Delbert Africa: FREE!

The joy of freedom radiates from the faces of Delbert Africa and his daughter Yvonne as Delbert walks out of prison after 42 years. – Photo: Joe Piette

by Mumia Abu-Jamal

MOVE member Delbert Africa, held in prison since the confrontation of Aug. 8, 1978, has walked out of a Pennsylvania prison after 42 years.

Delbert, in the 69th year of his life, came out to meet other members of the MOVE Organization: Ramona, Pam, Janet, Janine, Mo, Mary, Carlos and Consuela Africa, who greeted him with a hearty chant: “Long Live John Africa!” – and a MOVE salute.

Del was in a good mood and in high spirits – cracking jokes and eating sandwiches.

Aug. 8, 1978, was a date of infamy, for it marked an attack on the MOVE house in West Philadelphia’s Powelton Village, when hundreds of cops fired thousands of shots into the structure where men, women and babies huddled in the basement. Gunfire was joined by water cannons, deluging the MOVE people, who fought to avoid drowning in that dark place.

When Delbert exited the house, he was beaten by several cops, rifle-butted, kicked and stomped viciously.

When several of the cops were charged with assaulting Delbert, they had nothing to worry about, for the trial judge, Stanley Kubacki, ignoring videotapes, acquitted them all, citing, among other things, Delbert’s muscles as justification for the beating. (Ironically, one of the cops charged might’ve been luckier if sent to prison, for several weeks thereafter, he was shot and paralyzed by his wife – who also happened to be a cop!)

Delbert Africa, MOVE member, walks free after 42 years in the joint.

© Copyright 2020 Mumia Abu-Jamal. Keep updated at www.freemumia.com. Mumia’s latest book is “Murder Incorporated: Empire, Genocide and Manifest Destiny, Book One: Dreaming of Empire“ by Mumia Abu-Jamal, Stephen Vittoria and Chris Hedges, published by Prison Radio in 2018. For Mumia’s commentaries, visit www.prisonradio.org. Send our brother some love and light: Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM 8335, SCI-Mahanoy, 301 Morea Road, Frackville, PA 17932.

Political prisoner Delbert Africa freed after 42 years

Delbert Orr Africa, leaving prison for a snowy freedom on Jan. 18, 2020, strikes the pose he’s best known for around the world when he was the target of one of the most brutal police attacks ever recorded on film, on Aug. 8, 1978. – Photo: Brad Thomson

by Michael Z. Muhammad 

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 third-degree murder after the brutal Aug. 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 group’s 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. Its 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.

“This crime was not the crime of MOVE. It was a crime of the state.”

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 but 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 last 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, Consuela 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.”

Michael Z. Muhammad, contributing writer for The Final Call, where this story first appeared, can be reached at @mzmuhammad.

Movement brings Delbert Africa home

by Ted Kelly 

Delbert Orr Africa has survived more attempts on his life than arguably any other living revolutionary. For over 50 years, the United States government has tried to kill him, beat him, break him down and silence him. And now at the dawn of a new decade, he has bested the empire once again – Delbert Africa is free.

After being granted parole on Dec. 20, he was finally released from SCI Dallas on Jan. 18. He is the sixth MOVE 9 member to be released in the last year. 

As a member of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers in the 1960s, Delbert faced dire threats from the state’s war on Black revolutionary groups. The chairperson of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton, was assassinated on Dec. 4, 1969, in a sordid plot that involved the FBI, the Chicago Police Department and turncoat informants who had been placed close to Hampton’s family.

After this murder-execution, the rest of the Chicago leadership – Delbert among them – had false warrants put out on them. He managed to elude the state’s agents sent to capture him and went into exile in Canada.

A few years later, back on the U.S. side of the border, he was nearly killed in a car accident that left his cousin and another friend dead, but he managed to once again evade the FBI who came to question him in the hospital.

Despite assurances that he could return to Chicago where the phony warrants had been dropped, Delbert did not trust the word of the criminal justice system. He set out for Philadelphia and found a place to live in Powelton Village.

It was in that neighborhood where he first encountered MOVE, where he once again saw Black radicals putting revolutionary theory into practice. Before long, Delbert earned his place as one of the most important strategists of that organization alongside Coordinator John Africa.

Military, police terror attack on MOVE

Following a 56-day police blockade on the MOVE house, the police rioted on Aug. 8, 1978 – one in a long Philadelphia tradition of racist white mobs terrorizing Black communities. Under the command of arch-fascist Mayor Frank Rizzo, the militarized police gang attacked MOVE’s home on Powelton Avenue.

In their reckless and sadistic fervor – the police fired tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition into a residential neighborhood – the cops shot and killed one of their own, James Ramp.

What followed is one of the most cruel cases of police brutality ever caught on film.

Cops dragged Delbert out by his dreadlocks and mercilessly assaulted him with kicks, punches and blows from metal combat helmets and rifle butts. They shattered his jaw and fractured his eye socket. In the midst of this attack, Delbert called out to Phil Africa, whom cops had begun to arrest as well, with these words: “It’s gonna be alright! We’re gonna be alright!”

