On The MOVE: When The City of Philadelphia Waged War on a Black Community

"...the controlling, maiming, denying, poisoning, and outright killing of Black life through the mechanisms of the State was as American as apple pie. In fact, the destruction of all life forms is the core identity, fabric, and true functionality of American society."

On The MOVE: When The City of Philadelphia Waged War on a Black Community
"All livings beings, things that move, are equally as important, whether they are human beings, dogs, birds, fish, trees, ants, weeds, rivers, wind and rain. To stay healthy and strong, life must have clean air, clear water and pure food. If deprived of these things, life will cycle to the next level, or as the system says, ‘die.’"

~ John Africa

September 26, 1986: life was granted to me through the union of my mother and father. I was born in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And I had no way of understanding nor conceptualizing that I was being birthed into the city of “Brotherly Love” that, less than a year earlier, decided to showcase that love by incinerating 11 human beings in their own home with a C-4 bomb dropped directly on top of them, on May 13, 1985. In fact, as I grew older, I heard nothing regarding the bombing of the MOVE organization; not from a teacher, not from a pastor or minister, not from anyone in my community, a neighbor, nor anyone in my family made me aware of this sick, brutal, and horrific criminal assault, which was premeditated and deliberately carried forth with full complicity of the local, state, and federal governments of America.

I would learn of the bombing while in prison, serving a four to twenty-year sentence for robbery and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. I was a student at Penn State University at the time of the offense, majoring in sports journalism. I wasn't learning anything in those prestigious schools, just wasting a lot of money and time.

I remember having a class on African studies. The class, as well as the professor – a old gray-haired white man – was a complete joke. He said he didn't care if students arrived late, no matter how late, because he was utilizing "CP time", or, "Colored People time"! Not only that, but the class entailed merely taking an African country of your choice, coloring in the country, then writing 10 fun facts about it. In hindsight, the class was extremely racist and was not designed in the least to educate any of its students on the truth of Africa's history or its peoples.

At the time I could care less; I did not view education as a matter of liberation. At the time, I did not possess any ideas or concepts regarding freedom, independence, liberation, or self-determination. I had little to no understanding that I was a member of a nationally oppressed group, thoroughly enslaved and effectively colonized by the illegitimacy and criminality of American so-called democracy. I was unable to recognize that as a young black male living in America, prison was a damn near guarantee, a sobering inevitability. For, as I learned later, the controlling, maiming, denying, poisoning, and outright killing of Black life through the mechanisms of the State was as American as apple pie. In fact, the destruction of all life forms is the core identity, fabric, and true functionality of American society.

This was the climate that produced John Africa, a third-grade dropout and handyman who founded a revolutionary organization of freedom fighters known affectionately as MOVE. John Africa understood that wherever there is oppression, there will always be resistance. The global system of U.S monopoly capitalist imperialism understands this social and historical phenomena well. It is why this system works so hard to implant the message of fear into our collective memory - to be Black and to resist equals a death wish. However, this is not fully accurate. This is what they want us to accept and to believe. But as Mumia Abu-Jamal once wrote, “many people say it is insane to resist the system, but actually, it is insane not to.”

This is what MOVE understood: that the system is designed to eliminate and destroy all life, especially black life, whether we choose to resist or not. Doing nothing and acquiescing to the status quo is the real death wish, not fighting back.

By 1972, Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania found their most loyal agitator and most dedicated propagator of the concept of white power and the doctrine of white supremacy. His name was Frank Rizzo, a former cop, who ran on a “law and order” platform and won, allowing him to assume office as the new mayor of Philadelphia. “Vote white!” was one of his campaign slogans. This brute was extremely violent, uncompromisingly racist, and the head mercenary of the concept of white power. Former Temple University Professor Dr. Anthony Monteiro would describe Rizzo as “the most deadly, neo-Nazi mayor in the United States at that time.” As a result, the city of Philadelphia, home of the Declaration of Independence, the Liberty Bell, and Independence Hall was, in fact, a hostile palpably white supremacist police state. It was in this same year that the MOVE organization began mobilizing above ground and began protesting against all kinds of injustices, from police brutality, to the treatment of animals in zoos, the pollution of the air, the poor and inadequate quality of educational, political, and housing institutions/structures, as well as many other core issues.

It was because of these demonstrations and their unrelenting and unwavering commitment to exposing injustices wherever they found them that MOVE members were immediately and violently targeted, declared a public nuisance, and made out to be a public enemy by the bloodthirsty, sociopathic, and thuggish Frank Rizzo and his administration of goons. They were also committed revolutionaries who were loyal to the teachings of their coordinator, John Africa. MOVE members were ahead of their time, as the saying goes. They were practitioners and advocates of a raw vegan diet in the early 1970’s and 80’s, which was practically unheard of. Move members also wore their hair naturally, every member wore ‘locs, and although the style is popular in 2020, in the 1970’s, MOVE members were constantly made fun of. “Why don’t them niggas comb their hair!”

