Sunday, April 25, 2021,
By Michael Levenson,
Reprinted from The New York Times.
The disclosure that anthropologists at two Ivy League universities had kept bones from a victim of the 1985 MOVE bombing infuriated its members as well as city leaders.
In the early evening of May 13, 1985, the police flew a helicopter over a crowded West Philadelphia neighborhood and dropped a bomb on the rowhouse where members of the communal, anti-government group MOVE lived.
The bomb started a fire, and the police ordered firefighters to let it burn. Eleven people, including five children, were killed, and more than 60 nearby homes were destroyed.
The pain of that day never left for many Philadelphians, a scarring memory of how the police caused a middle-class, mostly Black neighborhood to burn.
This week, the anguish came surging back when officials at two Ivy League universities acknowledged that anthropologists had been passing the bones of a young bombing victim between them for the last 36 years. The bones were also featured in a video for an online course, “Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology,” [editor: course since removed] taught by a University of Pennsylvania professor and offered by Princeton.
“I was sickened and almost in shock,” said Jamie Gauthier, a member of the Philadelphia City Council, which apologized for the bombing last year. “It’s just an unbelievable amount of disrespect for Black life and an unbelievable amount of disrespect for a child who suffered trauma, a child who was killed by her own government.”
Mike Africa Jr., an activist, writer and member of MOVE who was 6 when the bomb was dropped, said he and others in the group did not know the bones — parts of a burned femur and a pelvis — had been used in the video and kept for decades by anthropologists.
He said he learned about the bones only days ago from an activist, Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, who wrote an opinion piece published on Wednesday by The Philadelphia Inquirer calling for the bones to be returned to MOVE. The same day, the news site Billy Penn reported that the remains had been kept in a cardboard box on a shelf.
“Anger, fury, disappointment, sadness,” Mr. Africa said, describing his reaction. “It’s like this never ends and no matter how much time passes, and you hope that things can get to a place where you can begin to heal some, it’s right back up in your face. I haven’t cried this many consecutive days since 1985.”
The bombing has for decades been held up as an example of the city’s mistreatment of Black people. In 1988, a grand jury cleared officials of criminal liability for the death and destruction resulting from the bombing.
“It remains a festering injustice because there was no accountability for those who dropped the bomb,” said Linn Washington, a journalism professor at Temple University who covered the bombing as a reporter.
Christopher Woods, the director of the Penn Museum, said that museum workers knew for years that the bones of a MOVE bombing victim had been kept there. Those people told him about the bones last Friday, he said, in the context of another controversy involving different bones at the museum.
This month, the museum and the University of Pennsylvania apologized for the decadeslong possession of hundreds of skulls, including those of enslaved people, that had been collected by a 19th-century physician whose research was used to justify white supremacist views.
The museum said it would repatriate the skulls whenever possible.
The bones of the bombing victim had been repeatedly analyzed over the years in an effort to positively identify the person they belonged to, Dr. Woods said.
“I would apologize for any trauma this has reintroduced,” Dr. Woods said. “That certainly wasn’t our intention. Our intention was to help solve this case and restore the personhood and identity and dignity of this individual.”
Some MOVE members and city leaders said the bones of the bombing victim should have been returned years ago. Professor Washington said Penn should offer a “profuse apology” and compensation.
“This was a homicidal act and now this homicidal act has been compounded by the behavior at Penn,” Professor Washington said. “I saw this as a repeat of colonialism, where people’s lives were misappropriated.”
Two anthropologists who analyzed the bones — Alan Mann, now a professor emeritus at Princeton, and Janet Monge, the curator-in-charge of the Penn Museum’s Physical Anthropology Section — were not able to positively identify the victim, according to the museum.
The bones, according to the museum and Princeton, are currently in Dr. Mann’s possession. Dr. Woods said the museum returned the bones to him on Sunday because the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office had originally given them to him for forensic analysis in 1985.
Dr. Mann and Dr. Monge did not respond to messages this week.
Dr. Woods, who became director of the Penn Museum on April 1, said he hopes the bones can be returned to MOVE. “We are working on it now,” he said. “It’s a complex issue. We all want to do the right thing.”
