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 unwittingly pay for that persecution.
The 40-years of unjust, revenge-driven imprisonment endured by this trio imposed incalculable emotional/physical costs on their lives and it 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 $1.7-million, based on computation that utilized the 2008 Pa state prison system per inmate/ per year cost.
However, the actual incarceration cost for that trio during that 11-year period is higher because the per inmate/per year cost rose steadily by thousands of dollars annually between 2008 and 2019 according to Pennsylvania Department of Corrections data.
Expensive insidious persecution?
Consider that Pennsylvania Parole Board members once denied parole to one member of this trio demanding he 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 officers ever convicted of brutality or other criminal offenses. During that press conference Eddie, Janet and Janine recounted beatings and other deprivations they endured, 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 surrendering, unarmed Delbert Africa because a Philadelphia judge used an unusual legal maneuver to free those police.
During the lengthy non-jury MOVE 9 trial, police testified that only the five MOVE 9 males had rifles on August 8, 1978. Philadelphia Police Department officials initially denied that any police had the same type of rifle as the MOVE members. Police later changed that account stating a few officers did have the same type of rifle as the MOVE men. But police then claimed those officers did not fire those rifles during the shootout. Evidence indicates police ‘friendly fire’ felled Officer Ramp.
The four MOVE women convicted for the August 8th shootout did not have guns, authorities readily admitted.
But the judge that convicted the MOVE 9 sentenced those unarmed women as if they were shooters. That trial judge publicly declared he gave all MOVE 9 members the same sentence because they entered his courtroom as “a family” and he sentenced them “as a family.” That perverse judicial posture of ‘family-based’ sentencing contradicted the professed U.S. justice system principle of punishment fitting the crime.
Ironically, the harsh sentences slapped on the MOVE 9 failed in its punitive purpose of breaking the ‘spirit’ of the 9 and decimating MOVE as an organization.
Janet, Janine and Eddie said they used their prison time to share the teachings of MOVE, garnering respect from other inmates and prison staff.
“Putting us in prison gave us an opportunity to work with people we would never have encountered,” Janet Africa said during the press conference. “We worked to ease racial tensions in prisons, prevent suicides and help people get their lives in order. Staff told us we were honest, hard-working people.”
The arrest and conviction of the MOVE 9 unleashed a chain of events that culminated in the horrific May 13, 1985 Philadelphia police assault on a row house occupied by MOVE members. That assault included a bomb dropped on MOVE by a police helicopter – America’s first aerial bombing by police in an urban area.
Police used the fire sparked by that bomb as a ‘tactical weapon’ to force MOVE members barricaded inside that house to surrender. But police gunfire drove fleeing MOVE members back into that raging inferno, investigators determined. That assault killed 11 MOVE members and destroyed 61 homes.
Costs related to that destructive 1985 assault drained Philadelphia taxpayers of more than $50-million dollars.
The deadly devastation from May 1985 assault produced no charges against Philadelphia police personnel or City authorities. Yet, the only MOVE member who managed to escape that May 13th bombing/burning – Ramona Africa – landed in prison for seven years.
The 11 MOVE members incinerated during that May 1985 assault included five children, two of whom were children of the then incarcerated Janet and Janine.
“There are a lot of political prisoners left behind bars,” Janine Africa said.
“We will continue to fight for their release,” she continue.
Janine Africa specifically referenced Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Philadelphia journalist whose coverage of the MOVE in the late 1970’s contributed to his controversial 1982 conviction for killing a policeman.
Abu-Jamal, who’s authored several books and hundreds of commentaries while incarcerated, is going blind due to complications arising from inadequate medical care by Pa prison authorities.