For the first time ever, a family defined by the 1978 shoot-out between Philly police and the MOVE African-liberationist group that left a cop dead, has been reunited.
Michael Africa, Sr., one of the so-called “MOVE 9” – nine MOVE members involved in the shoot-out who all were sentenced to life in prison on third-degree murder charges for the death of Philly police officer James Ramp – was paroled this week after 40 years in jail.
Africa Sr. was able to hold Debbie Africa, his wife, another member of the MOVE 9 who became the first to be released on parole earlier this year, for the first time in 40 years – and for the first time to meet his son, Michael Africa, Jr., who was born to Debbie in prison, outside prison walls.
“Today marks the first time that Mike Sr., Debbie and their son Mike Jr. have ever spent time all together,” MOVE members and their supporters said in a press release on Oct. 23, the day Mike Sr. was released from SCI Phoenix in Skippack Township, Pa.
The release quickly made international news. The MOVE 9 were all sentenced to 30 to 100 years for Officer Ramp’s murder in 1978 during a standoff at a home MOVE had illegally occupied in Poweltown Village. MOVE denied shooting Ramp although some eyewitnesses reportedly saw Ramp felled by a bullet that was fired from their house.
That fatal incident was followed seven years later by the infamous 1985 bombing by Philadelphia Police of another home MOVE had illegally occupied on Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. After an hours-long standoff, a bomb was dropped on the home by a Philly police helicopter. The bombing of the Cobbs Creek house killed eleven people, six adult MOVE members including MOVE founder John Africa and five children. Some 65 houses were burned in a subsequent fire, leaving a permanent scar on the neighborhood.
MOVE was a controversial, extremist back-to-nature African-liberationist group that some have called a cult. All the members changed their last names to Africa. They had ties with Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former radio journalist who was sentenced to death after he was convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison without parole.
All of the surviving MOVE 9 members became eligible for parole in 2008, but none were granted parole until Debbie Africa was released under strict supervisory guidelines in June 2018.
Debbie’s parole was based in part on her “acceptance of responsibility,” “remorse,” and her statement that she “should have listened to police and surrendered peacefully rather than resisting,” as well as her “promise that you would not be involved in any kind of demonstrations or any social justice issues that are not peaceful,” the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole said at the time.
Michael Africa Jr. with mother Debbie Africa after she was paroled in June. (Provided)
Remaining in state custody are Eddie, Delbert, Chuck, Janet and Janine Africa, who have repeatedly been denied parole. (Two members, Phil and Merle Africa, died in prison.)
“I’m happy to be with my mom and dad at home for the first time ever in forty years,” said Mike Jr. said in a statement about his father’s parole. “But this struggle isn’t over. There are still MOVE members behind bars who deserve to be reunited with their families and loved ones, just like my mom and dad can now be with me and the rest of their family.”
Lawyers for the MOVE 9 said Mike Sr.’s parole was won in part based on “his exemplary prison record, his educational accomplishments in prison and over 75 letters in support of parole,” along with “recommendations for parole from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), Corrections expert and former DOC Secretary Martin Horn, and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.”
But they claim other MOVE members whose were denied parole have similar records in favor of their release.
“This historic release of Mike Africa renders the Parole Board’s decision to deny the rest of the MOVE 9 all the more incomprehensible,” attorney Bret Grote, of the Abolitionist Law Center said.
Brad Thomson, of the Chicago-based People’s Law Office, added, “The rest of the MOVE 9, poses absolutely no threat to the community.”