According to the museum, Dr. Mann was originally acting as an “independent forensic anthropologist,” when he received the bones in 1985. At the time, he was also a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
After the medical examiner failed to make a positive identification, the office gave the bones to Dr. Mann in the hopes that he could eventually link them to a victim, the museum said. In 2001, when Dr. Mann became a professor at Princeton, the bones were moved there, the museum said.
In 2016, a year after Dr. Mann retired from Princeton, the remains returned to the Penn Museum for testing with new technology by Dr. Monge. She was unable to make a positive identification, the museum said.
Dr. Monge also used the bones in a video for the online forensics course offered by Princeton. In the video, she describes the history of the bombing and signs of damage on the bones, and a student says she concluded that the bones belonged to a preteen or teenage girl.
Princeton said in a statement on Friday that “out of respect for the victims of the MOVE bombing and their families we have suspended the online course.”
The university said, “We have no reason to believe that anything improper is currently taking place at Princeton.” It added, “We are reviewing our protocols and policies for the handling of any human remains in teaching and research to ensure they are consistent with the highest professional practice and ethical standards.”
A spokeswoman for Jim Kenney, the mayor of Philadelphia, said he was recently made aware of the “unfortunate situation” involving the bones. “He is extremely disturbed by the mishandling of the victims’ remains,” said the spokeswoman, Deana Gamble.
She said “any future placement of these remains should be determined in concert with the victims’ families.”
The bones, Mr. Africa said, may belong to Delisha Africa or Tree Africa, who were 12 and 14 when they were killed, according to city officials. He said that Delisha taught him how to be mischievous and to get away with it. And Tree, he said, loved climbing trees.
“I knew those kids,” Mr. Africa said. “They’re not an imagination or a hallucination. There are memories.”
Tuesday, February 16
6pm EST / 5pm CST / 3pm PST.
The event will include welcoming and discussion with Michael Africa, Jr. himself!
Please register for the Zoom event at tinyurl.com/ILPS40Years
The Committee to Stop FBI Repression is a member group of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS).
Film also showing on December 3, 2020, at 9pm on HBO. More film events will be listed on this, the MOVE website (run by Friends of MOVE).
For more info: Mobilization4Mumia@gmail.com and (215) 724-1618
What can apologies do for the kids who died, or for their parents, who were unjustly imprisoned while they burned?
By Mike Africa, Jr.,
Reprinted from Salon (original).
On May 10, 2020, former Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode made a formal apology, in the form of an op-ed in The Guardian, for an atrocity that happened on his watch. It had been almost 35 years to the day since Philadelphia police flew a helicopter over the headquarters of MOVE, a revolutionary civil liberties organization, and dropped a bomb on the roof of the building. The bomb sparked a fire that would kill 11 people inside, including five children who were under the age of 15. These people were my family.
I was six years old when the bomb was dropped. From more than four miles away at my Grandmother’s house, I could see the thick black cloud in the air. I remember playing outside when a neighborhood kid told me, “They dropped a bomb on MOVE.” When I said, “No they didn’t,” he pointed to the sky to show me billowing smoke. I ran back in the house to find my grandmother, my aunt and other adults watching a raging fire on the television, with a woman screaming uncontrollably. When I said that looked like our home and our family, my aunt said, “It is.”
Fear and wonder bounced around my mind like ping pong balls. Who was in the house? Was it the children I knew? Would they survive the blaze? The trauma left me numb and, for decades, fearful of the sound or sight of helicopters.
The MOVE Organization surfaced in the early 1970s, lead by an uneducated, poor, yet wise and strategic-minded Black man named John Africa. John Africa created the organization to fight against the systemic oppression of people. The group was much like many other radical Black groups opposed to societal ills, but unlike those other groups, MOVE believed that people will never achieve true freedom for oppressed people if the slave mentality was allowed to exist. The same system that enslaved African people is the very same system that enslaves animals in zoos and circuses. The same is true for the environment. Bartering the water for money, sacrificing the health of people for environmentally pollutant industries. For our stance against the entire re-formed world system we became targets of the establishment’s most notorious gang, the police department — much like the Black Panthers, Earth First, and The Animal Liberation Front.
