Flashpoint: After 40 years in prison, first member of MOVE 9 is free

Group jailed for 1978 death of Philadelphia police officer

Flashpoint
June 18, 2018 - 9:43 pm
Michael Africa, Jr. and Debbie Sims Africa

Michael Africa, Jr.

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Debbie Sims Africa, a member of the MOVE 9, was released over the weekend after nearly 40 years behind bars for the 1978 shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer.

As KYW Community Affairs reporter Cherri Gregg explains, six of the MOVE 9 are still locked up.

"It was both bitter and sweet," said Sims Africa, who walked out of State Correctional Institution Cambridge Springs on Saturday on parole. "It was kind of unbelievable."

She was eight months pregnant when she began her 30- to 100-year sentence, which was the result of a standoff at MOVE's Powelton Village headquarters. 

The incident that began with police executing a bench warrant for a civil code violation ended in the death of Philadelphia Police Officer James Ramp, who was shot and killed amid gunfire. The MOVE 9 maintained that he was killed by friendly fire, but the group was convicted of third-degree murder.  

The incident that lead to the incarceration of the MOVE 9 took place on Aug. 8, 1978. The incident is said to have increased tension between MOVE, police and the city.  

Seven years later, on May 13, 1985, the City of Philadelphia dropped an incendiary device on the MOVE compound on Osage Avenue, killing 11 people and leaving a neighborhood in shambles.

Sims Africa gave birth to her son, Michael Africa, Jr., while behind bars. At 61, she became the first of nine MOVE members to walk out of prison and saw her son for the first time as a free woman.

"We are getting to know each other. He told me he saw my feet for the first time," she said. "It's surreal."

But six members of the MOVE 9 still remain behind bars. They have all been eligible for parole since 2008. Two members died in prison.

"If I'm out, then they should be out too," Sims Africa said, who added it's unclear why Janet Hollaway Africa and  Janine Phillips Africa were left in prison. The two were denied parole on the same day Debbie Sims Africa was granted.

"My dad was one of her co-defendants — he's still in prison," said Michael Africa, Jr. "We've never had breakfast together — I am not learning things about my mother that babies learned."

Michael Africa, Jr. is now 39 years old.

"I never really gave up," he said. "You just do what you have to do."

He said he'll stand with his mother Tuesday at her first appearance before the press and will work with lawyers and supporters to push for the parole of the remaining members of MOVE 9.

They will hold a press conference Tuesday at the Faith-Immanuel Lutheran Church in East Lansdowne.