People’s Power stops a modern-day lynching

After a conciliatory reception at the hospital and learning MOVE member Delbert Orr Africa had been returned to prison, supporters went there, to SCI (State Correctional Institution) Dallas. Two MOVE members were allowed in to see him and found him still weak but in good spirits.

by Betsey Piette

A massive phone protest by people from around the world and calls for direct protests forced the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to back down from carrying out the state’s latest attempt to kill MOVE 9 member Delbert Orr Africa.

For over a week all communication between Orr Africa and his family and friends was cut off after he was sent to the prison infirmary at SCI Dallas. He was subsequently transported to Geisinger Hospital in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and held incommunicado. Prison and hospital officials refused to release any information about his condition or allow visits from family or legal representatives.

When taken from SCI Dallas, Delbert reportedly had swelling in his lower extremities from a fluid build-up. On Aug. 7, supporters heard from two separate sources that Delbert had been given no more than 72 hours to live.

The MOVE family immediately held a press conference in Philadelphia on Aug. 7, calling for phone calls to authorities and for demonstrations outside Geisinger and SCI Dallas on Aug. 9. Of primary concern was the threat of further retaliation by the state against MOVE near the 41st anniversary of the Philadelphia police assault on a MOVE house that led to his unjust incarceration. They feared that a modern-day lynching was underway.

People’s Power at work

On Aug. 8, Delbert was returned to SCI Dallas and finally allowed to speak to his family by phone. On Aug. 9, when carloads of protesters gathered at Geisinger Hospital, they were greeted by extremely conciliatory hospital officials. An official hospital press person even offered them food and drinks. Meanwhile, some family members were allowed inside to get paperwork to request access to Delbert’s medical records.

The protesters then traveled to the nearby prison, where two MOVE members were allowed inside to visit Delbert while other demonstrators gathered outside. Thanks to all the calls – the power of the people – communications were restored with Delbert, who, according to visitors, appeared in good spirits but was still very weak.

On Aug. 8, 1978, Delbert was one of nine MOVE members arrested during the Philadelphia police assault on the MOVE house in Powelton Village. Police officer James Ramp died during the assault, likely struck by one of the tens of thousands of rounds fired by his fellow officers that day. Following the attack, Delbert, the last MOVE member to leave the house, was brutally beaten and assaulted by police.

This iconic photo, known around the world, shows police terror at its most dramatic – police singling out Delbert Orr Africa, then a MOVE spokesperson, and beating him with all their might the day they attacked MOVE’s home, on Aug. 8, 1978. Police terror is supposed to intimidate, but this photo inspires pride that a young man could believe so strongly in justice and peace that he could survive when the police threw all they had at him. Delbert Orr Africa proved in this month of Black August that he is still that man. – Photo: Jim G. Domke, Philadelphia Inquirer

Nine MOVE members were all found guilty of firing the same bullet and were convicted of murder, assault and conspiracy by the late Judge Edwin S. Malmed. They were all sentenced to 30 to 100 years in prison. Despite serving over 41 years of the sentence, Delbert Africa remains unjustly imprisoned.

Two MOVE members killed by PA DOC

After serving over 40 years, five MOVE 9 members – Debbie, Michael, Janine, Janet and Eddie – have been released on parole beginning in June 2018. Delbert is scheduled for a parole hearing in September.

With no communication or access to his health care records, MOVE members expressed concerns at the Aug. 7 press conference that the state would try to kill Delbert before he could be paroled. They pointed out that the conditions surrounding the 2015 death of MOVE 9 member Phil Africa were suspiciously similar to Delbert’s situation. After Phil was taken to an outside hospital with a minor stomach virus, he was held incommunicado for five days. After returning to SCI Dallas, he died a day later in hospice care.

In 1998, after recovering from a stomach virus at SCI Cambridge Springs, MOVE 9 sister Merle Africa was told by prison officials that she was dying, which happened a few hours later.

‘Thank you for your support’

Delbert and the MOVE family expressed their appreciation for the support from everyone who made calls, shared information through many networks and traveled with the caravan on Aug. 9. Next up is to bring Delbert Africa home.

In an email to a Workers World member received Aug. 9, Delbert described how the prison kept him from contacting family to assure them he was all right:

“You would have laughed at these insecure puppets’ fear as they went into so-called security. They came in my room at the hospital with arms and hospital security Sunday morning (Aug. 4) and told me I was a ‘high-level escape risk’! I laughed at that, since I had tubes sticking out of damn near everywhere! They moved me to a so-called security room, put three guards on me, two of them armed, and it was that way until today.

“I want to thank you and all the other Workers World [readers] that have given your support to the MOVE Family. No doubt in my mind y’all turned these suckas around!! Stay on the Revolutionary Road Always!! Love and Solidarity!”

This story was originally published by Workers World, 147 W. 24th St., 2nd Fl., New York NY 10011, 212-627-2994, wwp@workers.org, www.workers.org.