit acts of violence against oppressed nationalities and the poor. While the MOVE 9 have been released, the struggle to free imprisoned Black liberation fighters and other political prisoners continues. The struggle to free, Mumia Abu-Jamal—who defended MOVE as a young Philadelphia journalist—and other political prisoners must be intensified. Mumia’s health problems make his situation urgent.
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.
Native American fighter Leonard Peltier also remains in prison after his conviction in 1977 for the murder of two FBI agents. Peltier became eligible for parole in 1993 but remains in lockup. Obama denied him clemency at the end of his presidency. Currently, Peltier is the vice presidential candidate of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
Free Maroon! Free Mumia, Leonard Peltier, and all political prisoners!