Baby-Snatching Practice Blocked Motherhood For 20-million Seconds (40 years)

June 20, 2018
Linn Washington Jr.
Reprinted from ThisCantBeHappening.net

Justice system abuses mothers with no apologies

Debbie’s son Mike said life was “hard” for him growing up without his mother and father, not having their “guidance” at times when he needed it. Mike said that when he went to wake up his mother the morning after her release from prison he saw her feet for the first time in his life.

“Things people take for granted like just talking to your parents — I never had,” Michael said. “Fortunately I had the support of my parent’s family, other MOVE members and MOVE supporters. It helped a lot.

“I can’t wait to see my dad come home.”

Debbie Africa, with son Mike Africa Jr. with photo of still imprisoned husband/father Mike Africa Sr

Debbie Africa with son Mike Jr. and photo of still imprisoned husband/father Mike Africa Sr. LBWPhoto

The arbitrary and often abusive practices of authorities that drove clashes between MOVE and Philadelphia City authorities were evident in the parole release of Debbie Africa – a parole granted after eight previous parole rejections.

Debbie and fellow MOVE members Janine and Janet each saw the Pennsylvania Parole Board on the same day. Each had similar unblemished prison records, each were credited with positively mentoring other inmates, each were praised for helping keep calm in the prison and each – for the first time ever – had a release recommendation from Philadelphia’s new District Attorney, Larry Krasner.

But the Parole Board rejected Janine and Janet while that Board released Debbie during a process that is completely secret even from lawyers representing inmates.

One reason given by the Parole Board for the rejection of Janine and Janet was they received a negative recommendation from Philly’s DA – a claim that is factually inaccurate according to Brad Thomson, the lawyer who represented Debbie, Janine and Janet during that parole proceeding.

“It is shocking that Janet and Janine were denied parole. Their circumstances and institutional records are nearly identical to Debbie’s,” stated Thomson, who attended the press conference with Debbie and Mike Jr.

“The decision to deny Janet and Janine appears arbitrary and it is difficult to understand how the Parole Board could justify it based on the facts that were presented,” noted Thomson of the People’s Law Office in Chicago.

Then again, arbitrariness and abuse riddled the MOVE 9 trial. The judge who convicted and sentenced the MOVE 9 during a non-jury proceeding said he meted out identical sentences because they “were a family” and that he, therefore, would sentence them as a family – a stance that made a mockery of the so-called maxim of prison time fitting the crime.

Police testimony during that long trial was that only the four MOVE men were armed and the MOVE women, including Debbie Africa, were merely holding children while huddled inside the basement of the then MOVE compound in Philadelphia’s Powelton Village during that 1978 shootout.

(Evidence furthermore indicates that police gunfire accidentally killed the policeman. Police experts could not match the bullet removed from the slain officer to any of the weapons recovered from the MOVE compound.)

The arrest and imprisonment of the MOVE 9 unleashed a chain of events that culminated in the horrific May 13, 1985 incident where Philadelphia police bombed another house occupied by MOVE members and deliberately allowed an inferno sparked by that bomb to burn, preventing firefighters from trying to put it out.

That bomb-triggered blaze incinerated 11 MOVE members including five children. That police blaze also destroyed 61 adjacent homes and left 250 people homeless.

Pennsylvania State Historic Marker near site of deadly 1985 bombing by Philadelphia police and FBI

Pennsylvania State Historic Marker near site of deadly 1985 bombing by police. LBWPhoto

Police snipers drove some MOVE members who tried to flee their burning building back into the inferno where temperatures reached 2,000-degrees. Only one MOVE adult and one child escaped that deadly firestorm.

One of the MOVE members murdered by police action during that 1985 clash was MOVE founder John Africa. The five youth deaths included the children of Janine and Janet, Debbie’s now former cellmates. No Philadelphia police officer or City official faced prosecution for that incident where an FBI agent supplied the main component for that bomb — military C-4 hi-explosive — that Philadelphia police dropped from a Pa State Police helicopter.

Debbie Africa said she is looking forward to strengthening bonds with her children and grandchildren. She will adjust to life outside prison like learning how to use a cell phone, a now ubiquitous device that didn’t exist at the time of her arrest in 1978. And she said she would work for the release of her imprisoned MOVE family members.

MOVE: Over four decades of resistance

By Ted Kelly
July 30, 2018
Reprinted from International Action Center website

MOVE 9 40 Year Commemoration

Earlier this summer, Philadelphia was in a state of celebration when political prisoner Debbie Africa was released after nearly four decades in prison. In August, prison abolitionists, in Philadelphia and across the world, will observe an anniversary with more solemnity than rejoicing.

August 8, 2018, marks the 40th anniversary of the city’s first major assault on the MOVE family, an episode that ended in the death of one of the family’s infants and in the arrest and imprisonment of nine MOVE family members.

To commemorate this anniversary, a three-part event will be held on Aug. 5. At 10 a.m., there will be a 5k run and walk that starts in Fairmount Park and goes to the original MOVE house in the city’s Powelton Village neighborhood. Then, at 3 p.m., there will be a public forum at Mastery Shoemaker High School on what today’s movements should learn from MOVE’s struggle. Following that forum will be a live concert at 5 p.m. featuring local artists Seraiah Nicole, Mic Africa, Raw Life Crew and more.

Free the MOVE 9

Debbie Africa, with son Mike Africa Jr. with photo of still imprisoned husband/father Mike Africa Sr

Debbie Africa with son Mike Jr. and photo of still imprisoned husband/ father Mike Africa Sr. LBWPhoto

Michael Africa Sr., one of the MOVE 9, has a new parole hearing this September. Despite the fact that Janet and Janine Africa were also up for parole at the same time as Debbie, she remains the only member of the MOVE 9 to be released. Debbie was imprisoned in 1978 along with her partner Mike Sr., as well as Delbert, Phil, Janet, Janine, Eddie, Merle and Chuck Africa.