To this day, no city official—not the mayor, not the police commissioner, not any one of the officers involved—has been charged or punished for dropping a bomb on their own citizens. Not even the fire commissioner or the police commissioner who, together, deliberately let the fire burn. Instead, the lone adult survivor of the bombing, Ramona Africa, was the only person to be punished for the incident. She served seven years in prison for “riot.”
But Goode, the mayor who let this happen in his city, apologized in his Guardian op-ed. That’s supposed to be a good thing, right? He apologized and urged other officials and even the city itself to apologize as well, saying, “it would be helpful for the healing of all involved.” But I know for a fact that these apologies are not for my healing, or for my family’s healing.
Apologies are not for the victims. They are to ease the minds of the offenders. Goode has apologized for the bombing of MOVE no less than four times, but even his most recent apology served mostly to deflect the very blame he was claiming to accept. He wrote: “I am ultimately responsible for those I appointed…I apologize for their reckless actions that brought about this horrific outcome, even though I knew nothing about their specific plan of action.”
This is why apologies without action are meaningless—they are not catalysts of change, but rather a means of placating the public so that those in power can continue carrying on as they always have. Far from ever facing punishment for the bombing of my family, Goode actually had a Philadelphia street named after him in 2018. Public apologies allow officials like Goode to give the appearance of taking responsibility without facing any real punishment or repercussions. It is all part of a carefully constructed machine, the same machine that allows a police chief to apologize away the shooting of a young unarmed Black man without making any changes to his department, or for the officer who shot that young man to go on “administrative leave” rather than being fired or arrested.
I know how this machine works from first-hand experience. I was born in a prison cell after my mother and father were wrongfully convicted as a result of an earlier attack on MOVE, committed by Goode’s predecessor, Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo.
Rizzo is most known for his brutal treatment of blacks in the city. As police commissioner, Rizzo was accused of ordering motorcycle cops to intentionally run over Black protestors and telling his officers to “get their black asses.” It was Rizzo’s cops who mercilessly beat MOVE member Rhonda Africa, who at the time was 8 months pregnant and days later bore her stillborn baby, only to discover his tiny body covered in black and blue bruises. As mayor, Rizzo faced multiple lawsuits for discriminatory practices in hiring for the police and fire departments. He openly employed and supported anyone that had the same type of hate for Black people as he did, and infamously told supporters to “vote white.” From cops to firemen, judges to politicians, district attorneys to public defenders, Rizzo had an assembly line of injustice in place to send as many Black people to prison as he could. The brutality of Rizzo and his police are best documented in a Pulitzer-Prize award-winning Philadelphia Inquirer series by William K. Marimow and Jon Neuman if you want to read that full story.
Rizzo’s most famous attack, the event that would unjustly put my parents behind bars for more than 40 years, came against The MOVE Organization in 1978. In the wee hours of the morning on August 8, 1978, hundreds of heavily armed Philadelphia police and firemen came out to MOVE’s home and headquarters. Police cleared the streets of cars and residents in order to assume a combat formation in the residential neighborhood of Powelton Village. Then Police commissioner Joseph O’Neill ordered MOVE members to surrender over a loudspeaker: “Attention MOVE, this is America.”
When MOVE refused to come out of the house, or “barricaded themselves inside” according to some reports, a violent siege began. A bulldozer was used to knock down MOVE’s fence, a hydraulic cherry picker knocked out the home’s windows. Firefighters and police entered the residence and found all MOVE members in the basement. Firefighters cut a hole in the floor to gain optimal positioning for their water cannons that were used to blast MOVE members who were trapped in the cellar. Tear gas, smoke bombs and hundreds of rounds of ammunition from police rained down on MOVE members as they shielded their babies and each other. My parents were in that basement—my mom was eight months pregnant with me and holding my 2-year-old sister.
