Phil Africa, a member of the original MOVE Nine who have been imprisoned since 1978 after a highly controversial police assault in West Philadelphia, has died under suspicious circumstances in a Pennsylvania prison hospital.
In the early 1970s, a man once named Vincent Leophart was known for walking the dogs of neighbors in the Powelton Village area of West Philadelphia. After finding a permanent home for himself, in 1972 he developed a philosophy he called The Guideline, which would become the basis of the principles of the MOVE Organization. He took the name John Africa, and those who would join MOVE would take the name Africa as a surname, thus establishing themselves as a “family”. MOVE was often characterized, rather simplistically, as a “back-to-nature” and “Black liberation” organization, but their membership, while largely Black, also included White and Latino members, and their ideology went beyond just a commitment to natural living, including support of truth-and-justice issues and a consistent stance in opposition to the increasing use of drugs such as Ritalin on school children, issues about which they have regularly warned the public during rallies and teach-ins for decades.
Philadelphia in the 1960s and 1970s was extremely turbulent, as were many urban centers in the United States, as Frank Rizzo, first as Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner and later as its mayor, mirrored the “law-and-order” philosophy of the Nixon Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation under J. Edgar Hoover in the pursuit and destruction of Black Liberation and Civil Rights organizations from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement, among others. Rizzo made it his business to eradicate first the Philadelphia Black Panther Party in the late 1960s, and then MOVE in the 1970s. A series of harassment arrests, complete with gratuitous assaults by Philadelphia police against MOVE members that resulted in the death of Life Africa, an infant member of MOVE, increased tensions between MOVE and the police. In 1977, a neighborhood dispute between MOVE and other residents of the Powelton Village community drew the attention of several community mediators who finally saw MOVE reach an agreement with their neighbors, but also of the Philadelphia police, which had already earned the nickname of “Rizzo’s Thugs” with many city residents who had come to recognize the brutality, racism and corruption of the police force. Rizzo’s police blockaded the house where the MOVE family lived for a year, attempting to “starve them out”, before deciding to launch an assault on August 8, 1978.
The assault on the MOVE compound employed fire hoses in an attempt to drown the MOVE people who were hiding in the basement or force them out to the main floor of the building, where they would be met by hundreds, if not thousands, of rounds of ammunition fired into the house. Indications are that one of those rounds hit Philadelphia police officer James Ramp in the back as he was storming the house, killing him. Because of Rizzo’s unbridled hatred of MOVE and the fact that MOVE had successfully resisted the Philadelphia police blockade for a year, the MOVE people, who had been hiding in the basement and possessed several non-operational firearms, were to be blamed for Ramp’s death. When the MOVE people were finally extracted from the house, four Philadelphia police officers viciously beat Delbert Africa in a scene that was captured in a rather famous (or rather, infamous) photo (right).
Eleven MOVE people were arrested and taken to trial. Prior to trial, however, they were offered a “deal”: renounce MOVE and go free; remain loyal to MOVE and be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Two of the eleven took the “deal” and charges against them were dropped. The other nine — Merle, Debbie, Janine, Janet, Delbert, Phil, Mike, Chuck and Edward Africa — who refused to renounce MOVE, were taken to trial and convicted on a variety of charges connected to the assault on the house and the death of police officer James Ramp. They each were sentenced to terms of 30 to 100 years in prison, and prosecutors as well as police and politicians have steadfastly insisted that they will impose the full 100 year sentence on all of them, meaning that they will all die in prison. These people would be known as the MOVE Nine.
The four police officers who viciously beat Delbert Africa, on videotape and in photographs, were also tried, but the judge ordered a “directed verdict” at the last moment and acquitted all four of them of any charges in connection with the beating. This behavior is seen today in the recent grand jury decisions to not charge police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, as well as hundreds of other cases of unpunished police brutality over the last several decades.
Among the better-known advocates of MOVE is current Political Prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Minister of Information for the Philadelphia Black Panther Party who, as a journalist during the Powelton Village siege and assault, had broadcast interviews with MOVE members over the radio and helped to counteract the dehumanizing propaganda that had been spread about them. Mumia was targeted by the Philadelphia police and was arrested on December 9, 1981 for the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner. He was convicted in a trial replete with withheld evidence, witness intimidation and many other forms of prosecutorial, police and judicial misconduct, and was sentenced to death, which has since been commuted by a federal judge to life without the possibility of parole after years of appeals, rallies and court challenges. Mumia’s daughter, affectionately known as “Goldii”, recently died as she and the MOVE Family have been fighting for Mumia’s exoneration and release from prison.
On March 13, 1998, the first of the MOVE Nine died in prison, Sis. Merle Africa. A statement that day from the MOVE Organization said the following:
Today our sister and family member Merle Austin Africa died under very suspicious circumstances. After a short bout with a stomach virus from which she was almost fully recovered (family visited with Merle last Thursday) she fainted in the cell last night going to the bathroom. The prison authorities removed Debbie Sims Africa and stayed in the cell with Merle for 45 minutes and finally called an ambulance and took her to an outside hospital.
We were not allowed any information and only after Merle’s mother insisted was she told that Merle had died.
Information is sketchy but on Thursday the 5th Merle was looking good and feeling back to her old self and gave strong hugs to family who came to visit. Merle was a young woman in her mid-forties of good health and strong spirit.
One week after she is dead. We need to have answers!
