[OP-ED] Insights On MOVE – From A Puerto Rican Perspective
Latino shades of Black History Month
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Most descriptions of Philadelphia’s MOVE include the phrase ‘black radical organization’ as if that phrase is part of MOVE’s official name.
Use of that phrase to describe MOVE ignores Carlos Africa – a Puerto Rican.
A MOVE member since the mid-1970s, Carlos joined MOVE a few years after its founding in West Philadelphia. Like all MOVE members --- black, white and brown – Carlos adopted Africa as his last name, dropping his surname Perez.
“There were some Latino males in MOVE early on but they left because police beat them worse than they beat the black MOVE members,” Carlos Africa said during an interview last week.
The interracial character of MOVE, arising from MOVE founder John Africa’s racial equality emphasis, was something that attracted Carlos, who was a late teen when he joined MOVE.
“I never experienced that equal treatment outside of MOVE,” Carlos recalled about his early life in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties section where he encountered racism from white neighbors and brutality from police. “I never thought cops were so vicious. They just beat people…white cops and black cops.”
MOVE’s focus to fight injustice was another attractive element for Carlos who first encountered MOVE members while in a Philadelphia prison convicted for a crime he didn’t commit.
“I was devastated when I was convicted because I didn’t do anything. In prison MOVE members approached me to help them pronounce Spanish words. I started talking to them about their beliefs. The teachings of our founder John Africa got a hold on me.”
While MOVE’s philosophy had profound mental impacts on Carlos Africa, his embracement of MOVE produced other extraordinary effects. The depression and epilepsy he’d suffered disappeared.
“I’m 60-years-old now and since I joined MOVE I’ve never had another seizure. I had to be hospitalized for seizures when I was young.”
The police brutality and other justice system injustice Carlos experienced as a teen escalated sharply after he became a MOVE member, inclusive of more police beatings and more prison time.
Shortly after his release from prison in spring 1977 Carlos participated in the bitter stand off between MOVE and police that erupted when MOVE confronted cops over brutality.
That 1977 stand off triggered the August 1978 shoot-out that left a policeman dead.
Carlos was ensnared in the 1978 incident after city officials illegally slapped arrest warrants of him and some other MOVE members even though those members had not violated terms of the agreement that ended the 1977 stand off.
That 1978 shoot-out led to the horrific May 1985 police bombing that left 11 MOVE members dead (including five children) and 61 homes destroyed.
Pennsylvania authorizes paroled Carlos for his conviction arising from that 1977 stand off but did surprisingly not require him to renounce all connection with MOVE.
Authorities routinely require MOVE members to renounce MOVE membership to receive parole.
That First Amendment right violating demand has blocked parole for MOVE members convicted for that 1978 shoot-out…more unjust persecution of MOVE.
“We will keep pressure on the government,” Carlos said.