Behind Bars

John Africa on Water and Pollution

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

It was after the first major MOVE confrontation in Philadelphia, August 8, 1978, when MOVE Founder, John Africa dictated “The Judge’s Letter,”1 15 pages of pointed outrage, not just of MOVE’s treatment by the government, but of corporate and state pollution of the natural world.

His words came back to me in the aftermath of one of the most destructive oil spills in history: the tens of thousands of barrels of oil boiling from below the Gulf, the direct result of corporate greed and government collusion; deregulation in everything but name.

In the very beginning of his letter, John Africa wrote:

“The courts are the tools of industrial plague, granting big business privilege to poison our earth—taking our water, familiar and clean, and turning it into a potion that’s poison.”

These words brought to mind the recent U.S. Supreme Court case which greatly lessened damages on Exxon for its role in the 1989 leak of the oil tanker, Exxon Valdez, in Alaska, destroying shore land and animal life for decades—indeed, it has still not recovered.

Of water pollution generally, John Africa observed:

“Industry has not only poisoned the source of life, it has created another multi-billion-dollar industry to, so called, clean it up—all those chemicals they put in the water to, so call, purify it is a result of the same industry that poisoned the water. So that they not only make multi-billions for poisoning the water, but more multi-billions for, so called, cleaning the water up.”

In light of the great and continuing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, John Africa could’ve written these words yesterday, especially given the recent announcement that British Petroleum (BP) is now pumping tons of chemicals into the Gulf waters to clean up the oil, the effects of which no one can predict—for no one knows.

This is a massive catastrophe—an experiment on the living that may have effects that we may one day come to rue., May 20, 2010

1 Source: Africa, John, “The Judges Letter” (ca. 1978) (typed) MOVE Organization, P.O. Box 19709, Philadelphia, PA 19143