The suffocating effects of the tear gas and smoke forced MOVE to flee the home. Police awaiting their exit violently snatched babies from the women’s arms and dangled them above the ground like rag dolls. With an already battered body and multiple bullet wounds, my uncle Chuck Africa got out of the building, only to be beaten to the ground by waiting police officers. On the other side of the house, separated from the other MOVE members, Delbert Africa was ordered at gunpoint by police to exit the building from a secluded side window. Although he had already been shot and was exiting the basement bare-chested with his hands up, officers still smashed Delbert over the head with a steel helmet and broke his jaw with a rifle butt before arresting him.
Rizzo’s justification for attacking our home? Serving an eviction notice for the property having “housing code violations.” Since when has it been okay to answer a housing code violation with a military siege?
During the gunfire and confusion of the siege, a police officer was shot (by a single, fatal bullet) and nine members of MOVE, including my parents, my uncle Chuck, and Delbert, were charged with the murder. How nine people can shoot one officer with one bullet, I cannot tell you. The trial judge even admitted during the trial that he didn’t know who actually killed the officer, but that did not keep then District Attorney Ed Rendell from pushing for the maximum sentence. My parents and the rest of the MOVE 9 were sentenced to 100 years each in prison.
Despite all the subsequent public apologies for the obvious mishandling of this case, including apologies from Ed Rendell himself, it would still take 40 years before I was able to get my parents released from prison. It was not until February of this year that my uncle Chuck, the last of the MOVE 9 to still be incarcerated, was finally released. By that time, two of the MOVE 9 had already died in prison.
Back in the 1980s, by the time election season rolled around, the Black community was desperate for a change. So when there was a chance to finally vote out Rizzo, and a Black candidate by the name of Wilson Goode was running, Black voters flocked to give Goode their support. Goode promised that, if elected, he would look into the case of the imprisoned MOVE members and even went so far as to say that he believed they were innocent. This was almost 40 years ago.
Between the MOVE 9, Mumia Abu-Jamal (a young journalist who was also arrested on blatantly false charges) and a number of other high-profile injustices at the time, protests and demands for justice were reaching a fever pitch. The pressure from MOVE and the community was so intense that city officials dubbed it “rioting,” an arrestable offense, in order to put an end to it. This was the decision that would lead to the 1985 bombing.
When heavily militarized police came to the row house on Osage Avenue on May 13, 1985, under the guise of serving arrest warrants on charges of “terroristic threats,” “riot,” and “disorderly conduct,” a series of fatal decisions would show, with terrifying clarity, just how deeply embedded racism and hate were in the Philadelphia fire department, police department, and the court system.
When MOVE members found themselves once again confronted with fabricated charges and a militarized police siege at their door, they refused to leave the house, and police, seeing “no other way” to get in or force them out, then flew a helicopter over the house and dropped a bundle of C4 on the roof of the building. When the bomb sparked a roaring inferno, police commissioner Gregore Sambor told the firemen on the scene to stand down, reportedly telling them to “let the fire burn.” When the 13 people in the house tried to escape the inferno, they were met with police gunfire, forcing them back into the blaze. When the fire consumed 61 homes in the largely Black neighborhood before it was finally extinguished, it would take years for the city to make what were ultimately pretty shoddy repairs. The District Attorney who ensured that the bombing’s lone adult survivor, Ramona Africa, was sentenced to 7 years for “riot,” was, again, none other than Ed Rendell.
But now, 35 years after the bombing of an American residential home and 42 years after the wrongful conviction of nine innocent people resulting in 100-year prison sentences each, Goode and Rendell are making apologies. Their apologies have been published in local Philadelphia newspapers and in The Guardian. Goode apologized for his role in the bombing, saying that he would now support MOVE in their mission for the rest of his life, just like he said during his election campaign, years before the bombing. Yes, Goode eventually wrote letters of support for releasing the MOVE 9, but that was not until 2018, after my mother had already been released and we were receiving media attention. Rendell was quoted recently saying he regretted pushing for so much time to be served in prison for the MOVE 9, but he still has not pushed for commuting my parents’ parole, which they are still serving.