All nine were convicted of the murder of a Philadelphia police officer who died from being struck by one of his fellow officers’ bullets in the hail of gunfire the police blasted into the MOVE home. Despite forensic evidence and scores of eyewitnesses indicating the officer was slain by “friendly fire,” all nine of the arrested MOVE members were convicted of firing the single bullet that killed him.

Immediately after the police assault on the MOVE family, the city bulldozed and destroyed the house, annihilating any and all evidence that could have been used to help exonerate the MOVE 9. The demolition also erased all evidence of the police siege on the compound and the massive structural damage done to the house by police water cannons, chemical gas and thousands of rounds of ammunition fired into the home.

Despite all this, even the city had to acknowledge that of the few weapons that were recovered from the MOVE family home, none of them were operable. That is to say, the MOVE 9 had no way of shooting anyone. Yet each of the MOVE 9 were sentenced to 30 to 100 years in prison.

Judge Edwin Malmed, who handed down the bogus convictions, was asked by then reporter Mumia Abu-Jamal how it could be considered a just decision that nine people were convicted of firing a single bullet. Malmed replied that since the nine wanted to be tried as a family, he convicted them as a family.

A history of oppression — and resistance

The Philadelphia police assault on the MOVE family on Aug. 8, 1978, was a clear escalation of violence, brutality and injustice. But the war on the Philadelphia Black Liberation movement had been raging for at least a decade before. The generalissimo who prosecuted that war was Frank Rizzo, the white supremacist police commissioner turned mayor.

A major attack on Black Liberation began in August 1970 when police raided the Philadelphia Black Panther headquarters. Dozens of Panthers were publicly stripped naked on Columbia Avenue before their arrest. In that era of Cointelpro infiltration, intimidation and assassination, the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panthers was just one of many to go underground or be destroyed outright.

The MOVE Organization, led by the visionary John Africa, is what filled the vacuum left by the Panthers in Philadelphia. With an ideology that combined an uncompromising dedication to Black Liberation with an unprecedented commitment to environmental justice and animal rights, MOVE became a revolutionary force to be reckoned with.

In a recent interview in Workers World, Debbie Africa explained: “[My brothers] got involved in MOVE activities, in speaking engagements — at the time they were in full throttle speaking out against injustice. They loved it, taking care of the dogs and going to study sessions that MOVE founder John Africa held, educating people how to avoid violence in their communities and on police brutality — the things that made people’s lives miserable.”

She added: “John Africa’s teachings really lock you into the reality of what’s really going on. The rest is history.”

For years, the city attempted to lock up members of the MOVE Organization. But John, and later Ramona, Africa’s remarkable legal astuteness meant they often escaped serious charges. That changed in 1978 when weeks of a siege on the MOVE house culminated in the Aug. 8 assault and the imprisonment of the MOVE 9.

Three years later, Black Panther journalist and MOVE supporter Mumia Abu-Jamal was also framed for the murder of a Philadelphia cop. A key witness to that incident was found dead under mysterious circumstances on May 13, 1985 — the same night that Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on the new MOVE house on Osage Avenue, killing eleven people, including founder John Africa and five children.

In the years since the 1978 assault and the 1985 state murders, the MOVE family has flourished and grown, despite mainstream media accounts to the contrary. Still, the city’s oppression has taken its toll. Mumia Abu-Jamal and six of the MOVE 9 are still in prison after 40 years. Merle and Phil Africa were murdered by the prison system — they died under lock and key.

This fortieth anniversary must mark not just four decades of resistance, but also a new chapter in that struggle.

Free the MOVE 9! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Free ‘em all!

‘This is huge’: black liberationist speaks out after her 40 years in prison

Reprint from original
By Ed Pilkington in New York
The Guardian
June 18, 2018

Exclusive: Debbie Sims Africa, the first freed member of a radical Philadelphia group many say were unjustly imprisoned, talks about reuniting with her son and defends the Move members still locked up: ‘We are peaceful people’

Debbie Sims Africa, age 22

Debbie Sims Africa was 22 when she was sentenced. Her release is seen as a major breakthrough for those imprisoned during the black liberation movement. Photograph: Courtesy of Michael Davis Africa Jr

The first member of a group of black radicals known as the Move Nine who have been incarcerated, they insist unjustly, for almost 40 years for killing a Philadelphia police officer has been released from prison.

Debbie Sims Africa, 61, walked free from Cambridge Springs prison in Pennsylvania on Saturday, June 16, 2018, having been granted parole. She was 22 when with her co-defendants she was arrested and sentenced to 30 to 100 years for the shooting death of officer James Ramp during a police siege of the group’s communal home on 8 August 1978.

She emerged from the correctional institution to be reunited with her son, Michael Davis Africa Jr, to whom she gave birth in a prison cell in September 1978, a month after her arrest.

“This is huge for us personally,” Sims Africa told the Guardian, speaking from her son’s home in a small town on the outskirts of Philadelphia where she will now live.

Davis Africa, 39, who was separated from his mother at less than a week old and has never spent time with her outside prison, said they were coming to terms with being reunited after almost four decades.

“Today I had breakfast with my mother for the first time,” he said. “There’s so much we haven’t done together.”

The release of Debbie Sims Africa is a major breakthrough regarding the ongoing incarceration of large numbers of individuals involved in the black liberation movement of the late 1960s and 1970s who are now growing old behind bars. At least 25 men and women belonging to Move or the former Black Panther party remain locked up, in some cases almost half a century after their arrests.

