Communities rallied together in the heart of West Philadelphia on Aug. 5 to mark the 40th anniversary of the police siege and assault on the MOVE family.
The all-day itinerary of events also commemorated the 40th anniversary of the unjust arrest of the MOVE 9, which was ordered by white supremacist Mayor Frank Rizzo on Aug. 8, 1978.
The day’s packed schedule began with dozens of runners, walkers and bicyclists, who endured the scorching sun and triple-digit temperatures to participate in a 5K marathon. The event raised money to fund the livelihood and ongoing legal battles of the MOVE 9.
Later that afternoon, a public forum was held at Mastery High School — Shoemaker Campus in West Philadelphia. A series of panel discussions, hosted by Lavinia Davis and Orie Lumumba, brought the community together to discuss the history of MOVE and Philadelphia’s rich tradition in the Black Liberation struggle. Gentrification, mass incarceration, police brutality and “fake news” were all analyzed in a way that revealed the brutal and dishonest tactics of the ruling class’s ongoing war against Black radicals.
Long Live Revolution! Long Live John Africa!
The forum began with an affecting performance by the youth of the MOVE family, who marched into the hall to the song “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” and then assembled on stage and chanted in unison. They showed that the organization is stronger and more numerous than ever. Shouts of “Ona Move! Long Live Revolution! Long Live John Africa!” reverberated throughout the auditorium.
Lumumba began by celebrating the release of Debbie Africa. But he also drew the audience’s attention to those who were not in attendance at this event: Phil and Merle Africa, members of the MOVE 9 who were killed by the prison system; John Africa himself, who was assassinated by the Philadelphia Police Department on May 13, 1985, along with 10 other MOVE members; and especially the five MOVE children of Janet, Janine, and Consuela Africa who were killed that day. Consuela was in attendance and was specifically honored.
MOVE 9 members were held in prison when news of their family members’ assassinations reached them in 1985. The system that prevented them from grieving together was the same system that perpetrated that mass murder and that aims to isolate and destroy all Black radicalism in the U.S.
Panelist Saleem Holbrook described his own growing awareness of the MOVE struggle. It was only after he was sentenced to life in prison (an unjust conviction that has since been overturned) that he heard Ramona Africa interviewed on the radio. It challenged his media-fabricated understanding about MOVE as being composed of “angry, crazy people.”
Holbrook heard Ramona’s message of Black liberation and environmental justice and was inspired to reach out to Chuck Africa, who was incarcerated at the same prison. Oppression of Black inmates was particularly intense at this state correctional facility, Holbrook explained, and there was “open war between prisoners and staff. When they took you to the hole, when they uncuff you, you knew you better start swinging.”
Despite that, one morning Holbrook withstood guard retaliation in order to shout to Chuck across the walk: “Ona Move!”
“Oppressed people must organize to defend themselves, to provide for each other and to meet each other’s needs,” Holbrook added. “No one is going to organize us but us.”
Black identity in the age of ‘Black Identity Extremists’
Other panelists included Russell Maroon Shoatz, son of the political prisoner of the same name; Temple University Professor Linn Washington; Candice McKinley of Black Lives Matter Philadelphia; and Mastery High School Principal Sharif El-Mekki, who insisted on the need for schools to be open community centers — and the need to teach positive Black identity to students.
“Most teachers are parachuting into a community when school starts and then skyrocketing out when the bell rings,” stated El-Mekki. “Educators learn racism from the same place that police officers learn racism. Racism is learned at kitchen tables, on car rides home and in classrooms.”
El-Mekki added, “It’s not a holistic education if it’s devoid of the concept of social justice.”
The focus on systemic injustice was particularly poignant, given the Trump-Sessions Justice Department’s recent targeting of what they call “Black Identity Extremists.” Brad Thompson, lawyer for the MOVE 9, drew the connection between MOVE and contemporary Black liberation activists:
“We need to free the MOVE 9 not because they are the only examples of injustices in this country, but because they are the most extreme examples. … They only pose a threat to the systems of injustice that seek to perpetuate their own power.”
Mumia and MOVE in Black August
After the panel, the audience was treated to a concert featuring local artists and musicians, including Seraiah Nicole, Mic Africa and Raw Life Crew.
Attendees were encouraged to follow the hashtag #FreeMOVE9 and @MumiaFreedomBound on social media. Black Panther, MOVE supporter and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal has a hearing in Philadelphia on Aug. 30 where a large mobilization to free Mumia is planned.
Mike Africa Sr. has a parole hearing in October. Chuck Africa will be up for parole in November and Eddie Africa in January. Janet and Janine Africa were up for parole and should have been freed along with Debbie; their parole denial is currently under appeal. Their next hearing is scheduled for May.