What can apologies do for the two members of MOVE who died in prison after serving 20 years and 37 years each? What can apologies do for the children who died in the bombing, or for their parents who were in prison on false charges while their children burned? While an apology may seem noble to some, it’s hard to accept an apology when you’re watching your parents grow old in prison. When my parents went to prison, my oldest sister was five years old. By the time my parents came home, my sister was a grandparent. All of these apologies make it sound like this was some kind of mistake, but it was deliberate. Every step of the way, actions were taken to shore up a system designed not just to oppress Black people, but to kill us. How can I accept an apology from the people who deliberately killed my family? How can an apology, empty words, be all there is?
With the recent uprisings around the world calling for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and too many others to name on one page, we have seen some cops joining the protesters, kneeling in solidarity, making statements against police brutality. And this is a positive step, but we have to move past this symbolism and into action, reform. What will this symbolism do to stop the brutality if the system itself has been built, in too many layers to count, to subjugate the people and protect the enforcers?
In Buffalo, NY, for example, the world saw 75-year-old white protester Martin Gugino shoved to the ground by police. Those same police, just 24 hours earlier, had been kneeling with protesters. The shove knocked Gugino to the ground causing him to hit his head and crack his skull. The impact of the fall was so severe that the hit caused blood to leak from his ears. Witnessing the fall, other cops tried to aid Gugino and they too were shoved away from providing aid by their fellow officers. The Buffalo Police Department later issued an apology for the offense, which no one complained about, but when the two officers involved in the shove were actually arrested for the assault, 57 other police officers resigned from the unit “in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders.”
This system, a system in which officers feel more empowered to take action for the violent offenders within their ranks than they do for an elderly man who is bleeding out in front of them on the concrete, this is the system we must fight to change. Apologies and shows of symbolic solidarity are not enough to fix this system on their own. They are only the pleasantries at the beginning of what needs to be a very tough and action-oriented national conversation.
On June 3, 2020, the city of Philadelphia finally removed Frank Rizzo’s statue from where it stood across from City Hall, but the echoes of his brutal policy decisions are still shaping our police force and our government. There is still a street named after Wilson Goode.
Is it possible for people to actually feel sorry for their roles in an atrocity, and at the same time do nothing for the people who are affected by it? Can you feel sorry about a heinous crime while also defending the people who committed it? If Philadelphia officials can recognize that Rizzo was a racist and remove his statue, why force the victims of his racism to stay in prison? If Ed Rendell is so sorry for my parents spending so many years in prison, why is he not pushing to commute their 60 years of parole? To visit a dying brother one town over, they need approval by a parole officer, to visit a daughter who just came out of surgery is denied due to area restrictions.
Apologies, statue removals, repainting the streets … these are forced responses due to pressure from the public, for fear of the people’s uprising. But removing a statue of one brutal, white fascist does not change the racist treatment of Black people in America. Renaming a street to Black Lives Matter will not stop police from kneeling on our necks in other streets. A few police officers symbolically kneeling with protesters will not fix a nation-wide system that allows for the brutal attacking of Black people without fear of repercussions. It is a system that must be dismantled with as much intention and effort as it took to build it. It is a system built around decades of racism and hatred, with a determination to institutionalize that hatred, and if you are not willing to do the hard work of actual reform, you will not be able to fix that with any number of apologies.
Written with Salon’s Editor at Large D. Watkins, New York Times bestselling author of “The Cook Up,” “The Beast Side” and “We Speak for Ourselves.”
Mike Africa, Jr. is a public speaker, writer, hip hop artist, and member of MOVE. Born in prison after the wrongful conviction of his parents, Mike worked from age 14 until he was in his 40s to free them and the other members of the MOVE 9. He succeeded in freeing his parents in 2018, after they each served 40 years in prison. The rest of the MOVE 9 soon followed. Mike be found @MikeafricaJr on Instagram, and more information is available at www.MikeAfricaJr.com.
MOVE members will speak.
WURD can be heard on 900AM, 96.1FM, or https://wurdradio.com. The day will be structured within a historical and chronological context, placing guests in the order in which they appear in the MOVE narrative. Read more.
10am – 11pm:
In the beginning, there was John Africa.