Now, the second member of the MOVE Nine has died in prison, and under remarkably similar circumstances. The following statement was released by Mama Ramona Africa (pictured, right), who was the sole adult survivor of the May 13, 1985 Osage Avenue assault on MOVE that killed five children and six adults (including MOVE’s visionary founder, John Africa).
On Saturday, January 10th Phil Africa, revolutionary, John Africa’s First Minister of Defense, and beloved brother, husband and father, passed away under suspicious circumstances at the State Correctional Institution at Dallas, PA. On Sunday, January 4th Phil Africa wasn’t feeling well and went to the prison infirmary. Though he wasn’t feeling well, other inmates saw Phil Africa walking, stretching and doing jumping jacks. Hearing that Phil was in the infirmary MOVE members drove up to visit him and were denied a visit by the prison. While they were visiting with Delbert Africa, Phil was secretly transported to Wilkes Barre General Hospital where he was held in total isolation, incommunicado for five days.
Prison officials at SCI-Dallas wouldn’t communicate about Phil’s condition. They told MOVE that Phil was at Wilkes Barre General hospital and the hospital denied he was there. The hospital and the prison behaved very suspiciously denying Phil the ability to call family members or his wife of 44 years, Janine Africa, stating that she was not a blood relative. The hospital and prison received hundreds of phone calls in support of Phil from around the world. When they finally submitted to pressure and allowed Phil to call Janine on Thursday, January 8th he was heavily drugged, incoherent and couldn’t even hold the phone to talk to her.
On Friday, January 9th Phil was sent back to the prison infirmary and placed in hospice care upon arrival. On Saturday, January 10th Ramona and Carlos Africa were granted permission to visit Phil in the prison infirmary. When they reached him he was incoherent and couldn’t talk or move his head to look at them. An hour after they left Delbert called with the news that Phil passed away.
Inmates in the infirmary and others in the prison were shocked when they heard the news. They had witnessed his vigorous health for decades in the prisons, had just seen him stretching and doing jumping jacks six days earlier. This rapid decline all occurred while he was being held for six days in isolation, incommunicado from his MOVE family at Wilkes Barre General Hospital.
The fact that Phil was isolated for the six days before he passed, that he was in such better health before he was taken to the hospital, and that the hospital refused to release his medical information is beyond suspicious.
This is another example of how the system hates MOVE and will do anything to stop MOVE. You can look at the example of August 8th, 1978 when the MOVE 9 were illegally imprisoned, and May 13th, 1985 when the government dropped a bomb and intentionally murdered 11 MOVE members to see this point clearly. When Merle Africa died in prison on March 13th, 1998 the conditions were very similar. She had been one way in the prison, but within hours of being forced to go to an outside hospital she was dead.
Phil made a deep impression on people all around the world. He was constantly writing, often dozens of letters a day, encouraging solidarity and strength, and warmly advising hundreds of people. Phil worked hard to learn to paint and created countless paintings which he sent to supporters for free to draw attention to issues, get raffled off for the struggle, and bring people together. Phil took his commitment and work as a revolutionary very seriously, but was often smiling, laughing, and giving people hugs and encouragement. He was a warm father figure to many in the prison where he taught inmates how to box, to think, and how to get stronger. Despite having two of his children murdered by the system and being separated by prison, Phil was a father figure to many. He was separated from his wife Janine for over 36 of the 44 years they were married, but he worked hard to stay connected with her even though they were so callously isolated by the system.
It’s this system’s intention for MOVE people to die in prison. The MOVE 9 never should have been imprisoned at all, and according to their sentence they should have been paroled over six years ago. The death of Merle and Phil Africa rests directly at the feet of this government! Phil will never be forgotten. He is dearly missed, but his strong example should inspire everyone to fight harder for the freedom of the MOVE 9 and all political prisoners!
LONG LIVE PHIL AFRICA!
LONG LIVE MERLE AFRICA!
FREE THE MOVE 9!
LONG LIVE JOHN AFRICA!
Memorial Service for Phil Africa
A memorial service is being planned for Phil Africa on Saturday, January 31 at the Kingsessing Recreation Center in Philadelphia. Here is the announcement from Mama Ramona Africa about the memorial service:
ONA MOVE, Everybody. First, let me thank each of you for your genuine and kind words to this family regarding the loss of our brother, Phil Africa. We wish we could thank you individually but the sheer number of the responses we have received makes that impossible. Know that we love you all and our family truly appreciates your response to our loss. We want to inform you that there will be a celebration of the revolutionary life our brother, Phil Africa, on Saturday, January 31, 2015 at the Kingsessing Recreation Center, located at 49th and Kingsessing Ave. from 1-4 pm. We’re inviting all of you that can attend. If you choose to, you can take the opportunity to verbally express how Phil touched you; what his revolutionary life means to you or whatever you would like to say about Phil Africa. If you are located far away or can not attend for whatever reason but would like to send us a brief comment about Phil, please do so and we will see that it’s read at the celebration. Again, thanks to each and every one of you for all of your kind words of support.
More information is available on the MOVE Organization’s Website, http://onamove.com, including the following statement:
Many people have asked where they could send cards to Ramona Africa and the entire MOVE Family. Please send a card to the MOVE Family at this difficult time at:
The MOVE Organization
P.O. Box 19709
Philadelphia, PA 19143
and Phil’s life partner/beloved wife Janine Africa at:
Janine Phillips Africa #6309
451 Fullerton Ave.
Cambridge Springs, PA 16403-1238
and all members of the MOVE Family still unjustly and illegally imprisoned by the anti-life, money-loving Philadelphia-Pennsylvania-U.S. authorities. Free the MOVE 9!