Michael Davis Africa Jr

Michael Davis Africa Jr on reunited with his mother: ‘There’s so much we haven’t done together.’ Photograph: Ed Pilkington for the Guardian

Sims Africa’s release also addresses one of the most hotly contested criminal justice cases in Philadelphia history. The nine were prosecuted together following a police siege of their headquarters in Powelton Village at the orders of Philadelphia’s notoriously hardline mayor and former police commissioner, Frank Rizzo.

Move, which exists today, regarded itself as a revolutionary movement committed to a healthy life free from oppression or pollution. In the 1970s it was something of a cross between black liberationists and early environmental activists. Its members all take “Africa” as their last name, to signal that they see each other as family.

Hundreds of police officers, organized in Swat teams and armed with machine guns, water cannons, teargas and bulldozers, were involved in the siege, which came at the end of a long standoff with the group relating to complaints about conditions in its premises. Two water cannon and smoke bombs were unleashed. The Move residents took refuge in a basement.

I had to feel my way up the stairs to get out of the basement with my baby in my arms

Sims Africa was eight months pregnant and was carrying her two-year-old daughter, Michelle. “We were being battered with high-powered water and smoke was everywhere,” she said. “I couldn’t see my hands in front of my face and I was choking. I had to feel my way up the stairs to get out of the basement with my baby in my arms.”

Shooting broke out and Ramp was killed by a single bullet. Prosecutors alleged that Move members fired the fatal shot and charged Sims Africa and the other eight with collective responsibility for his death.

Eyewitnesses, however, gave accounts suggesting that the shot may have come from the opposite direction to the basement, raising the possibility that Ramp was accidentally felled, by police fire. After the raid was over, weapons were found within the property. None were in operative condition.

In 1985, Philadelphia authorities carried out an even more controversial and deadly action against the remaining members of Move. A police helicopter dropped an incendiary bomb on to the roof of its then HQ in west Philadelphia, killing six adults including the group’s leader, John Africa, and five of their children.

That incident continues to have the distinction of being the only aerial bombing by police carried out on US soil.

At Sims Africa’s trial, no evidence was presented that she or the three other women charged alongside her had brandished or handled firearms during the siege. Nor was there any attempt on the part of the prosecution to prove that they had had any role in firing the shot that killed Ramp.

Sims Africa has had an unblemished disciplinary record in prison for the past 25 years. The last claim of misconduct against her dates to 1992.

Her attorneys presented the parole board with a 13-page dossier outlining her work as a mentor to other prisoners and as a dog handler who trains puppies that assist people with physical and cognitive disabilities. The dossier includes testimony from the correctional expert Martin Horn, who reviewed her record and concluded it was “remarkable”.

1984 Philadelphia police and FBI bombing of Move members

Philadelphia burn after officials dropped a bomb on the Move house in 1985. Photograph: AP

Horn said Sims Africa had “chosen to be a rule-abiding individual with the ability to be a productive, law-abiding citizen if she is released. I see a record of growing maturity, improved judgment and the assumption of personal responsibility. I do not believe that Debbie Sims is today a threat to the community.”

Sims Africa’s lawyer, Brad Thomson, commended the parole board for “recognizing that she is of exceptional character and well-deserving of parole. This is a storied victory for Debbie and her family, and the Move organization, and we are hoping it will be the first step in getting all the Move Nine out of prison.”

The release of Sims Africa comes less than two months before the 40th anniversary of the siege. Commemorative events are being held in Philadelphia, organised by Move, on 5 and 11 August.

The release of Sims Africa is bittersweet, however. Two of the nine have died in prison – another female inmate, Merle Austin Africa, in March 1998, and Phil Africa in January 2015.

Having to leave them was hard. I was torn up inside because I want to come home but I want them to come with me

Also bittersweet is the fact that Sims Africa went up for parole at exactly the same time, and on exactly the same terms, as the other two remaining Move Nine women – Janine Phillips Africa and Janet Hollaway Africa. They were both denied parole and will have to wait until May 2019 to try again.

Thomson said the disparity in the parole board’s decision was “very surprising”, given that the Philadelphia district attorney’s office that carried out the original trial prosecution had written letters supporting parole for all three. The parole board gave what the lawyer said were “boilerplate justifications” for the denial of Phillips Africa and Hollaway Africa, saying they displayed “lack of remorse”.

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Debbie Sims Africa’s husband also remains behind bars. Mike Davis Africa Sr is next up before the parole board, in September. The other Move Nine prisoners are Chuck Sims Africa, Delbert Orr Africa and Eddie Goodman Africa.

Michael Africa Jr and mother Debbie Sims Africa

Debbie Sims Africa with her son after her release from prison. Photograph: Courtesy of Michael Davis Africa Jr

Debbie Sims Africa told the Guardian the remaining prisoners were constantly in her mind and that she planned to devote much of her time campaigning for their release.

“Having to leave them was hard,” she said. “I was torn up inside because of course I want to come home but I want them to come with me. I was in shock when it didn’t happen that way.”

Asked if the two Move women with whom she had shared a cell in Cambridge Springs would be a threat to society if released, she said: “Absolutely not. They would not be a danger as I’m not.

“Nobody from the Move movement has been released from prison and ever committed a crime, going back to 1988. We are peaceful people.”

Black woman freedom fighter, Ramona Africa, Discusses MOVE, Liberation and Surviving 1985 Bombing

By: Lamont Lilly,
March 20, 2017,
Workers World, Pt. 1 of 2

The U.S. freedom fighter discusses the history of MOVE and what it means to fight for liberation in part one of an exclusive interview.

Former U.S. political prisoner, Ramona Africa, is the Minister of Communication for the MOVE Organization and a Philadelphia-based organizer with the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. She is also the only living survivor of the 1985 MOVE bombing, when the FBI and Philadelphia police dropped two C-4 bombs on her organization’s Philadelphia home, killing 11 people.