11am – 12pm:
1pm – 2pm:
3pm – 4pm:
5pm – 7pm:
Interviews with a wide array of stakeholders who were directly involved. Archival audio, live interviews and video.
The day of programming is sponsored by Resolve Reporting Collaborative. Read more.
Final jailed Move 9 member released from prison
One of the great open wounds of the black liberation struggle of the 1970s has finally been healed with the release of the last member of the Move 9, the group of radicals rounded up in a Philadelphia police siege in 1978 and held behind bars for more than four decades.
Chuck Sims Africa, 59, walked free from the Fayette state correctional institution in La Belle, Pennsylvania, on Friday morning. The youngest of the incarcerated group, he has been in custody since shortly after he turned 18.
It takes a lot to rebuild a life that has been stolen since August 8th, 1978. We want to make this transition as smooth as possible, and ensure he has all the basic necessities to get established on the outside. Additionally, Chuck has been valiantly fighting cancer from within prison. Now that he is out, he can receive holistic care and some funds will go towards these expenses.
Chuck appreciates all the support we’ve given over the past four decades, and just needs a little more to kick start his new life! Please give him a warm welcome home and help him to get settled.
His freedom marked his reunion with his family for the first time in almost 42 years. It was also historic, as it closed a chapter that had remained unfinished since the black power movement erupted in the late 1960s.
Alongside the Black Panthers, Philadelphia’s Move organization was central to the volatile and at times violent struggle for black equality that lasted until the 1980s.
Members of the organization regarded themselves – and still do to this day – as part of a family dedicated to race equality, with all members taking the last name “Africa.” Part Panthers and part eco-hippies, they also had a commitment to environmental justice that was ahead of its time.
Mike Africa Jr, the son of two of the Move 9, said Chuck’s release put an end to a long and grueling campaign. “We will never have to shout ‘Free the Move 9!’ ever again. It’s been 41 years, and now we’ll never have to say it.”
For Mike Africa, who is also Chuck’s nephew, the release was especially poignant. He was born in a cell five weeks after his mother, Debbie Sims Africa, Chuck’s sister, was rounded up in the 1978 siege and incarcerated – she gave birth to him unbeknown to the prison guards and kept him hidden with her in the cell for the first few days of his life.
The Guardian began investigating the prolonged imprisonment of the Move 9 in 2018 as part of an examination into black power behind bars. At that time all the surviving members of the group were still in custody in various Pennsylvania prisons.
Members of the group described in letters, emails and prison interviews how they had endured so many years inside while keeping their spirits high. Janine Phillips Africa said that she raised therapy dogs in her cell and grew vegetables in the prison yard, avoiding birthdays or holidays that reminded her of the passage of time.
“The years are not my focus,” she wrote in a letter to the Guardian. “I keep my mind on my health and the things I need to do day by day.”
Delbert Orr Africa said: “We’ve suffered the worst that this system can throw at us – decades of imprisonment, loss of loved ones. So we know we are strong.”
Soon after the Guardian began its investigation, the seven surviving members of the group began to be released on parole. First up was Debbie Sims Africa, set free in June 2018. “We are peaceful people,” she said as she stepped out of Cambridge Springs prison.
Then the other six began to emerge, one after the other like falling dominoes:
- Mike Africa Sr, October 2018
- Janine Phillips Africa and Janet Holloway Africa, May 2019
- Eddie Goodman Africa, June 2019
- Delbert Orr Africa, January 2020
Chuck Sims Africa completes the set.
The Move 9 were arrested following a massive police siege of their collective headquarters and home in Powelton Village, Philadelphia, on 8 August 1978. Hundreds of police officers in Swat teams armed with machine guns, teargas, bulldozers and water cannons surrounded the property following a long standoff with city authorities that saw the group as a threat to the community.
The siege culminated in a police shootout in which Move members allegedly returned fire though they denied doing so. A police officer, James Ramp, was killed in the crossfire.
Nine members were arrested and held jointly responsible for Ramp’s death despite forensic evidence showing he was killed with a single bullet. In 1980 the nine were convicted of third-degree murder and lesser offenses and each sentenced to 30 years to life.
