21 February 2020

Last of MOVE 9 Prisoners Released

MOVE Speakers Address Holiday Appeal

(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)

Enduring some 40 years of prison hell and persistent persecution and victimization, the seven survivors of the MOVE 9 have over the past 20 months all been released—Debbie, Janine, Janet, Mike, Eddie, and, most recently, Delbert and Chuck. Merle Africa died in prison in 1998 as did Phil in 2015, both under suspicious circumstances. The MOVE 9 were framed up on bogus conspiracy and murder charges stemming from the killing of an officer who died in the cops’ own cross fire during a murderous police assault on their Philadelphia Powelton Village home in August 1978. Despite evidence of their innocence, the MOVE 9 were sentenced to 30 to 100 years behind bars. For years, they were continually denied parole for refusing to confess to a crime they did not commit.

Imprisoned MOVE members were among the first recipients of the Partisan Defense Committee’s class-war prisoner stipend program. Since its founding in 1972, the predominantly black, back-to-nature MOVE organization was hounded by the racist cops and government, then under Frank Rizzo, Philadelphia’s notoriously racist mayor and former police chief. The sinister vendetta against black radicals extended to MOVE supporters like Mumia Abu-Jamal, who stood alone among journalists in defense of MOVE. In May 1985, MOVE’s Osage Avenue home was bombed by the FBI and the cops under black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode. The atrocity killed eleven black people, including five children, and incinerated an entire black neighborhood.

The web of police terror unleashed against MOVE was no accident: as enforcers of the racist American capitalist order founded on the oppression of black people, the cops carry out the bosses’ anti-labor diktats and repress the besieged black and Latino populations. It will take a workers revolution to put the capitalist state’s machinery of torture and death out of business once and for all.

Debbie and Mike Africa were the central speakers at the PDC’s 34th annual Holiday Appeal fundraiser for the class-war prisoner stipend program in New York City on January 25. Delbert Africa—who was released a week before the event—offered greetings to the event by cellphone. All three expressed their steadfast determination to free other prisoners who have stood up to racist repression and imperialist depredation. Nearly two weeks later, on February 7, the youngest and last of the MOVE 9, Chuck Africa, was released on parole. Recovering from cancer, Chuck is still in poor health. He has been reunited with his family for the first time in over four decades. We celebrate the release of the MOVE survivors, but we will never forget what America’s capitalist rulers have forced them to suffer through.

We print below excerpts from the comments by Debbie and Mike at our January 25 NYC event.

Debbie Africa

I don’t really have a speech but I do have words from my heart. We do appreciate, so much, all of the work, the effort, the determination of the PDC and those who have supported them all these decades for MOVE. And not only for MOVE, but for Leonard [Peltier], Mumia, Jaan Lamaan, for other political prisoners who have been targeted by the system. I want to say that this organization has above all been one of the most consistent, one of the most outgoing, and one of the most strong in supporting political prisoners. It just means so much for people to get those cards with your names on them, and your greetings on them, every holiday.

Holidays are a really big thing in prison for people—especially people who serve long term—because holidays are a reminder of family, a reminder of togetherness. And people don’t have that in prison, not just political prisoners but other people too, who just may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. They may not be political, they may not be politically forthgoing, but there are still so many people in prison who are unjustly victimized by the system. We watch those people who go through really bad struggles during the holidays. Some commit suicide, they cry, they bleed, just have a bleeding heart and some have to go to see the priest or anybody of their religion. And it’s tough, especially if you don’t have a support system.

MOVE believes in giving back. We don’t like to take everything for ourselves, we also share what we get from people. I’ll just tell you a little bit about how important it is especially around the holidays for people. This one year, me, Janet, Janine, and at the time Merle was still with us, lived on a wing in a unit on a floor with maybe 125 people. During the holidays we saw so many people depressed and upset not being with their families, so we ordered some commissary. We bought a hot chocolate, a candy cane and a popcorn ball for each person on our unit and just gave it out as a means of just trying to support and help to make them feel a little bit better. And that wasn’t really much because at the time we didn’t have much in funding. They were so appreciative and remembered that for decades later. They remembered that. They’ll come up to us, even now, and say “MOVE I remember that Christmas I was so depressed, I was crying, I wanted my mother, I wanted this, I wanted that, and y’all gave us that popcorn ball and that hot chocolate. Oh my god! It just felt so good.” And that’s just a seemingly small thing. But it gives you a little bit of insight on how important it is to just feel like somebody is reaching out, like somebody cares, like somebody is giving them some attention. So for all the years that you have done that for us and people like us, I just really thank you, thank you, and thank you from MOVE.

Hopefully Chuck is next. Delbert just got home. It feels so good for everybody to be coming home, and especially should feel extra good to you too because you are a part of that. So Chuck next, hopefully Mumia, hopefully Leonard, and all political prisoners who deserve to be free and who deserve to be able to feel this welcome, and feel all of the love and the support that you guys have given us.

Mike Africa

The folks here that have not been on the other side of those walls may not completely understand how it is to be in that desolate situation and hear the press, the mainstream press, just lambast us the way they were when we were being attacked, and not hear the support of some of the folks in the community you thought would be at the forefront in defending us. It’s even worse when you are in some of the prisons’ worst holes in the state to hear of your family being bombed and attacked. And hearing these people from the press and other so-called defenders of these freedoms just be silent.

You know, it is why Mumia’s support was so important. What made him so courageous was standing up to goons like Rizzo, while Rizzo was in full attack. And [Mumia] was threatened that day that we were arrested by Rizzo, who said he was going to take him down, and that he would pull the switch and every other kind of threat.

So in this situation while we were in the hole, we started receiving support from Paul Cooperstein [current PDC chairman] and Rachel Wolkenstein [former PDC legal counsel] and our friend Kevin [NY PDC representative]. We see all those other reports that were coming in from the Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer and some national newspapers just vilifying our family. And then we get this.... [Mike holds up copy of Black History and the Class Struggle No. 3 (February 1986) with cover page of “Massacre of Philly MOVE,” shown in ad below.]

Let me tell you a little bit about Chuck [Africa], the last remaining of the MOVE 9. I met Chuck when he was about eight. He was about Alia’s age, my granddaughter over there. Chuck has always been a fiery individual. And he was at eight. But at 13 he was in the organization and he has been fighting since. When Chuck was 13, he had been thrown in jail for truancy and rather than lay down, he told the judges what true education was and why he stopped going to those schools. He said where he was getting a true education and that wasn’t in the Philadelphia education department. He was getting it in MOVE. So the judge responded by giving him ten days in jail.

When we were arrested, Chuck was 18 years old. They put him in the hole for six and a half years! The whole time he was in there, he wrote letters, some to PDC, he told what he was doing, he exposed some of the things that were going on in the prison, he encouraged prisoners to fight also. If they didn’t like the conditions, he told them to oppose them. He told them to speak your truth and not lay down to that repression.

Chuck is also a fighter like I said, not just, you know, verbally. Chuck can fight, man. Chuck was in the hole for six and a half years, eating the most terrible food, not getting regular exercise or anything. But after those six and a half years, Chuck became state boxing champ. Never lost a fight.

That he has cancer is no surprise to us. That Delbert has it is no surprise to us, that Phil and Merle died from it is no surprise to us. That is what they do to fighters. That is what they do to resisters. And we might be incubating something ourselves, from the state system that wants to oppress and get rid of us all. But we are fighters too. And we are not going to stop fighting. We are committed to this fight. Any time we are needed, any time we are called. Any time that any of these brothers and sisters that you named need our help we’re there. Ona MOVE!

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1170, 21 February 2020)

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