Lamont Lilly: Ramona, for those who may be unfamiliar, what is the MOVE Organization? Who founded MOVE, and what is the organization about?

John Africa hug

John Africa hug

Ramona Africa: The MOVE Organization is a revolutionary organization founded by a Black man named John Africa. He brought people together from all different backgrounds, nationalities, religions, etc., and gave us one common revolutionary belief. That belief is in the sanctity, and all importance of life, on all levels, without exception. And it is that uncompromising belief commitment to life that has put us in direct conflict with the system that we’re living under, a system that doesn’t care anything about life — whether it’s the air, the water, the soil that feeds us, they don’t care. But as members of MOVE, we are committed to life.

We were animal rights activists long before that term was ever invented. We were environmentalists before that term was ever invented. Everything that John Africa taught us has come full circle.

John Africa had even coordinated a raw food diet for us. He put us in touch with what our natural diet is. People said we were crazy, that we were going to get sick and make our children sick. “You can’t eat raw food like that. You have to cook it,” they would say. Now, what do we see, some 45 years later? You see raw food restaurants, from the West coast to the East coast. You see nutritionists now teaching the benefits of raw food.

John Africa even encouraged MOVE women to have babies naturally, at home. He would tell us, “When you’re pregnant, you’re not sick. You don’t need a hospital to do something as natural as giving birth.” No other species of life goes to a hospital to have a baby.

Another thing, in terms of composting, there’s a new movement going on around this now. Well, MOVE was composting 45 years ago. But when we composted, people went crazy. But today, they put a cute little word on it called “composting” and all of a sudden, it’s the “green” thing to do. We were also homeschooling, 45 years ago.

Lamont Lilly: When exactly did you become a member of MOVE? What period of life was this for you? How did joining MOVE change your life?

Ramona Africa: (Laughing) Oh wow, Lamont! That’s a story within itself. I went to catholic school during my high school years. I had begged my mother to transfer me to a public school, but she wouldn’t do it because she wanted me to have what she perceived as a “good education.” She was also in my ear telling me to be a doctor, be a lawyer, be anything you want to be. So I went with that and decided to focus on the legal system. When I graduated from West Catholic High, I ended up going to Temple University and took up a pre-law curriculum.

It was in my last semester at Temple that I started a work-study program because I needed the money to pay for school. I got hired at community legal services, a free legal aid agency. They assigned me to the housing unit. You can’t work in the Philadelphia housing unit without being an advocate for the poor. That’s when I first started getting active in the community. That period marked my first arrest at the Philadelphia City Council. I eventually had to go to court for that arrest and met a brother named Mel, there. We exchanged numbers, and he would call me and tell me things that were going on. He called me one day and asked if I wanted to go to a meeting to plan a MOVE demonstration.

I lived in West Philadelphia all my life. I had heard about MOVE, but I didn’t really know about MOVE. So I went to the meeting with him. We were supposed to go out that night after the meeting, but I got so wrapped up in the meeting, I wouldn’t go anywhere (laughing). I was really impressed.

The second time I was arrested, the sentencing judge gave me 60 days in the county jail, the “house of corrections.” But you know what, I tell everybody, I owe her a million thanks because she sent me to the county jail for two months, up close and personal with MOVE women. That was the best thing she could have ever done for me. When I walked out, there was no turning back. I wanted to be like MOVE women and became a member in 1979.

Lamont Lilly: It sounds like MOVE really provided a new sense of wholeness and purpose for you.

Ramona Africa: Yes, for me, but my mother had some issues. She was a beautician by trade, and obviously the first thing that struck her was my hair. She had a problem with my hair because, from the time I was knee-high, she would “do my hair” by washing it, pressing it, straightening it and curling it. So, when I let my hair grow and lock on its own, oh my goodness — (laughing) she wasn’t too happy about that.

This was after the Black Power Movement and long before the current period of being Black and unapologetic. A lot of sisters are rocking “naturals” now, but that wasn’t the case in 1979. She also took issue with me not going to law school. I didn’t even go to my graduation at Temple University when I finished undergrad.

Lamont Lilly: You mentioned ‘the system’ earlier and what it had done, can you take us back to May 13, 1985? What happened that day?

Ramona Africa: The first thing that people should be aware of, is that the bombing took place on Monday, May 13, but the cops came out in mass, surrounding our home on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 12, 1985. They laid siege on our home, supposedly because neighbors were complaining about us. What MOVE was saying was that we weren’t denying that some neighbors had complaints about us, but name one community in this entire country where some neighbor doesn’t complain about the other.

Not only that, when has this government ever cared about Black folks complaining about their neighbors? When did that start? Anyone who believes that is foolish. Obviously, the U.S. government does not care about Black folks complaining, about their neighbors, or anything else for that matter. So that “complaining” excuse was just a lie.

They came out there to kill MOVE — to silence our righteous protests, our unrelenting fight concerning the unjust imprisonment of our family members, the MOVE 9 (who were arrested on the false charge of killing a cop on August 8, 1978). That’s why they came out.

They started just like they did in August of ‘78, with the fire department (who take an oath to run into burning buildings and save lives). But in May of 1985, they worked with the cops to kill off life, to kill off the MOVE organization. Firefighters turned the water hoses against us — each hose pumping out 10,000 pounds of water pressure per minute. They had four of those hoses so that’s 40,000 pounds of water pressure per minute. This water was being pumped out for hours, but there was no fire.