Two of the nine – Merle and Phil Africa – died in prison. The remaining seven fought for many years to convince parole authorities that they were safe to be let out, pointing to clean discipline sheets in prison.
Over the past two years, there have been no security incidents relating to any of the paroled individuals.
Wilson Goode, former mayor of Philadelphia, wrote to the parole board to support Chuck Africa’s bid for freedom. He said: “His release will reunite a family after 40 years and I am convinced he will be a positive contributing voice to the Philadelphia community.”
Goode, the first black mayor of Philadelphia, was in that position on 13 May 1985 when the second disaster relating to Move occurred. Following another prolonged bout of acrimony between the organization and its neighbors and city authorities, the decision was taken forcibly to evict the group from its latest headquarters, then in Osage Avenue.
Another shootout broke out, and when that failed to flush them out police dropped incendiary bombs from a helicopter on to the roof of the building. A fire ensued which was allowed to spread, eventually razing to the ground 61 homes in the overwhelmingly African American neighborhood.
Eleven people in the Move house, including five children, died in the inferno. Chuck Africa’s cousin, Frank, was among the adults who were killed.
All the paroled members of the Move 9 are now preparing to mark the 35th anniversary of the tragedy. For the first time they will be able to commemorate the event and the relatives and peers they lost outside a prison cell.
A huge THANK YOU to The Guardian for their steadfast coverage of the MOVE 9. Original article.
By Cherri Gregg
August 22, 2018
Reprinted from WKY News Radio
Supporters have launched a GoFundMe account.
WEST PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The last remaining survivor of the 1985 MOVE tragedy is gravely ill, and her supporters are asking for help.
“Ramona Africa’s health is critical at this point,” Sue Africa told reporters Wednesday, August 22, 2018, as she stood [at a press conference] outside of a home in West Philadelphia. Several members of the MOVE organization stood alongside her, including Michael Africa, Pam Africa, and Consuela Africa, whose two daughters were killed in the bombing.
“The people must come together to fight with us to ensure she comes through this,” said Consuela. She asked the public to help Ramona, who they say has lymphoma [which caused a stroke] and is disabled.
“She cannot walk because she suffered a terrible stroke,” Sue continued, “and now her insurance has run out.”
Sue said Ramona has insurance through UnitedHealthcare, which only pays for 30 days of treatment. Supporters are looking for more insurance, but say there is a lag time for the new insurance to kick in. While they wait, they say Ramona is regressing and she needs help now.
“They say it could take three to six months,” she said. “Mona can’t survive three to six months without therapy.”
Supporters launched a GoFundMe account seven days ago. So far, they have raised more than $14,000 of the $40,000 goal.
“We just need help at this particular time,” said Pam Africa.
The family refused to identify the facility that Ramona is housed in, citing her safety and wellness as a concern. Pam said Ramona took ill two months ago, around the same time Debbie Africa, the first member of the MOVE 9 imprisoned for the death of Philadelphia Police Officer James Ramp, was released.
“We have the best interest of our sister at heart,” Pam added. “We have good doctors working with her, as well as our own herbalists helping her.”
The family says they will be pressuring the insurance company to provide services. In the meantime, Sue said Ramona remains in good spirits.
“Mona is a survivor — it’s in her,” she said. “She will survive this and walk away from this and teach around the world.”
Donate to Ramona at https://www.gofundme.com/helpsaveramonaafrica.
Reprint from original
By Ed Pilkington in New York
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’
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.
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”.
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”.
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.
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.”
Sat., February 24, 2018,
The National Black Theatre,
2031 5th Avenue (corner 125th St.),
Harlem, NY 10035
Ramona Africa, Fred Hampton Jr., Pam Africa, Roger Wareham, Betty Davis, Ralph Poynter, Johanna Fernandez
As They Rally For Parole For Move Political Prisoners in 2018
Program: 5 – 8 pm
Dinner on sale: 4 pm
Vendors Village: 4 pm
For Program and Vending Reservations call (347) 641-2773 or go to OnaMove.com
Event live streaming at PictureTheStruggle.org
FREE THE MOVE 9!
For more info contact (215) 386-1165 and email@example.com