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 of the Abolitionist Law Center, who also represents the women. “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.