Just as a cop was putting his boot on Phil’s neck, he shouted back: “That’s right! Ona MOVE! Long Live John Africa!” (Read more in Delbert’s own words at https://onamove.com/move-9/delbert-africa/.)

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Joseph F. O’Neil was present at the scene. Delbert recalls hearing him call off the attack on Phil, saying, “Don’t do that here because the cameras can see us.” The entire episode was broadcast on television.

Though the undeniable fact and video evidence of Delbert’s beating did lead to an investigation into police brutality, no cops were ever held responsible. This unanswered crime is one of many racist police attacks captured on video that have followed it, from the beating of Rodney King to the murder of Eric Garner.

After nearly half a century, no amount of cell phone videos, surveillance camera footage or police body cameras have changed the fact that police can publicly torture and kill Black and Brown people without facing any consequences.

As police rioted throughout West Philadelphia in 1978, attacking and arresting anyone they could get their hands on, Rizzo held a frenzied press conference at City Hall. He demanded reinstatement of the death penalty so he could round up all remaining MOVE members and “throw the switch” himself.

Rizzo threatened reporters with retaliation for negative coverage and said that he hoped to get revenge on them during his tenure. Three years later, President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists Mumia Abu-Jamal, who had been most critical of Rizzo, would be shot by police and falsely framed for murder.

By Rizzo’s side was District Attorney Ed Rendell, stridently defending the city’s decision to bulldoze the MOVE house on Powelton Avenue, destroying exculpatory evidence and completely erasing the crime scene within hours of the police attack. Rendell would go on to become mayor, then Pennsylvania governor and then chairperson of the Democratic National Committee.

No person, no matter what their alleged crimes or past history, should be forced to languish in hell for the crude profits of the 1 percent.

The MOVE 9

Rendell’s office framed nine MOVE members for Ramp’s death, including Phil and Delbert. Presiding Judge Edward Malmed, who admitted he hadn’t “the faintest idea” who shot Ramp, gave each of them 30- to 100-year prison sentences. Delbert Africa spent six years in “the hole,” or solitary confinement, a practice regarded as torture under the United Nations Charter. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 people may be currently held in solitary confinement across the U.S.

As the years wore on, the toxic conditions and white supremacist guards took their toll on MOVE 9 members. Both Phil and Merle Africa were killed by the prison system. A shock went through the community earlier this year when Delbert went missing in a situation that closely resembled the events that culminated in both Phil and Merle’s deaths.

Friends and family, even his lawyers, were unable to contact him and prison staff refused to state whether Delbert was alive or dead. Supporters learned that he had been transferred to the hospital after a medical emergency and was being held there without the ability to communicate with the outside world.

The movement responded by demonstrating at the hospital and flooding the phone lines with calls demanding Delbert’s release. After two tense days, Delbert was finally able to leave the hospital and put out a statement thanking everyone for the successful effort to save his life.

In the last few years, an unprecedented number of former Black Panthers and other radicals have been released. Debbie, Michael, Janet, Janine and Eddie Africa have all been released on parole since 2018, after 40 years of imprisonment.

Global campaign brings Delbert home

As Delbert Africa’s parole hearing approached in September 2019, activists around the world participated in a social media campaign where they posted photos of themselves holding signs that read: “I Support Parole for Delbert Africa.” Among those who shared solidarity selfies on Facebook was 98-year-old Rosemary Neidenberg, one of Workers World Party’s founding members.

Delbert has long been regarded as one of the most important figures in the MOVE Organization, both because he served as the group’s Minister of Confrontation and Security and because of his former membership in the Black Panthers. That is to say, the system has been gunning for Delbert since the 1960s. His release is a victory against this white supremacist, capitalist system.

But the struggle is far from over. Chuck Africa, the last remaining member of the MOVE 9 still behind bars, has had his hearing and is now awaiting a decision from the parole board. Mumia Abu-Jamal, another former Panther and world-renowned author and journalist, is still fighting for exoneration in the courts and against serious health issues after 38 years in notoriously toxic coal-country prisons.

Indeed, the fight will not be over until the shackles are taken off of every prisoner in the U.S. The system of mass incarceration uses criminality only as a pretext to round up and lock up oppressed working-class people, overwhelmingly Black, Brown, Indigenous people in huge disproportionate numbers. Prisons do not “correct” or “rehabilitate,” nor is that their intended purpose.

Prisons are concentration camps for the poor. They enable the capitalist ruling class to keep millions of workers in captivity, a labor force on retainer who get paid pennies per hour – if at all. And the bosses have managed to turn this modern-day slavery into a billion dollar industry – through contracts with finance capital, tech firms, arms manufacturers and other corporate profiteers. No person, no matter what their alleged crimes or past history, should be forced to languish in hell for the crude profits of the 1 percent.

This is why when we say, “Free Chuck! Free Mumia!” we say, “FREE ‘EM ALL!”

Ted Kelly, a Workers World writer whose work has also been published in the San Francisco Bay View and Socialist Viewpoint, can be reached via wwphila@gmail.com.