(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) The Abolitionist Law Center and the People’s Law Office are proud to announce that Eddie Africa, of the MOVE 9, has been released from state custody after more than forty years of incarceration. Earlier this morning, Eddie Africa was released from SCI Phoenix after being transferred from SCI Mahanoy, where he spent the majority of his incarceration. He has been fighting for parole for the last ten years.
The MOVE 9 are 9 individuals who were incarcerated following an August 8, 1978 police siege of the MOVE Organization home in West Philadelphia. The MOVE 9 were all sentenced to 30-100 years after the death of an officer during the raid.
“Eddie’s release is a victory for him, his family and the movement that has been fighting for his freedom. This is the newest chapter in the decades-long struggle to free all the MOVE 9, which is a struggle that continues with the fight to free Delbert and Chuck Africa, who are both up for parole this year.” ~ Brad Thompson
Eddie is the fifth member of the MOVE 9 to be released on parole, all represented by lawyers from Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office. Like Debbie , Janet, Janine, and Mike Africa, who were recently released, Eddie is now able to experience holding his loved ones outside of prison walls for the first time in decades. Eddie was a father when he was arrested and has four adult children and several grandchildren who he has been able to maintain strong relationships with. Today is the first day his grandchildren will be able to hug him outside of a prison wall. The release of the Move members, after more than forty years, is the culmination of the MOVE organization, public support, legal action, and policy changes.
Two other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated (Chuck and Delbert Africa), while two others (Merle Africa and Phil Africa) died in custody. Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office represent Delbert and Chuck in the struggle for their freedom. To support the fight, you may donate to the MOVE9 Legal Fund.
The Abolitionist Law Center is proud to announce that all charges against Blak Rapp Madusa were dismissed on Thursday as our Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus was granted by Judge Cashman.
The courtroom was filled to capacity as Bret Grote and Quinn Cozzens presented arguments to the judge. Immediately prior to dismissing the charges, Judge Cashman called the incident leading to Blak Rapp’s arrest “unfortunate.” At issue was whether the testimony of North Versailles Township Police Officer Christopher Kelly was sufficient to require Blak Rapp to stand trial on the charges against her. This case stemmed from Blak Rapp’s arrest while filming the officer as he removed a group of black girls from a movie theatre and arcade. Blak Rapp was facing charges of disorderly conduct, trespass, and resisting arrest. The habeas corpus petition argued that even if all of Officer Kelly’s testimony was true, none of the conduct he described was criminal. The case brought up many issues for the community that centered on violence and the dehumanization of Black Women and girls. For many, this was a flagrant case of police abuse of power involving an officer arresting a person who was exercising their constitutional right to film the police.
The Habeas petition focused on the merits of the case and raised multiple arguments to prove that the sufficiency of the evidence failed to prove Blak Rapp was guilty on any charge. Judge Cashman agreed and granted the motion in full.
The community made its presence felt. They showed up for Madusa just as she showed up for the children who were being bullied and mistreated at that movie theater.As Madusa said afterward: “When we fight we win.” ~Attorney Bret Grote
This win is not only credited to the legal team of the Abolitionist Law Center but also to every community member and organizer that has stood with Blak Rapp Madusa since the onset of these charges. It has been almost a year since the filming of this incident, and since that time the national focus has began a conversation on the violence and plight of Black Women and Girls. We hope that this win not only encourages people to get involved in court watching programs but to also become aware of the violence that many in the community face. Organizing and community support is vital to defending the rights and lives of Black women and girls and others who are targeted by oppressive policing practices.
“I didn’t know if I was going to survive that attack….but I knew that if I did, that it was my duty to say something about it, to use my platform as an artivist and an organizer and tell America to stop the violence against black women.” ~ Blak Rapp Madusa
June 18, 2018: On Tuesday, June 19, 2018 at 10 a.m., MOVE member Debbie Africa will make her first public appearance since being released from prison after 39 years and 10 months of incarceration. On Saturday, June 16, Debbie was released on parole from State Correctional Institution (SCI) Cambridge Springs. Debbie will be speaking at a press conference that will be held at Faith Immanuel Lutheran Church, at 65 Penn Blvd. in East Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. Other speakers will include Debbie’s son Mike Africa Jr. and Brad Thomson, one of Debbie’s attorneys.
Debbie said, “I am happy to finally be home with my family, but Janet, Janine and the rest of the MOVE 9 are still in prison, in the same situation that I was in and they deserve parole too.”