MOVE members believed in physical exercise for all men, women, and children; even those sisters who were pregnant and expecting engaged in physical training. As a result, MOVE women delivered their babies naturally without any assistance from any hospitals or doctors! MOVE members also homeschooled their children, which again is popularized and normalized in many ways today, but at that time most people considered this neglectful and irresponsible.

Another distinction that separated them from other radical movements of the time was that MOVE members were environmentalist. They believed in the sanctity of all life. They believed in the protection of plant life, of animal life, and believed the natural elements of the earth should be kept pure – that water should be free and clean, that the air should be free of chemical and toxic pollutants, etc.

MOVE operated as their own independent SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) by bringing in and taking care of stray dogs who were neglected or abused or without a home — because all life should be valued and protected.

MOVE members lived in communal homes, chopped wood, ran long distances, practiced combat training, rejected much of western technology (if not entirely), and conducted car washing services for revenue. MOVE members rejected all forms of hierarchy, patriarchy, were anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-fascist, anti-US empire.

According to Mumia Abu-Jamal, “By mid-1975, MOVE had grown into a collective of Blacks, whites, Puerto Ricans and Asians, living in the polyglot neighborhood of Powelton Village and following the teachings of John Africa. Police would often attempt to break their revolutionary unity, and they would inevitably fail.”

Therefore, MOVE, like the Black Panther Party, recognized that revolutionary solidarity between oppressed, subjugated groups and classes across racial lines was a serious threat to U.S. empire and hegemony. All these things which MOVE represented and stood for – and much more than I have the time or space to explore – deeply disturbed the plutocrats and oligarchs who sat in power. Frank Rizzo would be on record as saying, “the Black Panther Party should be strung up.” One would be a fool to believe that this statement did not also apply to the MOVE organization and to other radical organizations like them.

By 1975, MOVE members were arrested over 100 times, their total bail estimated to be around 1 million dollars. MOVE members claimed that these police arrests were not only unwarranted, but were also very violent and resulted in numerous still births and miscarriages of MOVE women, who were routinely beaten, punched, and kicked in the stomach and head. In fact, one brutal incident resulted in the crushed skull of a three-month-old baby named Life, whose mother was Janine Africa. Of course, police were never charged nor arrested for these assaults. The police assaulted MOVE members whenever they felt like it. As a result, MOVE members publicly armed themselves on May 20, 1977 atop their own private property, announcing that they would no longer be beaten and intimated without their own just and comparable response.

These actions and demonstrations lead to an unprecedented decision by Frank Rizzo: 1,000 police officers were deployed to place a military blockade around the MOVE compound for 14 months, expending a lot of city resources to do so. No food nor water was allowed inside the MOVE compound. After a court order, the city of Philadelphia told MOVE that they had 90 days to exit the property. The Philadelphia Daily News front page headline repeated Frank Rizzo's sentiments: “Starve Them Out!” In a televised interview, Rizzo declared, “I’m gonna lock that place up so tight, not even a fly can get in.”

On March 16, 1978, that same night, Frank Rizzo urged whites “to join hands to fight blacks for better jobs, decent housing, and a better life.” Rizzo made it clear that his administration wanted a war with MOVE members. “We are now trained and equipped to fight wars. We’re so well armed that we could invade Cuba and win!”

MOVE would not budge, however. And, after about a week or so, people came in droves, defying police orders, breaking through the barricade, providing MOVE members with food and water.

On August 8, 1978, Rizzo made his move. After receiving the go-ahead, Philadelphia police besieged the MOVE headquarters. They used bulldozers to shatter the residential home into pieces, deluge hoses were used to blast out thousands of pounds of water pressure, tear gas was used to blind anyone in close proximity, and suddenly a barrage of gunshots rang out from the police. Police actions even resulted in the death of one of their own pig officers.

MOVE members began emerging from their home and were immediately met with sheer brutality. Delbert Africa emerged with his hands held high, shirtless, wisely allowing the pig forces to see that he was unarmed.

It did not matter. In a savage exercise of pure unmitigated violence, the police were caught on camera smashing Delbert’s eye socket with a police helmet; another took the butt of his shotgun and jabbed it into Delbert’s face, breaking his jaw. Delbert fell to the ground, but the police's savage beating would continue. His head was kicked back and forth like a soccer ball. He was kicked and stomped in the stomach and the back, and dragged across the pavement like a heap of garbage. The police violence was captured and played on television screens across the world, preceding the violent beating of Rodney King in 1991. The head of the Philadelphia police union was interviewed shortly afterwards and said of Delbert Africa, “should’ve shot the goddamn bum… should’ve killed him!”

