23 January 2015

Phil Africa


On January 10, MOVE member Phil Africa died at the State Correctional Institution in Dallas, Pennsylvania. Phil had been incarcerated since he was framed up, along with the rest of the MOVE 9, for the killing of a Philadelphia police officer during the 1978 cop siege of MOVE’s Powelton Village home. Circumstances surrounding Phil’s death remain murky. Only a week earlier, he was seen to be his usual vibrant and active self.

Phil was held in total isolation in the hospital for five days during which time his wife of 44 years, Janine, was denied the right to call him on the grounds they were not blood relatives. On January 9, he was transferred to prison hospice care, where he died the next day. According to the New York Times (14 January), a prison spokesman attributed his death to “unspecified natural causes.” But what is “natural” in America’s dungeons where so many—especially black men, and those standing up to racist capitalist oppression—are incarcerated for life?

From its appearance in the early 1970s proclaiming the right of armed self-defense, the predominantly black, radical back-to-nature MOVE commune was met with vicious cop terror. After a year-long siege, on 8 August 1978 an army of nearly 600 police surrounded the MOVE home to evict its defenseless residents. The police unleashed a furious fusillade so intense that one of their own officers, James Ramp, was killed in the police cross fire. At least eight witnesses testified that no gunshots came from the MOVE house, and no fingerprints of any MOVE member were found on the weapons supposedly taken from their home.

The MOVE 9 were among the first activists supported by the Partisan Defense Committee’s program of stipends for class-war prisoners. In 1985, eleven of their MOVE family members, including five children, were massacred by Philly cops in collaboration with the Feds. In 1989, Phil wrote the PDC, a class-struggle legal defense organization associated with the SL: “It is clear by the murders of our family on May 13, 1985 and the denial of parole to MOVE members who are eligible for parole on other cases this system has no intention of releasing MOVE members before our maximum sentences are served.”

A regular feature of PDC Holiday Appeal fundraisers in recent years has been the auction of Phil’s paintings to raise money for our stipend fund. In a recent letter, Phil thanked the PDC for “all the support you’ve given those of us locked away in these hell holes and your constant activities aimed at bringing every one home!” We honor Phil’s memory by keeping up the fight for all class-war prisoners.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1060, 23 January 2015)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.