Long live John Africa. On the MOVE, y’all. Sister Mona asked that I speak on two issues: Rochester, New York and the John Africa trial. So, what Mona wants, Mona gets, right?
It was spring 1981 when MOVE members got busted on federal charges stemming from the move confrontation of August 8th, 1978, Philadelphia. MOVE supporter Abdul John and I talked to editors of the Philadelphia Tribune, and both of us were sent to cover the story: I, the writer, he, the photographer. Coming from Philadelphia, we didn’t know what to expect when we got to this Northern New York city. If memory serves, the main MOVE house was on Flint street in the heart of a neat middle-class and working-class Black community.
Remember all the hubbub about MOVE folks and their neighbors in West Philly? None of this existed in Rochester. None of it. Here, MOVE members did exactly as they did in Philadelphia. They lived together as a commune, they worked at jobs, they ran around the block and so on. Some men cut their hair and many changed their names, but that was just sensible, right?
When Abdul and I interviewed neighbors, we were shocked that they had never heard of MOVE nor John Africa. One neighbor, an elderly man, learning that his neighbor Bill got arrested, almost shed tears. For he said Bill took care of his dog and he, himself, when he was hungry. For Bill brought him food to eat. Bill was John Africa.
MOVE members, living underground in Rochester, lived a life of peace that was unthinkable in Philadelphia. I wondered why, then it dawned on me: they lived out of the eye of a merciless media. Absent the zone of negativity by the media, people met MOVE as people and loved them. I learned a lot about the media in Rochester, New York.
The Trial. MOVE members made leaflets, calling the trial against Vinny and Mo Africa: “John Africa versus the system.” It looked like this was a trial that the system was bound to win. The trial in federal court featured US marshals rolling a large wooden dolly into the courtroom every morning, where the barrels of a half dozen rifles could be seen, as well as several gallon sized milk containers filled with black powder and explosives, or so they said, every day.
John Africa ordered his lawyers to not object to anything. Mo Africa conducted the examination of witnesses, and John Africa leaned back in his chair and slept through much of the trial. He awoke to give a booming closing argument that explained some of MOVE’s beliefs, but also denied that MOVE believed in bombs, but the system did. It’s been 30 years, so I can’t remember how long he spoke. An hour? Two hours? Two and a half hours? It didn’t matter. I expected guilty for both guys. Guilty, guilty, guilty, and 30 or 40 or 50 years sentences.
Well, the jury came back several days later and acquitted both men. I was dumbfounded. So were the prosecutors, so was everybody except, perhaps, John Africa.
From Imprisoned Nation, this is your brother, Mumia Abu-Jamal. Long live John Africa.
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.