Move Organization’s Debbie Sims Africa is now 62 years old, living with her 39 year-old son who was born in prison, trying to figure out how a cell phone works, and walking with an electronic monitor locked to her ankle.
After nearly four decades, the first of the MOVE Nine are free.
Africa was first eligible for release in 2008, and she has come before the parole board eight times since them. In May, she and MOVE Organization members Janine Africa and Janet Africa faced the board, but only Debbie was granted parole.
The attorney representing all three women, Brad Thomson with the Chicago-based People’s Law Office, said none has gotten into trouble inside prison in many years. They conducted themselves as role models for other prisoners seeking self-improvement, he said.
“Janine and Janet are still there. Walking out those doors without them was really, really, really hard,” she said. “My husband is still in prison. He comes up in September. A portion of my life is going to be dedicated to that.”
“Their records are remarkably similar,” said Thomson. “None have had any disciplinary infractions in decades. It’s hard to understand the rationale or the justification.”
The Attack On The MOVE Organization
On Aug. 8, 1978, police surrounded the Powelton Village headquarters of MOVE and entered the compound by force following a lengthy standoff. During that siege, Philadelphia Police Officer James Ramp was struck and killed by gunfire.
Nine members of MOVE, including Debbie Sims Africa, were arrested following the standoff but MOVE members— all of whom take the last name of Africa — contend Ramp was killed by friendly fire from another officer on the scene.
The MOVE Nine, as they came to be known, were convicted of third-degree murder for Ramp’s death and sentenced to 30-to-100 years in prison each.
The deadly 1978 standoff that led to conviction of the MOVE Nine was a precursor to the infamous 1985 bombing on Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia, when police dropped an incendiary device on top of the house where MOVE members had fortified themselves.
The resulting fire consumed 65 houses — decimating the entire neighborhood while killing six adults and five children inside the house.
It would be only the second time in U.S. history that the government would bomb its own citizens from the air. The first time was Tulsa, Oklahoma – the bombing of Black Wall Street.
Two of those killed were children of Janine Africa and Janet Africa. They were in prison when it happened.
“We didn’t believe it when the officers came to tell us,” Debbie recalled. “It was devastating. I don’t think that I really let out all my feelings from that. We weren’t there in a physical manner. It was incredible.”
Debbie Africa, who was pregnant when she went to prison, said there were many hardships. But none was as crushing as having her newborn son, Mike Africa Jr., taken away from her.
“The hardest thing was when the prison was directed to take me to a hospital so they could take him away after three days,” she said, weeping. “There are no words to describe it. Feeling that emptiness.”
Two members of the MOVE 9 have died while in prison. Four other MOVE Organization members are eligible for parole later this year. All members of the MOVE 9 have been eligible for parole since 2008. All have been repeatedly denied parole in all of their previous appearances before the parole board.
MOVE, which was founded in the early 1970s and still exists today, is a Black liberation organization whose followers believe in a hunter-gather society and reject “man-made laws,” science and technology.
The organization is dedicated to environmental issues, such as opposing industries involved in natural gas fracking and the Dakota Access Pipeline.
To learn more about the MOVE Organization and support their efforts, visit http://onamove.com/move-9/