All nine MOVE members would then be charged with the death of the cop who was likely killed by his own pig police force. Each of the nine MOVE members received 30 to 100 years in prison. As Mumia Abu-Jamal later observed, they received 900 years for surviving.

On May 13, 1985, the day after Mother’s Day, the unimaginable occurred. MOVE members were still protesting the criminal imprisonment of the MOVE 9 seven years earlier. It was at this point that the city of Philadelphia, with its new Black mayor Wilson Goode, called for “a permanent end to MOVE.” Most of the newspapers in Philly – if not all – referred to Move members as “terrorists” right before their planned execution.

Without warning or provocation, the city of Philadelphia, with state and federal complicity, converged on the MOVE home like foreign mercenaries, seeking to kill them in a final confrontation. The only adult survivor that day, Ramona Africa, would later assert, “They’re aim was to kill, to exterminate, to annihilate the MOVE organization.”

The attacks followed the same techniques of the 1978 invasion, only worse. The first physical attack upon the home used four deluge hoses, which, according to the Philadelphia fire department, emitted 10,000 pounds of water pressure per minute, per hose — totaling 40,000 pounds of water being dumped into the MOVE home per minute. Next, the police would drill three-inch holes in the side of the home to inject tear gas. They then blew the entire front of the home apart. The police also had too many guns not to use them, and according to their own admission, they fired 10,000 rounds into the home in 90 minutes. It's not a stretch to believe more rounds were fired.

The scene was set. The unspeakable was still yet to occur. Already having a C-4 bomb prepared, a state trooper helicopter flew casually over the home and dropped the military-grade explosive, violently rocking the entire fabric of the home. It did not take long before it was turned into a blazing inferno.

The fire department, under the direction of Wilson Goode, decided to let the fire burn. Once MOVE members figured out that their home had been bombed, that it was not merely tear gas they were choking on, everyone inside of the home immediately tried to flee and surrender themselves.

The police, though, wanted them dead. As they attempted to flee, they were met with a hail of gunfire, forcing them back inside the burning inferno. According to Ramona Africa, they now had to decide whether they wanted to be burned alive or shot to death!

Ramona, although forced back into the home at least twice, was able to finally escape with a young boy, Birdie Africa. Like her MOVE brothers and sisters before her, Ramona was sentenced to 16 months to 7 years for surviving a premeditated mass-murder by the city of Philadelphia. When Ramona came up for parole after 16 months, the parole board told her she could be released if she denounced any affiliation with MOVE. She refused. Instead, Ramona maxed out her 7-year sentence.

No police officer or city official would ever be charged of any crime or wrongdoing. Five children, six adults, and several animals were all murdered.

These criminal assaults by the city of Philadelphia also resulted in the destruction of over 60 homes, and the people who lived in them were now displaced. The residents of Osage Avenue had to fight for years to have their homes replaced. Under constant pressure, the city finally provided the residents of Osage Avenue with makeshift homes, but they were severely inadequate; according to one resident they were “cute little doll houses.”

It did not take long for these homes to deteriorate and fall apart. It became evident to the residents of Osage Avenue that the city of Philadelphia did not just wage a war on the MOVE organization, but on the entire Black community. Not much has changed.

Recently, Debbie Africa, Mike Africa, Delbert Africa, Chuckie Africa, Janine Africa, and Eddie Africa were all finally released after 40-plus years in prison. The two other Move members, Merle and Phil Africa, unfortunately died in prison.

It is particularly important that we never forget this history – and once we know it, we must have the courage to tell it. Those in power wish for us to overlook these connections. They do not want us exposing them for who they truly are. They use their media apparatuses to distract and to confuse us. They use their educational institutions to train us to know what they want us to know, to believe what they want us to believe, to accept what they want us to accept. They attempt to use their death camps called "prisons" to quell Black resistance. Not only that, but once our freedom fighters are effectively locked away, our memories of their existence – who and what they were and the principles they stood for – will start to fade away.

We must know that mass incarceration exploded at the height of the Black Power Movement. Beginning in the 1970’s, crime rates were decreasing, yet Black imprisonment was increasing. The judicial system utilized their courts and jails and prisons to repress Black radical political organizing.

However, they did not foresee that these protocols would produce George Jacksons and Mumia Abu-Jamals. Even when sent to prisons, we started to resist in prisons. We let it be known during the Attica uprising “that we are men! We are not beasts and we do not intend to be beaten or driven as such.”

We effectively turned their iron houses of oppression into schools of liberation. And we must continue to do so. Behind the walls and outside of them. We must never allow their politics of repression to stop our politics of liberation. We have a world to win.

We must work towards putting an end to this system. Finally, decisively, permanently. To ensure nothing like this will ever happen again.

Long Live John Africa!

On The Move!

A Luta Continua!