When that didn’t drive us out, they breached 3-inch holes in the connecting walls of our house. They wanted to blow holes into the walls to insert tear gas, at least that’s what they said. When they finished exploding what they “claimed” was supposed to be 3-inch holes in the wall — the whole front of our house was blown away. So, when they started inserting tear gas, a lot of it was just coming right back out. That’s when they opened fire on us, and according to them, shot 10,000 rounds of bullets in the first 90 minutes. They had to send to their arsenal for more ammunition.

We were all in the basement. We heard this loud noise that shook the whole house. We were in the basement, but there was still a lot of tear gas in the house that had not found its way out yet, and it started getting a little warmer in there.

MOVE family home after FBI/police bombing on May 13, 1985As the smoke and gas got thicker, we were like “wait a minute, this is something else.” We were listening and could hear the tree in the back of our house crackling as if it were on fire. That’s when we realized that our house was actually on fire. We immediately tried to get our children, our animals and ourselves out of that blazing inferno. But at the point when we were trying to come out, and could be seen trying to come out, the cops opened fire on us, forcing us back in.

We tried several times to get out, but each time we were shot back into the house. This was a clear indication that they didn’t intend for any of us to survive that attack. But finally, like the third time, we knew that we would either choke to death and be burned alive, or were going to be shot to death. So, we made one more attempt at it, to get out. I was closest and got outside the door. I got Birdie out. Everybody was lined up to come out after us.

One of two survivors, Ramona Africa.It was not until they took me into custody and to the local hospital, that I was looking for the rest of my family, but nobody came in. I’m in the hospital and wondering what was going on. I didn’t find out until I left the hospital and was taken to the police administration building (to the homicide unit). Only then, did I find out that there were no other survivors other than me and my young brother, Birdie Africa.

The police were contemplating charging me with the murder of my family.

They charged me with everything they did: possession of explosives, arson, causing a catastrophe, attempted murder, simple and aggravated assault. But the charges and warrant they came at me with were all dismissed when I was able to challenge them in the pretrial. They eventually dropped those charges. Oh, and I forgot. They also threw in “terroristic threats,” which was ridiculous.

Lamont Lilly: So let me get this clear, after all that, you were charged with attempted murder and arson?

Ramona Africa: Yep. Yes, I was. And that was another eye-opener for me because when all the charges and the warrants that they came at me with were dismissed, it seems like anything that came from these bogus warrants would have to be dropped as well. If their reasons for being out there were invalid, then how could anything that was a result of their presence be valid? But they were never going to drop all the charges on me.

Lamont Lilly: Did you serve time for any of those charges?

Ramona Africa: Yes, I did. First of all, I had a US$4.5 million bail. US$4.5 million! I was in jail from May 1, 1985, up until May 13, 1992, because I was convicted of “rioting,” if you can believe that. I was sentenced to 16 months and 7 years. When my 16-month minimum was up, I was told by the parole board that they would parole me, but only if I agreed to sever all ties with MOVE. Sever ALL ties! And I wasn’t about to do that. Instead of being released at 16 months, I did the whole 7 years.

Lamont Lilly: Eleven people were murdered May 13, 1985. How many children died in that bombing?

Ramona Africa: Five children and six adults! And not one single official, on any level, was ever held accountable, ever charged with a single crime against MOVE. But yet, you have the MOVE 9 being called murderers and being imprisoned for 38 years, working on 39 years now. Meanwhile, the people that murdered 11 of my family members, publicly on May 13 of 1985, not one of them was ever held accountable.

Lamont Lilly: As a new generation accepts the baton of mass resistance, the Black Matters Movement, what words of advice would you share?

Ramona Africa: The first and most important thing is to never stop. Don’t ever stop pushing and fighting. Don’t ever give in! Be consistent. Don’t allow yourselves to be disillusioned. Don’t allow anyone or anything to buy you off. And don’t allow yourselves to be compromised or co-opted, because trust me, they will try. You can definitely believe that!

This system will come at you with all kinds of things. All kinds! But if you fall for it, you’re done. You’re done, and that’s what they bank on. They bank on people flaring up for an instant and then fizzling out.

One last thing I really want the young people to remember. We do this work out of love, not hate. Love for life and the people. Long live John Africa! Long live the revolution! Ona move!

Lamont Lilly was a U.S. delegate at the International Forum for Justice in Palestine in Beirut, Lebanon. He is also an activist and organizer in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The Art of Love” Mixtape, “John Africa” Track, By PAYPAY Featuring Seddrick Miley


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20 Years on the Move: John Africa’s Revolution (excerpt)

(The following is an excerpt from the longer publication written over 15 years ago.)

20 Years on the Move: John Africa’s Revolution

The MOVE Organization surfaced in Philadelphia during the early 1970’s. Characterized by dreadlock hair, the adopted surname “Africa”, a principled unity, and an uncompromising commitment to their belief, members practiced the teachings of MOVE founder John Africa.

MOVE‘s work is to stop industry from poisoning the air, the water, the soil, and to put an end to the enslavement of life – people, animals, any form of life. the purpose of John Africa’s revolution is to show people through John Africa’s teaching, the truth – that this system is the cause of all their problems (alcoholism, drug addiction, unemployment, wife abuse, child pornography, every problem in the world) and to set the example of revolution for people to follow when they realize how they’ve been oppressed, repressed, duped, tricked by this system, this government and see the need to rid themselves of this cancerous system as MOVE does.”

