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Political prisoner Delbert Africa freed after 42 years

By Michael Z. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Jan 29, 2020 - 10:46:46 AM

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Yvonne Orr El, the daughter of Delbert Africa, listens while her father speaks. On the far right is Ramona Africa.

PHILADELPHIA—Delbert Africa, 73, is free after 42 long years in prison convicted of standing on principle. The MOVE Minister of Confrontation and Security was among nine MOVE members unjustly convicted of 3rd-degree murder after the brutal August 8, 1978 police attack on the MOVE house in the Powelton Village section of Philadelphia that resulted in the death of a police officer. All evidence pointed to the officer being shot by the police, argue supporters.

During his first press conference held Jan. 21 since being released on Jan. 18, Delbert Africa was dressed in gray, accenting his beard and locs detailed for the press and those in attendance. He displayed a bright smile, exuding extraordinary and unapologetic dignity. The press conference was held at the King-sessing Library.

The MOVE organization, for many, is the poster child for the corruption and unequal justice perpetrated by America’s criminal justice system on Black and poor people. Delbert Africa was the Rodney King before Rodney King was beaten unmercifully by L.A. police. Similarly, Delbert Africa was beaten following the climax of the 1978 confrontation between MOVE and police.

“It was regarded as one of the worst instances of police brutality ever caught on tape. I recovered right after they stopped; I was getting better,” said Delbert Africa. “It’s hard to describe it, that when they originally started beating me from the first cop in front of me hitting me with that metal helmet. The other fool put the shotgun stroke on me, put the butt stroke with the shotgun on me,” he continued.

“I’m unconscious, and that’s when one cop pulled me by the hair across the street, one cop started jumping on my head, one started kicking me in the ribs and beating me,” he said. “Their excuse, later on, is they thought I was armed. I was naked from the waist up.”

During the early 1970s, MOVE was characterized by wearing their hair in locs and an uncompromising commitment to their beliefs and their teacher and founder John Africa. The revolutionary groups’ name is not an acronym and was chosen by John Africa to say what they intended to do. Members planned to be active because they say, “Everything that’s alive moves. If it didn’t, it would be stagnant, dead.” When members greet each other, they say, “Onna MOVE.” The group organized in 1972. It’s philosophy deals with revolutionary ideas, proper health, and well-being and the right to life for all living creatures. From the beginning, MOVE was in conflict with the system and police resulting in several clashes.

The 1978 blockade at the group’s headquarters by law enforcement lasted two months and culminated in the August police assault on their facility resulting in the brutal beating of Delbert Africa and death of police officer James Ramp. Nine MOVE members received sentences from 30 to 100 years and became known as the MOVE 9.

During the press conference, Delbert Africa pointed out how the system manipulates the minds of its citizens when it comes to organizations that are revolutionary and pose a threat to the status quo. The negative picture painted to the public of MOVE and the teachings of John Africa allowed for the brutality and mistreatment.

Former community members were present at the press conference, and each detailed what an asset the organization was to the community. MOVE had an affinity for caring for stray and abandoned animals. They were uncompromising when it came to fighting injustice no matter what form it took, those that spoke pointed out. Delbert Africa reflected that one neighbor tried to give him a fully-grown lion, which he had as a pet and could no longer provide care. Delbert Africa said he declined.

Other members of the MOVE 9, Janine Africa, Janet Africa, and Eddie Africa were freed from prison in 2019. Mike Africa, Sr. and his wife Debbie Africa were released in 2018. Merle Africa died in prison in March 1998, and Phil Africa died in prison in January 2015. Chuck Africa is the remaining MOVE 9 member still incarcerated.

Also at the press conference was Walter Palmer, founder and director of the Palmer Foundation and creator of the Black People’s University of Philadelphia. Mr. Palmer, who served as a principal negotiator for MOVE during the 1978 standoff, said he was on the front porch when the gunfire from police erupted. He observed the slain officer standing on the side and said that MOVE members were not in a position to have fired on the officer.

“This crime was not the crime of MOVE. It was a crime of the state,” Mr. Palmer said during the news conference. “For 40 years, these people spent their life in jail for a crime they did not commit.”

Also present was Fred Hampton Jr., son of Chicago-based Black Panther leader Fred Hampton who was killed in 1969 along with Mark Clark during an early morning police raid. Mr. Hampton, Jr., frequently tried to visit Delbert Africa in prison but was denied.

“I’m humbled to be here for this moment to see him living free,” Mr. Hampton said. “The MOVE members served all this time for a killing that no one believes they committed. I came from Chicago because brother Delbert is a hero.”

Other members on the dais included MOVE members Pam Africa, Ramona Africa, Consuella Africa, Carlos Africa, and Yvonne Orr El, daughter of Delbert Africa.

Delbert Africa told The Final Call that he has yet to receive restrictions from the parole board but expects they are coming. As for plans, he intends to stay “Onna MOVE.”