Debbie was imprisoned since August 8, 1978, following an altercation between the Philadelphia police and the MOVE Organization. Debbie was one of 9 MOVE members, collectively known as the “MOVE 9,” who were convicted and sentenced to 30-100 years in prison following the altercation.
Debbie was eight months pregnant at the time of the incident and gave birth in jail to her son, Mike Africa Jr. Debbie has been incarcerated for Mike’s entire life and the two spent time together outside of prison for the first time on Saturday, following Debbie’s release.
“After being born in jail and never being with my mom or dad, I’m happy to be with my mom at home for the first time ever in almost forty years. But my family is still incomplete because my dad is still in prison. Forty years of separation is not over for our family,” said Mike Africa, Jr. His father, Mike Africa Sr. is also one of the MOVE 9 and still in prison. Mike Sr. is scheduled to next appear before the parole board this upcoming September.
Janet Africa and Janine Africa, also of the MOVE 9, were denied parole after appearing before the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (PBPP) on the same day as Debbie. Debbie is the first member of the MOVE 9 to be granted parole. The surviving members of the MOVE 9 have been eligible for parole since 2008 and have each been denied parole when previously appearing before the PBPP.
One of Debbie’s lawyers, Bret Grote, of Abolitionist Law Center, stated, “This historic release of Debbie Africa renders the Parole Board’s decision to deny Janet and Janine all the more incomprehensible, as each has maintained DOC records that are as exemplary and essentially identical to that of Debbie.”
Debbie had not had a misconduct for violating prison rules since 1992. She also received the recommendation of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), as well as recommendations from Corrections expert and former DOC Secretary Martin Horn, and Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Janet and Janine also received the support of the DOC, Martin Horn, and the District Attorney’s Office.
In letters written to Leo Dunn, the Chairman of the PBPP, Carolyn Engel Temin, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office First Assistant, wrote on behalf of District Attorney Larry Krasner that she was “confident” that Janet and Janine “will not pose a threat to the Philadelphia community” and that their “continued incarceration does not make our city safer.” In spite of these letters, the PBPP cited the “negative recommendation of the prosecuting attorney” as a basis for denial.
Brad Thomson, of the People’s Law Office, who is also a lawyer for Debbie, Janet, and Janine stated: “It is shocking that Janet and Janine were denied parole. Their circumstances and institutional records are nearly identical to Debbie’s. The decision to deny Janet and Janine appears arbitrary and it is difficult to understand how the Parole Board could justify it based on the facts that were presented.”
“The Parole Board has the opportunity to correct its mistake regarding Janet and Janine, stop playing politics with parole determinations for the MOVE 9, and release our clients,” said Bret Grote. “If they do not take the chance to do the right thing, however, we fully intend to vindicate our clients’ rights and keep fighting until they join Debbie.”
In addition to Janet, Janine and Mike Sr., three other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated, as two died in custody. During the August 8, 1978 altercation, a Philadelphia police officer was killed and following a highly politicized trial, the MOVE 9 were convicted of third degree homicide. All nine were sentenced to 30-100 years in prison. The six surviving members of the MOVE 9 are all eligible for parole.
GOOD FAITH, BAD FAITH – URGENT HOLIDAY UPDATE: MAROON’S PROCESS OUT OF SOLITARY THWARTED BY PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
It is with some surprise and sadness that we must report that once again the progress of wrongfully incarcerated Russell Maroon Shoatz has been delayed by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), thereby continuing his over twenty years of torturous uninterrupted solitary confinement. On Thursday, December 19, 2013, prison officials at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Frackville informed Maroon that the prison would not release him into its general population, claiming that there is another prisoner at SCI Frackville who Maroon has a “separation” from (the two cannot have contact with one another). For this reason, SCI Frackville stated that the prison would not be sending the required documentation for review of his solitary confinement to PA DOC Secretary Wetzel. Instead, Maroon was told that SCI Frackville intended to transfer him to another prison that could then consider him for release into the general population.
After Maroon’s successful completion of a prison-initiated “step down program” designed for the very purpose of ending his long-endured torture, his family, friends, and legal team were cautiously optimistic that the consistently positive reports coming directly from prison authorities would result in his humanitarian release, at least into prison general population. Every twenty days during the sixty-day “step down” initiative, Maroon’s case came under administrative review, and he passed all areas of concern – including the evaluations of some of the most conservative of guards – with flying colors. SCI Frackville’s position is contrary to what Maroon had previously been told: complete the 60-day step-down program successfully, and the formal review of his solitary confinement will occur. Now, prison officials are declaring that it is necessary to transfer Maroon for the third time in less than a year despite his perfect record of compliance.
