By JOHN LESLIE
Delbert Africa, long-time MOVE 9 political prisoner, survivor of police violence, and fighter for justice, has passed away. Delbert was released on Jan. 18, 2020, after 41 years in prison as part of the MOVE 9. The MOVE 9 were framed up after the 1978 attack on the MOVE house in the Powelton Village neighborhood of Philadelphia.
According to Pam Africa, Delbert died at home on June 15, surrounded by family and friends.
Delbert’s daughter, Yvonee Orr-El, told a June 16 news conference in Philadelphia that her father died of prostate and bone cancer. She stated that he did not receive medical treatment in prison for 18 months after first noticing symptoms: “Had my father received the treatment he needed, the healthy, strong, smiling, humorous, sarcastic man that I called my father would still be here today.”
“What happened to Delbert was just another example of George Floyd. Delbert was deliberately, methodically, calculatedly murdered by prison officials,” said Janine Africa of MOVE. “When he came out here to these doctors and hospitals on the streets, they even said that the prisons did a lot of wrong things to Delbert. “
Police attack on the MOVE house in Powelton Village
As we noted previously on the Socialist Resurgence website, the 1978 attack on MOVE in Philadelphia’s Powelton Village neighborhood was a dress rehearsal for the May 13, 1985, police bombing on Osage Avenue. Police harassment of MOVE in Powelton Village resulted in an almost year-long siege and 50 days when no one was allowed to enter or leave the house, as cops attempted to starve MOVE out.
On Aug. 8, 1978, at 4 a.m., 600 cops surrounded the house as “… 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. Delbert Africa later recalled the incident: “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.”
At a news conference in Philadelphia 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, 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.”
Cops claimed to find weapons in the MOVE house. Police ordered the house razed later that day, and any forensic evidence related to the standoff was destroyed.
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. Seven of the MOVE 9 were released from prison after 40 years. During the long decades of incarceration, two of the MOVE 9 died in prison. At the time, 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 city’s Fraternal Order of Police chapter said, “They should have killed them all.”
Take the fight forward
In a statement following Delbert’s death, Pam Africa said: “He will be remembered as a freedom fighter, an activist. An uncompromising, revolutionary, freedom fighter who fought for the lives of all. … When he came out, that’s how he came out. As strong as he was, mentally.”
In this time of revolt against the racist criminal injustice system, the movement should be demanding the release of all remaining political prisoners. Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, and other Black Panther political prisoners remain in lockup.
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners! Raze the prisons!