MOVE statement

During the early 1970’s MOVE was based in the Powelton Village section of West Philadelphia (309 N. 33rd St.). Members had a preference for hard physical work and were constantly chopping firewood, running dogs, shoveling snow or sweeping the street. MOVE ran a popular car wash at this location, helped homeless people find places to live, assisted the elderly with home repairs, intervened in violence between local gangs and college fraternities, and helped incarcerated offenders meet parole requirements through a rehabilitation program. After adopting MOVE‘s way of natural living, many individuals overcame past problems of drug addiction, physical disabilities, infertility and alcoholism. MOVE welcomed dissenting views as an opportunity to showcase their belief and sharpen their oratory skills which they knew would be tested in their revolutionary struggle. MOVE presented their views at public forums and lectures of noted authorities including Dick Gregory, Alan Watts, Jane Fonda, Julian Bond, Richie Havens, Walter Mondale, Roy Wilkins, Buckminster Fuller, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Caesar Chavez and Russell Means, and none could refute John Africa’s teachings. By 1974 MOVE was appearing in public with increasing frequency.

“If our profanity offends you, look around you and see how destructively society is profaning itself. It is the rape of the land, the pollution of the environment, the betrayal and suffering of the masses by corrupt government that is the real obscenity.”

MOVE statement

The mainstream media began a long history of distorted MOVE coverage using misquotes, unverified rumors and biased stories. While those who actually met MOVE members could see the remarkable strength and health they exhibited, dehumanizing news accounts perpetrated the falsehood that members never bathed and were diseased.

Frank Rizzo, Police Commissioner from 1967-71 was the key figure in Philadelphia government and built his career on opposing black efforts to challenge the status quo. In 1967 Rizzo’s first major action as Commissioner had been to halt a peaceful demonstration of some 3500 Black high school students asking for educational reforms and Black Studies programs by unleashing hordes of cops who charged with no provocation and chased students for blocks. Many were beaten. He ran the city with a prominent and heavy-handed police force that had a national reputation for brutality.

MOVE launched demonstration after demonstration aimed at focusing attention on police abuses. Community groups across the City sought MOVE‘s help in setting up demonstrations in their own neighborhoods. As a result of this activism, the police began a concerted campaign of harassment against MOVE, breaking up demonstrations by arresting MOVE members on disorderly conduct charges or violations of whatever local ordinance could be made to apply. On May 18, 1974, Leesing and Janet Africa, both pregnant at the time, were so brutally beaten by Rizzo’s police that they both had miscarriages. By 1975, clashes between MOVE and the police reached increasingly brutal proportions, with frequent beatings, arrests and jail stays. On April 29, 1975, Alberta Africa, pregnant at the time, was held spread-eagle by four officers and repeatedly kicked in the stomach and vagina by a matron named Robinson, suffering a miscarriage as a result. Despite police violence against MOVE many MOVE mothers did bear children, including Sue Africa, in spite of several police beatings throughout her pregnancy, had a son, Tomassa, on Aug. 4, 1975 (Tomassa was later murdered by the city on May 13, 1985). Janine Africa’s baby, Life Africa, was born March 8, 1976 but murdered by the police less than a month later, when his mother was grabbed by a cop, thrown to the ground with 3 week old Life Africa in her arms and stomped until she was nearly unconscious. The baby’s skull was crushed. Police denied that the baby existed because there was no birth certificate.

MOVE took on the courts and eventually overwhelmed them, acting as their own attorneys in hundreds of trials and hearings. On November 5, 1976, Rhonda Africa was arrested and brutalized. Nearly 9 months pregnant, Rhonda went into premature labor the next day, giving birth to a bruised and injured baby that soon died. (Rhonda herself was later murdered by the City on May 13, 1985.)

On May 20, 1977, MOVE staged a major demonstration demanding the release of their political prisoners and an end to the violent harassment by the City. To keep an increasingly brutal police force at bay, MOVE appeared outside their house with firearms.

“We told the cops there wasn’t gonna be anymore undercover deaths. This time they better be prepared to murder us in full public view, cause if they came at us with fists, we were gonna come back with fists. If they came with clubs, we’d come back with clubs, and if they came with guns, we’d use guns, too. We don’t believe in death-dealing guns, we believe in life. But we knew the cops wouldn’t be so quick to attack us if they had to face the same stuff they dished out so casually on unarmed defenseless folk.”

MOVE

To force MOVE members out of their Powelton Village headquarters, Rizzo got court approval to starve them out. On March 16, 1978, the police set up a blockade around the house and shut off water lines. Those inside included pregnant women, nursing babies, children and animals Police arrested anyone who tried to break through the barricades, though some attempts to get food and water to MOVE were successful. During this time MOVE lost the farm they had paying on in Virginia. The blockade lasted almost two months and on April 16, 1978, thousands marched around City Hall protesting the City’s action.

The City tried to negotiate a settlement. MOVE knew officials could not be trusted but entered into an agreement to expose the City’s deceit. Terms of the settlement were publicized May 3, 1978 before MOVE had given final approval. MOVE then told mediators why those in the house could not be legally arrested. When newly installed D.A. Ed Rendell confirmed that the arrest warrants were indeed void as per Rule 1100. Terms were finalized after MOVE had a 90-day deadline for vacating the house deleted from the agreement. To obscure legal improprieties, a gag provision was included to prevent MOVE from talking to the media. Police were allowed to arrest, arraign and release on bail pending appeal, each wanted member in the house. Police searched the house for weapons and found only inoperative ones. The city agreed to dispose of all other pending MOVE cases within 4-6 weeks.

On August 2, 1978, Judge DiBona ruled that MOVE had violated the unagreed-to 90-day deadline and the D.A.’s office then solicited MOVE arrest warrants for not vacating the house. The fact that Rendell’s office could not legally practice law at a civil proceeding went unpublicized and the media was instrumental in perpetuating the myth that MOVE had agreed to a 90-day time limit. The City was so bent on framing and hunting down MOVE members the DiBona signed bench warrants authorizing police to bring before him practically every known MOVE adult, though over half of them were not in the house and couldn’t possibly have violated an order to vacate it.