Maroon has carefully observed, and supporters have followed, the strictest of adherence to Pennsylvania Department of Corrections policies, in a clear decision to abide by the DOC efforts to correct an inhumane injustice which has begun to gain world-wide attention. Maroon continues to act in good faith. This callous, bad-faith reversal on the part of the Program Review Committee puts the case back into the court system and the political sphere – where we must once again raise the stakes in spotlighting this unprecedented and cruel behavior. As we are well aware, the continued solitary confinement of Maroon violates every United Nations and international legal guideline against the treatment of the incarcerated, especially long-held prisoners who are now senior citizens.
As the world mourns the passing of unrepentant former political prisoner Nelson Mandela, and prepares for the season celebrating peace on earth, good will towards others, this news raises the question of who is truly behind Maroon’s continued torture? Free Maroon Campaign chair Matt Meyer noted, “As someone fortunate enough to have met with President Mandela personally, and in direct contact with South African Archbishop Tutu who remains extremely concerned with the ongoing condition of Russell Maroon Shoatz, it is clear that those in Pennsylvania in positions of power have not taken to heart the most basic human rights issues involved. Mandela always reminded us that the truest test of the legitimacy of a government is how it treats its prisoners. Archbishop Tutu, so well known for his commitment to reconciliation, understands that this set-back, however temporary, reveals that the current government of Pennsylvania has utter disregard for basic decency and the lives of its less well-to-do citizens.”
The Campaign is currently developing strategies in response to this new situation, and reminds supporters that this holiday season is an especially important moment to collect names of clergy, lay people, and community leaders – to add to the Call by the three Nobel Peace laureates who are demanding Maroon’s immediate release (see attached). Names and titles of new signers of this Call should be forwarded to the Campaign (firstname.lastname@example.org) by the end of business day, Friday, January 10, 2014.
Maroon asks that all supporters and friends be sure to “stay vigilant.” As we work to protect our incarcerated elder, let us re-commit ourselves to creative and powerful work in Maroon’s tradition and upholding his legacy – keeping our focus “straight ahead” towards freedom.
** ASK YOUR LOCAL MINISTERS, IMAMS, COMMUNITY LEADERS & OTHERS TO ADD THEIR NAME!!
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound – Isaiah 61:1
Russell Maroon Shoatz, a senior citizen (age 70) and grandfather who currently suffers from impaired vision because of cataracts, was originally imprisoned in January 1972, after years of playing a leading role in the Black freedom movement of his native Philadelphia PA. As was an endemic pattern during the 1960s and 70s, prominent community organizers doing civil and human rights work were prime targets of the FBI’s illegal Counter-Intellience Program, with special focus on Dr. Martin Luther Jr., Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers – which Shoatz was a member of. He has been held for thirty-plus years in solitary confinement. Such “prolonged” solitary confinement is a violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, according to UN Special Rapporteur Juan E. Mendez.In April and May 2013, in the wake of Maroon’s transfer to a different prison, many concerned activists called and wrote letters to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) on his behalf. They received replies suggesting that his transfer to the general prison population was in process. In August, however, Shoatz was transferred once again to a third facility, with no change in the conditions of his confinement.To mark the date of Maroon’s 70th birthday on August 23, 2013, three Nobel laureates – Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, President Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, and Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland – sent a letter to PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel that read, in part: “We affirm, in the strongest possible humanitarian terms, that now is the time for the immediate and unconditional release from solitary confinement and restricted housing of Russell Maroon Shoatz. After decades of solitary confinement – including the past 22 consecutive years – there is no reason for further delay. Continued confinement in 23-hour-a-day isolation is nothing short of torture.”
We, religious and other community leaders, join these three distinguished voices, along with a host of others, calling on the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to release Russell Maroon Shoatz into the general prison population. The time has long since passed. It would be an appropriate step to mark that time of year when we should all attempt, once again, to remind ourselves of our humanity.
National Lawyers Guild – Solitary Confinement and Political Prisoners: The Use of Prison Isolation in Policing Radical Politics. San Juan, Puerto Rico. October 25, 2013.
Moderator: Bret Grote (Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center)
Panelists: Jihad Abdulmumit (Co-chairperson of the National Jericho Movement); Clarissa López Ramos (daughter of Oscar López Rivera); Mumia Abu Jamal by recording (Journalist and Jailhouse Lawyer Vice President of the National Lawyers Guild); Azadeh Zohrabi (Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and member of legal team representing Pelican Bay prisoners).