After 40 years, Debbie Africa has been released from Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution Cambridge Springs, the first of the infamous MOVE Nine to be paroled. Founded in 1972, the Philadelphia-based Black liberation group drew national attention after a stand-off with the Philadelphia Police Department in 1978 — resulting in the death of Officer James J. Ramp and Africa’s subsequent conviction along with eight others.
In 1977, the Philadelphia Police Department received a court order allowing them to enforce a vacate notice at the MOVE living quarters. A year later police made a move to forcibly remove any remaining members, with members fleeing to the basement as shots rang out around them.
“The cops testified that the men had guns, but none of the nine of us have weapon charges,” she said.
When the smoke had cleared Officer Ramp was dead. The MOVE members charged insisted that Ramp had been killed by friendly fire, and none of the weapons recovered from the group were operable. Still, after nearly 40 years Africa is the first to see freedom again.
Her parole is bittersweet, with Africa left feeling helpless at leaving the others, women she has spent nearly 40 years of her life behind bars with, behind. “Although I felt excited and overwhelmed and happy, I still felt incomplete, because I left prison and my sisters Janine and Janet didn’t,” Africa told the Philadelphia Inquirer.