On August 5, Philadelphia authorities, in collaboration with Virginia police, staged a midnight raid on the Richmond home of two MOVE women and 14 children, arresting Gail and Rhonda Africa at gunpoint and returning them to Philadelphia. The legal justification was Gail and Rhonda’s alleged failure to leave a house that they weren’t within a hundred miles of.

In the early morning hours of August 8, hundreds of police and firemen surrounded MOVE headquarters. Using heavy construction equipment they tore down the barricades and knocked out the windows. With guns drawn, over 20 officers entered the first floor of the house, only to find that MOVE had taken refuge in the basement. Fire hoses and deluge guns were then turned on, flooding the basement with water. MOVE adults were forced to hold children and animals in their arms to keep them from drowning. Suddenly gunshots rang out and immediately bullets filled the air as police throughout the area opened fire. Officer James Ramp was struck and killed by a single bullet. Three other policemen and firemen were wounded. MOVE never fired any shots and no MOVE members were arrested with any weapons. 12 adults were arrested, all suffering physical abuse at the hands of the police, and 11 children had been in the house. As news cameras recorded the event, officers Joseph Zagame, Charles Geist, Terrance Mulvihill and Lawrence D’Ulisse severely beat MOVE member Delbert Africa while taking him into custody. Without provocation, Zagame smashed Delbert in the face with a police helmet as D’Ulisse connected with a blow from the butt of a shotgun. This knocked Delbert to the ground and he was then dragged by his hair across the street where the other officers set upon him, savagely kicking him in the head, kidneys and groin.

An afternoon conference was held at City Hall during which Police Commissioner Joseph O’Neill said Officer Ramp was killed by a shot in the back. Moments later a typed police press release was distributed stating that Ramp was shot in the chest. Rizzo displayed a table of firearms and claimed they were taken from the MOVE house. Some reporters noted the seemingly new condition of the weapons; others wondered what these guns were doing in the mayor’s office rather than impounded in the police crime lab as evidence. No MOVE fingerprints were found on any of these weapons. Although destroying evidence of a crime is illegal, police bulldozed and leveled the house as soon as MOVE members were taken away. No efforts were made to preserve the crime scene, inscribe chalk marks, or measure ballistic angles. MOVE told Judge Merna Marshall that the destruction of the house prevented them from proving that it was impossible for any MOVE member to have shot officer Ramp. The Fred Hampton case in Illinois was cited, where the preservation of the crime scene enabled the estates of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark to prove that all offensive fire came from the police. Judge Marshall denied MOVE‘s petition and held them over for trial. Three defendants were tried separately and those who disavowed MOVE were released. MOVE protested that they were being held strictly because they were MOVE members rather than on any evidence that they had anything to do with the death of James Ramp. After refusing to disavow MOVE, Consuewella Dotson was later tried and sentenced to 10-20 years. Even though the MOVE members were in the basement when the gunfire occurred and only one bullet struck Ramp, Judge Malmed pronounced the remaining nine defendants guilty of the murder and sentenced each one to 30-100 years. On a radio talk show the next day, a caller (Mumia Abu- Jamal) asked Malmed, “Who shot James Ramp?”, he replied, “I have no idea.”

The police assaults and court hearings continued for several years, and one of the few media people to accurately report on MOVE and make a serious effort to understand the organization was Mumia Abu-Jamal, a highly regarded Philadelphia journalist and president of the Association of Black Journalists. Throughout the 1978 confrontation and resulting trials, Mumia continued to produce in-depth coverage of MOVE issues, often against the directives of his employers. On December 9, 1981, Mumia was found shot through the chest and badly wounded on a downtown Philadelphia street. Nearby lay a police officer, dead from gunshot wounds. During his subsequent arrest and treatment in a hospital, Mumia was abused and beaten by police. Mumia maintained his innocence and conducted his own defense until Judge Albert Sabo ruled he was being disruptive and ordered a court-appointed lawyer to take over the case. Mumia then refused to participate and the events at the crime scene were never fully determined. A jury found him guilty of first degree murder and gave him the death penalty. There has been an international call for the release of Mumia from what is regarded as an unjust sentence based on his association with MOVE.

The primary activity of MOVE now became securing the release of innocent members facing not only 30-100 years in prison, but the wrath of a vindictive prison system and its abusive guards. Several members went on hunger strikes to obtain the basic rights other inmates received. In post trial motions, court-appointed lawyers neglected to raise the illegality of the arrest warrants from the 1978 confrontation. Judge Edward Bradley admitted there were inconsistencies but declined to take any action. D.A. Ed Rendell outright refused to meet with MOVE and Councilman Lucien Blackwell and City Council Chairman Joseph Coleman were non-committal. Starting in 1982, MOVE was able to meet several times with City Managing Director Wilson Goode. After consulting a lawyer on MOVE‘s legal claims, Goode agreed that MOVE was innocent and promised to remedy the situation after he was elected mayor. Media refused to cover the issue and there was blackout on any information about MOVE. MOVE began publishing their own newspaper and using loudspeakers to inform people of the injustice and the City’s conspiracy to eliminate them.

In 1984 Wilson Goode became mayor, then quickly reneged on his earlier promise and took no action as another confrontation with MOVE took shape. Anticipating how far the City would go to silence them, MOVE began fortifying their rowhouse at 6221 Osage Avenue in the Cobbs Creek section of West Philadelphia. At the same time, police made preparations for a murderous assault by secretly obtaining from the FBI over 37 pounds of C-4, a powerful military explosive, although this violated police regulations, FBI policies and federal law regarding transfer of explosives. Media suddenly began covering MOVE again, focusing on Osage Avenue neighbors’ disagreements with MOVE rather than MOVE‘s longstanding legal dispute with the City. MOVE held a meeting with neighborhood residents in May, 1984 to explain their position and police stepped up their campaign of intimidation and harassment. Between June and October Alfonso Africa was arrested and beaten bloody several times by police. On August 8, 1984, hundreds of police and firemen spent the day surrounding the Osage block in what came to be viewed as a dry run for the later disaster, but MOVE would not be provoked. MOVE told negotiators they wanted at least one official to honestly investigate the unjust jailing of MOVE members, but officials and the media ignored this. On May 11, 1985, Judge Lynne Abraham signed arrest warrants on charges of disorderly conduct and terroristic threats. On Mother’s Day, May 12, police evacuated the 6200 Block of Osage Avenue and towed away parked cars.

