Debbie Africa, 61, a member of the so-called “MOVE 9,” nine defendants who all got life in prison for a Philly cop’s murder, was recently paroled after serving 40 years of a life sentence, family and supporters announced.
Africa, who is scheduled to make a public appearance at a church in East Landsdowne on Tuesday, was granted parole on June 16. She is the first member of the MOVE 9 to be freed. Two other female MOVE members up for parole, were denied. DA Larry Krasner’s office submitted letters in support of all of them.
She and eight other members of MOVE, a controversial black liberation group that some say was a militant cult, were involved in a 1978 stand-off and shootout with police who were there to evict them from a Powelton Village home they were illegally occupying.
Philly cop James Ramp was killed during the stand-off. Several police and firefighters were injured. The MOVE 9 were all later convicted of third-degree homicide for Ramp’s death.
The entire event preceded the more infamous 1985 stand-off outside a Cobbs Creek house on Osage Avenue, which ended with police bombing MOVE’s house, killing 11, including five children, and 65 houses in the neighborhood were destroyed by the subsequent conflagration.
The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole granted parole for Africa, born Debbie Sims, citing her “acceptance of responsibility,” “remorse,” and her statement that she “should have listened to police and surrendered peacefully rather than resisting.”
The board also cited Africa’s “promise that you would not be involved in any kind of demonstrations or any social justice issues that are not peaceful,” and a letter of support from the Philadelphia DA’s office.
“While Ms. Sims Africa’s crimes were very serious, her continued incarceration does not make our city safer,” First Assistant District Attorney Carolyn Engel Temin wrote the PBPP. “I am confident that she will not pose a threat to the Philadelphia community to which she wishes to return.”
Six members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated. Two previously died in prison. Sentenced to 30 to 100 years, they have been eligible for parole since 2008.
Janet and Janine Africa also had parole hearings in May, but were denied. They will have new parole hearings in May 2019.
“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 Africa said in a statement.
Notably, Janet and Jeanine Africa’s parole rejection letters mention part of the reason for their denial being “opposition from the prosecuting attorney.” But Temin had also written letters in support of each of them, as well, the D.A.’s office confirmed. The PBPP declined to comment on the discrepancy, saying parole applicant records and reports are private and confidential.