[Pnews] 'I'm ecstatic': black liberation prisoner Mike Africa Sr released after 40 years
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Oct 23 17:40:18 EDT 2018
'I'm ecstatic': black liberation prisoner Mike Africa Sr released
after 40 years
Ed Pilkington - October 23, 2018
Mike Africa Sr has become the second member of the Philadelphia-based
group of black radicals known as the Move 9 to be released from prison,
more than 40 years after they were arrested for the death of a police
officer in one of the most dramatic shootouts of the black liberation era.
He was paroled from SCI Phoenix prison in Pennsylvania on Tuesday
morning to be reunited with his wife Debbie Africa, who was also let out
in June having been arrested alongside him at the climax of a police
siege in 1978. They were joined by their son, Mike Africa Jr, who until
Tuesday had never spent time with both parents in the same room.
“I’m ecstatic coming from where I was just a couple of hours ago,” Mike
Sr told the Guardian, speaking from his son’s house outside Philadelphia
<https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/philadelphia>. “I wasn’t convinced
in my mind that this would happen until I walked out the prison gates.”
He said it was amazing to be reunited with his wife, who was held in
separate women’s prisons for 40 years. “I missed her and I loved her.
She’s been my girl since we were kids. That’s never wavered at all.”
Debbie Africa said she was overwhelmed to have her family back.
Mike Africa Sr’s release marks a big step in the struggle of black
militants who are still behind bars decades after they were arrested for
police killings and other violent acts in the late 1960s and 1970s. The
Guardian highlighted their plight
including two Move women, Janine Phillips Africa and Janet Hollaway
Africa, remain in prison. Many of them insist they are innocent of the
charges brought against them.
In the case of the Move 9, they were convicted collectively of the death
of a police officer, James Ramp, in the 1978 siege of their group home
in Philadelphia even though only one shot killed him. Debbie Africa was
eight months pregnant at the time.
Mike Africa Sr’s parole is of even greater consequence for his family,
and especially for his son Mike Africa Jr, who for 40 years has never
seen both of his parents together or out of prison. He was born in a
where his mother Debbie gave birth to him a month after she and her
husband were arrested during the siege.
For three days Debbie kept her baby son concealed in the cell, hiding
him under the covers, until she was forced to hand him over to prison
guards. With both parents imprisoned until the eve of his 40th birthday,
Mike Jr effectively became an orphan of the black liberation struggle.
He was raised by relatives and other members of Move and now lives with
a family of his own outside Philadelphia.
“I’m having an out-of-body experience right now,” Mike Jr told the
Guardian as he drove his father back to his home to be reunited with
Debbie. “I’m floating over the top of the car.”
He said that this was what he had waiting for more than four decades –
to be together for the first time with both his parents. “I’ve always
hoped for this, but I never knew that it would happen,” he said.
The 1978 siege of the Move 9 house in the Powelton Village neighborhood
of Philadelphia was one of the most violent and visceral incidents of
the years of black liberation struggle. At the time, 12 adults and 11
children were living in a communal house, along with 48 dogs.
Move was a unique organization that mixed revolutionary ideology better
associated with the Black Panther party with care for nature and the
environment better associated with flower power and the hippy movement.
The group still exists today, largely in the Philadelphia area, and
continues to campaign for the release of its remaining members behind bars.
Mike Sr’s release reduces the number of still-incarcerated Move 9
members to five. In addition to his parole and that of his wife, two
others have died behind bars from health complications related to their
imprisonment – Merle Austin Africa, in March 1998, and Phil Africa in
Brad Thomson, of the Chicago-based People’s Law Office, who was part of
the legal team presenting the released prisoner, said that Mike Sr’s
record in prison was exceptional, making him a prime candidate for
parole. “With this decision, the parole board recognizes that Mike, like
Debbie, and the rest of the Move 9, poses absolutely no threat to the
The siege that led to the incarceration of five Move men and four women
occurred on 8 August 1978. Tension had mounted for months between the
commune and Philadelphia police following complaints from neighbors and
fears that the group was stockpiling weapons.
The order was given for hundreds of police officers to go in and evict
the residents by the notoriously hardline then mayor of Philadelphia,
the city’s former police commissioner Frank Rizzo. In the melee, Ramp
All nine adult members of Move living in the house were held responsible
for the shooting and sentenced to 30 to 100 years. At trial they told
the jury that they had no working firearms in the house, though that was
disputed by prosecutors.
With Mike and Debbie Africa now released, thoughts are turning to the
remaining five Move members still in prison. Petitions for habeas corpus
have been filed in federal court on behalf of the two women, Janine
Phillips Africa and Janet Hollaway Africa, challenging recent parole
Bret Grote, of the Abolitionist Law Center, another lawyer for the Move
9, said: “This historic release of Mike Africa renders the parole
board’s decision to deny the rest of the Move 9 all the more
incomprehensible. For example, Janet and Janine have both maintained
prison records that are as exemplary as Mike’s and essentially identical
to that of Debbie, yet they were inexplicably denied parole in May.”
Seven years after the siege of the Move house, a second trauma was dealt
to the black radical group. The then mayor of Philadelphia, Wilson
Goode, gave the go-ahead for an incendiary bomb to be dropped on top of
another Move house.
It caused an inferno that killed 11 people, including five children.
More than 60 houses in the predominantly African American neighborhood
were razed to the ground.
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