On Monday, May 13, 1985, police and firemen launched a full scale military assault on the MOVE rowhouse using tear gas, water cannons, shotguns, Uzi’s, M-16s, silenced weapons, Browning Automatic Rifles, M-60 machine guns, a 20mm anti- tank gun, and a .50-caliber machine gun. Some of these weapons were illegally obtained with the help of the U.S. Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Agency. Between 6:00 and 7:30 am police fired over 10,000 rounds of ammunition at the house knowing there were women and children inside. They also tried to blast through the walls with the military explosives the FBI had illegally provided. When none of these measures succeeded in driving MOVE from the house, a state police helicopter was used to drop a bomb on the roof. This started a fire that officials deliberately allowed to burn, burning down the entire block of some 60 homes. MOVE members repeatedly tried to exit but were met with police gunfire which killed some of the adults and children in the alley behind the house. Six adults and five children died. Also on May 13, 1985, police in Chester, PA in cooperation with Philadelphia, used tear gas to storm the Chester home of Alfonso Africa. The only adult present, his wife Mary, was arrested and their 5 children were taken away as police ransacked the house. The legal basis for this action was Judge Lynne Abraham’s warrant for Alfonso, although he had been incarcerated since May 8 on charges of threatening officer James McDonnell (who previously shot Alfonso on June 10, 1984).

Ramona Africa was charged with conspiracy, riot and multiple counts of simple and aggravated assault. Although no testimony was presented indicating she ever held or fired a weapon, a jury found her guilty and Judge Michael Stiles sentenced her to 16 months to 7 years. Mayor Goode appointed a special commission to investigate the catastrophe, but it had no power to indict. Findings released in March, 1986 were highly critical of City officials and included extensive recommendations, but as years passed these were largely disregarded and forgotten. In 1986, D.A. Ron Castille impanelled a grand jury to investigate criminal wrongdoing on the part of the City. Notwithstanding 11 deaths, 60 homes burned to the ground, unauthorized possession and use of military explosives, and a fire that was deliberately allowed to burn out of control, Castille’s grand jury followed his recommendations and returned not a single indictment. A federal grand jury investigating civil rights violations also returned no indictments. None of the investigations looked at earlier legal improprieties.

There are currently 9 MOVE members imprisoned by the PA penal system. Locked away in remote areas, far from the public eye, they have endured years of continuous physical and mental harassment. Delbert, Carlos and Chuck Africa were kept in solitary confinement over five years for refusing to violate MOVE belief by cutting their hair. At Muncy prison, MOVE women upheld their religious principles by refusing to give blood samples and were repeatedly put in solitary confinement, sometimes for as long as 3 years. Sadistic prison guards were delighted to inform Delbert, Janet, Sue, Phil, Janine and Consuewella Africa that some of their children were killed in the police assault on May 13, 1985. No MOVE members were involved in a 1989 Camp Hill prison riot, but Chuck Africa was singled out by correctional officers Bray, Cywinski and Lt. Komsisky, and while handcuffed and shackled, Chuck was brutally attacked and beaten. He was then transported incommunicado across the country until lodged at the maximum security prison in Lompoc, CA, until his return to PA 16 months later. Delbert, Phil and Edward Africa were also abruptly transferred out of state and weeks passed before their family learned of their whereabouts. Phil and Edward were shuffled through a number of prisons before arriving at the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, KS. Delbert was eventually taken to the military prison at Fort Gordon, GA. They spent many months, and in Phil’s case, over a year at these locations before being returned to Pennsylvania.

Lack of media coverage has given the Parole Board the power to demand the special stipulation for MOVE members at parole hearings that they may be paroled if they agree never again to associate with MOVE, even when the person’s husband or wife is a member. All MOVE members have refused this stipulation and are doing/have done their maximum sentences.

After the tragic deaths and destruction the city caused in 1985, the vast publicity surrounding the disaster continually overlooked the fact that MOVE‘s original demand for justice in the 1978 confrontation remained unresolved. Now, Ed Rendell is the mayor of Philadelphia, and Judge Lynne Abraham is now D.A. Lynne Abraham. Judge Sabo has been called out of retirement in the City’s efforts to ensure the murder of Mumia-Abu Jamal.

MOVE points out that in their over 20-year history, destruction and death have always been the work of the police, so inquiries as to the future likelihood of such occurrences should be directed to city officials. MOVE has never dropped a bomb, burned down a neighborhood or killed anyone, they have only demanded the release of innocent members. The City of Philadelphia has murdered 17 MOVE members, including adults, children, 1 baby and 4 miscarriages.

Nine MOVE members remain unjustly incarcerated on 30-100 year sentences.

“As long as we are alive, we will never abandon our innocent brothers and sisters in jail, and they know we will never abandon them, and this city gonna always have a problem until every last one of our brothers and sisters is home.”

MOVE statement


To order “20 Years on the Move” please send a check or money order for a $6.00 donation (discount for bulk orders) and to help in the struggle for justice. For more information contact:

Concerned Citizens in Support of MOVE
P.O. Box 19709
Philadelphia, PA 19143