29 June 2018

Free All the MOVE Prisoners!

Debbie Africa Paroled

(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)

On June 16, MOVE member Debbie Sims Africa was released on parole from Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution Cambridge Springs. She is the first of the MOVE 9 to be released after they were incarcerated in 1978, sentenced to terms of 30 to 100 years for the killing of a Philadelphia police officer during the 1978 cop siege of MOVE’s Powelton Village home. Two other MOVE prisoners, Janine and Janet Africa, were up for parole with Debbie, but were denied. “I am happy to finally be home with my family,” said Debbie, “but Janet, Janine and the rest of the MOVE 9 are still in prison, in the same situation that I was in and they deserve parole too.” For the immediate, unconditional release of all the MOVE prisoners!

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. Debbie’s release comes just two months before the 40th anniversary of the 8 August 1978 police attack on MOVE. After a months-long siege, an army of nearly 600 cops surrounded the MOVE house to evict its defenseless residents. The police unleashed a fusillade of gunfire and then stormed the home. One police officer, James Ramp, was killed in the cops’ own 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 recovered from their home. Despite this evidence of their innocence, six MOVE members remain in Pennsylvania’s dungeons nearly 40 years later. Merle and Phil Africa have already died in prison hellholes.

On 13 May 1985, the MOVE prisoners watched in horror from their cells as the Philadelphia police under black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode, in league with the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, dropped a high-powered explosive bomb on MOVE’s Osage Avenue home. Eleven people, including five children, were burned to death and an entire black neighborhood was left in smoldering ruins. For the “crime” of being the sole adult survivor of the bombing, Ramona Africa was sentenced to 7 years and served every day. This coordinated act of racist state murder must never be forgotten.

Until Debbie’s release, the MOVE prisoners had been denied their freedom time and again since becoming eligible for parole in 2008. But despite persistent persecution and harassment, the surviving MOVE members remain strong and outspoken, steadfast fighters not only for their own freedom but also for the freedom of others, not least political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, a longtime MOVE supporter.

In once again denying parole to Janet and Janine Africa, the parole board cited their “lack of remorse.” This is a common basis for denying parole to those who have been falsely convicted. Having committed no crime, the imprisoned MOVE members have nothing to show “remorse” for. Although the office of Philadelphia’s new district attorney reportedly sent letters saying that Janet and Janine “will not pose a threat to the Philadelphia community,” the parole board cited the “negative recommendation” of a prior prosecuting attorney as another basis for denying their release.

At the time of the 1978 cop attack, Debbie was just 22, the mother of a 2-​year-old daughter, Michelle, and eight months pregnant. Her son, Michael Jr., was born in prison and taken from her after just three days. “After being born in jail and never being with my mom or dad, I’m happy to be with my mom at home for the first time ever in almost forty years. But my family is still incomplete because my dad is still in prison,” said Mike Africa Jr. His father, Michael Africa Sr., is a MOVE prisoner who is up for parole in September.

The MOVE 9 were among the first activists supported by the class-war prisoner stipend program of the Partisan Defense Committee. The sinister web of police terror and frame-ups unleashed against them and Mumia Abu-Jamal is no aberration. Suppressing political dissent as well as terrorizing the besieged black and Latino populations is precisely the job the cops are paid to do as enforcers of the racist capitalist order. As Workers Vanguard underlined in “Free Ramona Africa and All MOVE Prisoners!” (WV No. 396, 31 Jan. 1986), “Defense of all the MOVE prisoners is an elementary duty for every working-class organization.” It will take a workers revolution to put the capitalist state’s machinery of torture and death out of business once and for all.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1136, 29 June 2018)

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