With Eddie Conway

Rattling the Bars: Debbie Sims Africa Released from Prison after Serving 40 Years

Debbie Sims Africa is one of the “Move Nine” who were charged and convicted for the murder of a police officer in 1978. Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford and TRNN’s Eddie Conway discuss the release

Story Transcript

EDDIE CONWAY: I’m Eddie Conway, coming to you from Baltimore. Welcome to this episode of rather than the boss. Recently, one of the MOVE 9 members have been released from prison, and joining me today to give us an update and have some discussion around that is Glen Ford, the executive editor of Black Agenda Report and also the author of The Big Lie. Glen, thanks for joining me.

GLEN FORD: Thanks for having me, Eddie.

EDDIE CONWAY: So, what’s what’s happening with Debbie Africa?

GLEN FORD: Well, what’s happened is she’s just been released, as you said. She is the first of the MOVE 9, who were imprisoned forty years ago in the death of a Philadelphia police officer, to be released. She’s now living somewhere outside of Philadelphia. She’s in the loving care of her son, Mike Africa, who was born in prison shortly after she got locked up back in 1978. Two of the MOVE 9 members who were arrested with her have died since then.

It was hoped that two other female MOVE members, Janet and Janine Africa, would be released along with Debbie. But that didn’t happen. Also missing from the extended MOVE family are the eleven members who were killed when the police bombed the MOVE residence in Philadelphia in 1985. That was seven years after Debbie Africa was arrested. Five of those killed in the police bombing with children, and much of the neighborhood burned down in the wake of the assault, which is the shameful legacy of Black Mayor Wilson Goode. Despite these horrific blows, MOVE, the organization, is still alive and kicking. And it’s now reinforced with the presence of their sister, Debbie Africa.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, you said that two other sisters from the MOVE 9 are still being held. It seemed, and I can’t remember clearly, but they only had like thirty to sixty years or something. And this is almost forty years now. What’s The reason behind holding them like that?

GLEN FORD: Well it’s thirty years to one hundred years. And there’s some dispute about the release or the expected release of Janet and Janine Africa. The parole board said that the reason they weren’t set free at the same time as Debbie was was because of some negative recommendations or information that they got from the prosecutor’s office. But Prosecutor Krasner says that he made positive recommendations for all three of the sisters. So, we’re not quite clear about that.

EDDIE CONWAY: And I understand that Debbie’s husband, Mike Sr. is still also locked up along with two other men?

GLEN FORD: Yeah, but he’s up for parole soon as well. We’ll see how this goes down. You know, of course, that the police and the whole prison industrial complex has been lobbying all this time for the MOVE 9 never to get out of prison. They don’t want any political prisoners, especially those charged in the death of a police officer, to ever leave the jail. So, one is now free. We’ll see if the doors will swing open again.

EDDIE CONWAY: I understand that Mike Sr. has A September parole hearing.

GLEN FORD: Yes, and I think I think Janet and Janine do too, I’m not sure.

EDDIE CONWAY: And it seems that Debbie is under house arrest.

GLEN FORD: I think we need to ask her that. If you’re on parole, you are not free, which is why you probably shouldn’t use that word, “has been freed.” I don’t think we did. And and she’s living outside of Philadelphia, which is only wise. You don’t want to be in the same jurisdiction as those cops who are angry and that you got out of jail.

EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah, I seen something that said an ankle bracelet monitor or something, which to me denotes that she can only go so far away from wherever she’s living.

GLEN FORD: Yeah, and that is considered legally a form of confinement. If you take it off, you’re attempting to escape. It’s the same charge as if you jump over the fence.

EDDIE CONWAY: Is there any efforts, say in Philadelphia, to to kind of like organize support around other parole cases?

GLEN FORD: The efforts to free MOVE 9 have never ended. This is an amazing organization, the blows that they have suffered, and they keep on kicking. It’s just amazing. The the MOVE 9 were arrested in 1978. But the organization was not crippled despite the unrelenting hostility and pressures of the police. Finally, seven years later resulting in the bombing of their house. An historic occasion, the first time that the police have bombed, with an aircraft, a residence. And yet, the MOVE 9 continued and are at the center not only of efforts to free their family members but also Mumia Abu-Jamal and political prisoners everywhere. They had you on their minds when you were in prison.

EDDIE CONWAY: Yes, yes. They are- certainly the sister that survived that bombing, Ramona Africa, have certainly came to my aid a number of times over the years, as well as I have been up to give support also for their effort because I think that bombing took place almost a little over thirty years ago now. And I went up there to report on it and the community is very, very strong in support of the MOVE movement now. And I was impressed in particular about the young people that’s involved and have either grown up in the movement or join the movement. So, yes. I think-

GLEN FORD: We also must highlight the fact that the MOVE 9 members continue to contend that they are not guilty of the death of that police officer, the offence that they’ve been imprisoned for for forty years. They say that the policeman was killed by friendly fire, that they didn’t shoot anybody. But that trial has not been reopened.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, Well thanks for this update. And if anything happens that we need to know about- matter of fact I’m going to try to reach out and see if I can’t talk directly to the sister, if she feels like doing an interview in the next couple of weeks.

GLEN FORD: That’s right. And you are of course aware of the quandary that political prisoners face, especially if they are on parole, when they have comrades who are still in prison for the same offense for which they were locked up, whatever they say might reflect somehow on the disposition of the others. And anybody who’s on parole knows that parole ain’t free.

EDDIE CONWAY: Yes, yes. That is true, and that’s the last word. Okay, thank you for joining me.

GLEN FORD: Thank you.