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Expensive Injustice: MOVE's 40-Years Behind Bars

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Message Linn Washington

The recent release of three inmates from prisons in Pennsylvania persons considered political prisoners by many worldwide is a poignant reminder of how the costs of injustice ravage not just those directly targeted for persecution but also the taxpayers who pay for that persecution.

The 40-years of unjust, revenge-driven imprisonment endured by this trio imposed incalculable emotional/physical costs on their lives. Further, that imprisonment cost Pennsylvania taxpayers millions of dollars.

A vivid example of wasted tax revenue is the fact that while each member of this trio was eligible for parole in 2008, the Pennsylvania Parole Board employed specious excuses (persecution) to continue their expensive imprisonment until their release on parole in late Spring 2019.

That trio's cost of incarceration for just that 11-year span between their parole eligibility and their actual parole release totaled more than $2-million, based on Pennsylvania Department of Corrections data for the per inmate/per year costs.

Expensive insidious persecution?

Consider that Pennsylvania Parole Board members once denied one member of this trio parole demanding that MOVE member take an anger management class despite the fact that this inmate had taken anger management classes, was certified as an anger management instructor and was conducting anger management classes for other inmates with the approval of prison authorities.

This trio is: Janet Africa, Janine Africa and Eddie Africa.

These three, now in their mid-to-late 60's, are members of MOVE, the Philadelphia-based radical back-to-nature organization. (All MOVE members take the common last name of Africa.)

Janet, Janine and Eddie plus six of their MOVE colleagues received prison terms for a fatal 1978 shoot-out with Philadelphia police where gunfire killed a policeman plus wounded 18 police and firefighters.

That shoot-out followed years of often brutal persecution against MOVE by Philadelphia law enforcement and City government authorities.

A March 1976 police attack on MOVE members killed a baby of Janine and her husband, Phil Africa. No Philadelphia police officer faced charges for the stomping death of that MOVE baby named, Life Africa. That fatal 1976 police action sparked a series of incidents that led to the August 1978 shootout.

All of the MOVE 9 five men and four women received the identical 30-to-100-year-sentence despite the inability of authorities to conclusively state which MOVE member (if any) fired the fatal bullet that killed Officer James Ramp or even if that killer bullet came from any of the guns that authorities claimed MOVE members used during the firefight.

"I'm innocent. We didn't kill Ramp," Eddie Africa, 69, said during a recent press conference in Philadelphia convened by MOVE. "Parole agents would tell me that they knew we didn't kill Ramp. But somebody had to pay"and it was us."

Last year Pennsylvania parole authorities released two of the MOVE 9 after 39-years behind bars. Two members of the MOVE 9 died while in prison, including Janine's husband Phil. Two of the MOVE 9 remain in prison.

The now five paroled MOVE 9 members and the two still incarcerated served more time in prison than any of the few Philadelphia police officer ever convicted of brutality or other criminal offenses. During that press conference Eddie, Janet and Janine recounted beatings and other deprivations they endured while behind bars, particularly during their early years of incarceration.

One of the still incarcerated MOVE 9 Delbert Africa --sustained a vicious beating by police on August 8, 1978. That assault, captured by news cameras, generated headline coverage internationally. Yet, that brutal assault produced no convictions for the police who beat, kicked and stomped the unarmed Delbert Africa because a Philadelphia judge used an unusual legal maneuver to free those police.

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Linn Washington is a co-founder of This Can't Be Washington writes frequently on inequities in the criminal justice system, ills in society and problems in the news media. He teaches multi-media urban journalism at Temple (more...)

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