On June 16, Debbie Africa of Philadelphia’s MOVE 9 was granted parole just two months before the 40th anniversary of the brutal police attack carried out at the MOVE headquarters. This decision is a major victory for the movement to free political prisoners, as Debbie Africa is the very first member of the MOVE 9 to be paroled. Debbie had been unjustly denied parole nine times since 2008.
Debbie Africa was serving 30 to 100 years in prison for a murder she did not commit. Debbie will return home to her daughter, Michelle, and her son, Michael Davis Africa Jr., who she has been separated from since the day she gave birth to him inside of her prison cell at 22 years old.
MOVE is a Black liberation and environmental organization founded by John Africa. Its mission is to advocate for life in a system that violently oppresses Black people and exploits the Earth for profit. The members participate in organized protest surrounding gentrification, animal welfare and the military industrial complex.
In 1977, the Philadelphia police acquired a court order that demanded members of MOVE to evacuate their home in Powelton Village. When MOVE members refused, the police besieged the house, shutting off their water and withholding outside aid. In the early morning of August 8, 1978, police surrounded the home and demanded that the members of MOVE come outside. When they refused, the police responded by breaking their windows, spraying them down with water cannons and tear gassing them. The men who came outside were beaten bloody by the police.
One police officer, James Ramp, was killed by a bullet that struck him at a downward angle from behind. Eyewitnesses on the scene stated that the bullet’s trajectory came towards the house, indicating that it must have been fired by police. But outrageously, MOVE members were arrested on the scene for the murder of Ramp, and eventually nine were convicted.
The city demolished the MOVE house just an hour after the arrests took place, destroying all evidence. Tragically, two of the nine MOVE members, Merle and Phil Africa, died in prison under unexplained circumstances.
The MOVE organization was later victim to one of the most violent acts of police brutality ever commissioned by the United States. On May 13, 1985 the Philadelphia police, in collaboration with the mayor’s office, carried out an aerial bombing on MOVE headquarters. The police used C-4, a military-grade explosive that no municipal police department should have access to. The police fired more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition into the house.
Eleven people were killed, five of whom were children. The police and firefighters stood by as blocks of Powelton Village, a working class Black neighborhood, were consumed by fire. It is estimated that 300 families were displaced by the fire.
Janine and Janet Africa were up for parole at the same time as Debbie Africa. Both were denied parole due to a cited “lack of remorse,” despite written support from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office. Janine and Janet both lost a child in the 1985 bombing.
The MOVE organization has fought steadfastly for decades to see their comrades walk free. The release of Debbie Africa is an extraordinary testament to the work that organizers have put in for the past 40 years and counting. It is imperative that we support MOVE in demanding freedom for the five members who still face an indefinite prison sentence, as well as demanding freedom for all political prisoners.