Incarceration Nation

Out of Prison After 41 Years

MOVE member Delbert Africa rails against “unjust” criminal justice system

By Mensah M. Dean

Delbert Africa, a longtime member of MOVE, is unrepentant about his part in the 1978 Powelton Village confrontation between the group and Philadelphia police that left an officer dead and sent him to prison for more than 40 years.

“Nothing could have been done differently to stop and curtail that assault by the police on us. It wouldn’t have stopped,” Africa, 73, said Tuesday, January 21, 2020, in his first Philadelphia interview since being paroled from state prison on Saturday, January 18, 2020.

One of nine MOVE members imprisoned for the 1978 incident, Africa said he is looking forward to reuniting with the surviving MOVE members who were previously paroled, to continue the work of challenging what he called an unjust criminal justice system. The fact that the city has had African American police commissioners during his time in prison has no bearing on the inequity in the system, he said.

“I want to keep on pushing the whole front of fighting this unjust system. I want to keep on pushing it and do as much as I can in my time here as dictated by the teachings of John Africa. Keep on working, stay on the move,” said Africa, who discussed his past and future goals at a news conference Tuesday at the Kingsessing Branch Library in West Philadelphia.

At the gathering, Africa, his face framed by gray frayed dreadlocks and facial hair, received a hero’s welcome from MOVE members and supporters who listened in rapt attention as he recalled the August confrontation with police, and recounted how he was cursed at and badly beaten by officers after he surrendered.

“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.”

MOVE has always maintained that the bullet that killed Ramp was accidentally fired by police.

By 1980, the group had relocated to the 6200 block of Osage Avenue. Neighbors began to complain to the city about trash, loudspeaker rants, and concerns about child abuse and neglect in MOVE’s house.

On May 13, 1985, the city flew a helicopter over the group’s home and dropped the bomb that left 11 people dead, including John Africa, as well as Delbert Africa’s 13-year-old daughter. The neighborhood was in ruins, with 61 homes destroyed. City officials were found to have acted recklessly, but no charges were filed.

Delbert Africa was among nine MOVE members convicted of third-degree murder for Ramp’s death.

Janine, Janet, and Eddie Africa were released from prison in 2019. Mike Africa Sr. and his wife, Debbie, were released in 2018. Merle Africa died in prison in March 1998 and Phil Africa died in prison in January 2015. Chuck Africa remains imprisoned. [Chuck Africa was released February 7, 2020. See next article in this issue of Socialist Viewpoint.]

Inquirer, January 21, 2020