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Interview with Pam Africa & Ramona Africa

‘Freedom must take priority over everything’

Published Aug 21, 2008 11:22 PM

Two leading members of the Philadelphia-based MOVE organization, Pam Africa and Ramona Africa, spoke at a public meeting in Detroit on Aug. 2 on the continuing efforts to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and the MOVE 9.

This public event, held at the Dr. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, was initiated by the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice and was co-sponsored by several other organizations, including the Detroit Green Party, Detroit Solidarity and the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of the Archdiocese of the city.

Pam Africa, representing MOVE and the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, has been leading the global struggle in support of the award-winning journalist, who was a founding member of the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia. Abu-Jamal has been a staunch supporter of MOVE since the 1970s.

Abu-Jamal has been on death row since 1982 after he was falsely accused of and railroaded for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in December 1981. Since 1995 there have been two death warrants, signed by former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, for the execution of Abu-Jamal. Only international mass outrage forced a stay, keeping Mumia Abu-Jamal alive over the years.

Two recent federal appeals court decisions in the Third Circuit denied Mumia a new trial and a rehearing by the full panel. That consequently upheld a 2001 federal ruling that vacated the death penalty and sentenced Jamal to life in prison without parole. Despite the 2001 ruling, Jamal remains on death row.

Ramona Africa spoke on recent developments involving the denial of parole to the MOVE 9, who have been incarcerated since Aug. 8, 1978, when MOVE family members were attacked at their Powelton Village home by hundreds of Philadelphia police.

During the assault on the MOVE residence, an officer, James Ramp, was killed. The evidence presented during their trial could not prove that any of the MOVE 9 defendants fired the shot that killed the policeman.

Earlier this year the nine political prisoners were denied parole after serving their minimum terms for the 30- to 100-year sentences handed down after their trial.

The Aug. 2 meeting was chaired by Andrea Egypt and Kevin Carey of MECAWI. Solidarity statements were delivered by Derrick Grigsby, co-chair of the Detroit Green Party and candidate for State Representative in the 7th District, and Diane Feeley, a veteran labor activist and representative of Detroit Solidarity.

Additional comments were made by Roberto Guzman on the plight of the Cuban 5, Cuban nationals currently serving long sentences in the United States for their attempts to prevent terrorist attacks on Cuba by CIA-backed counter-revolutionary organizations based in Florida.

Sandra Hines of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality and MECAWI spoke on the status of Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, who is currently serving a 3- to 10- year sentence in Michigan for defense of working-class and poor African Americans in Berrien County.

Roderick Casey of Ypsilanti spoke for the Committee for Correctional and Judicial Reform on the need for representative juries in the state of Michigan. Casey was beaten, arrested and sentenced to 75 days in jail for protesting his treatment in an emergency room hospital.

Interview with Pam and Ramona Africa

During the Africas’ visit to Detroit, this writer sat down with them to discuss various aspects of their organizations’ work as well as important episodes in their own personal development:

Abayomi Azikiwe: What should people know about the case against the MOVE 9?

Ramona Africa: MOVE people who were in the Powelton Village residence on Aug. 8, 1978, are totally innocent. There were nine people charged and convicted in the killing of one cop. How can nine people be responsible for firing one gun? More importantly, the bullet that struck the cop was fired in a downward trajectory. All our family members were in the basement of the house.

AA: What excuse did the parole board give for not releasing the MOVE 9 this spring?

RA: They did their minimum sentences. This year they were asked to admit guilt. They refused to admit guilt because they are not responsible for the death of the officer. Guilt or innocence is not the issue. Neither is the serious nature of the crime because this was taken into consideration at the time the sentences were handed down.

This reminds me of my case when the Philadelphia police bombed our family’s home on May 13, 1985. Eleven people were killed, including children. The entire neighborhood was burned to the ground because the fire marshal ordered the department not to put out the flames.

I was charged with riot and assault. I was in my own home, minding my own business, yet I was charged with riot. I was convicted and given 16 months to seven years in prison. They told me after 16 months that if I severed all ties with MOVE I could go. I told them to go to hell. Freedom must take priority over everything. I would prefer to do other things, but it is not an option.

Not being a revolutionary will never protect you. Amadou Diallo was not a revolutionary, but he was still victimized. So if you are getting oppressed anyway, you should fight back. This is the only way we can beat the oppressors back. The important thing to do is to contribute whatever you can to the revolution.

AA: Pam, what is the status of the struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal?

Pam Africa: We are continuing to put out information on the case. Mumia is in his last phase of appeals. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals decided not to follow the law when they denied Mumia a new trial. There was a vote where the majority decided to rule against Mumia. What is right is right. It has nothing to do with a vote. Then an appeal for a rehearing before the entire panel was denied.

However, we will continue to rely on the people throughout the world. John Africa, the coordinator of MOVE, told us in 1981 that the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal would one day be known all over the world. We have been able to stop several attempts to kill Mumia. Even Judge Albert Sabo, who was known for not granting stays of execution, was forced to do so in August of 1995 because of mass demonstrations throughout the world in support of Mumia.

By denying Mumia his freedom or a new trial, they are attempting to place him in prison for life without the possibility of parole. This is totally unacceptable. Mumia is innocent and must be released.

Our schedule is full with work in support of Mumia’s freedom. In the next few weeks we will be traveling to Washington, D.C., Ohio, Denver and Mexico City.

We have to put out our own information through newspapers, leaflets and meetings like this. The media does not speak for us. Before I came into MOVE, I lived down the street from them in Philadelphia. I saw the good work they did and the nice people they were. Yet I choose to believe what I saw on television and read in the papers, which told lies about the organization, saying they were bad for the community.

It was the example set by John Africa and MOVE that brought me around the organization. We are still here despite all the efforts to lock us up and kill our family members.

We have been with Mumia from the time he was a journalist in Philadelphia. We were there when he was almost killed by the police, and we were the first to build support for his freedom. And we are still working on his case today.

Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. PANW articles have appeared in publications and websites throughout the world.