What is the Truth about What Happened to “Life Africa”?
There are a few things that every MOVE adherent just “knows.” They “know” that MOVE founder John Africa’s words are not to be questioned. They “know” that the “system” is evil and that they alone are the “vanguard” of the revolution to overthrow this malevolent force. They “know” that anyone who leaves MOVE must do so under threats from the government.
They also “know” that on a March night nearly 30 years ago, the Philadelphia Police Department killed three week old “Life Africa” during a police inspired melee at MOVE headquarters.
The story of “Life’s” death, much like that of the May 13th, 1985, “bombing” of MOVE, and the 1978 police assault on MOVE headquarters, has been become an integral part of MOVE’s marketing strategy of victimization.
The cult of death is also, out of necessity, a cult of martyrdom.
The bottom line is that without constant stories of abuse, coercion, and government sponsored death, there is nothing that remains of MOVE. That is except a backwards ideology, an ideology that most MOVE members don’t even bother to adhere to.
The tale of what happened to “Life” is terrible no matter how you cut it. The death of a child, particularly one so young to an act of violence, is, well... almost beyond words.
Perhaps the only thing that could possibly compound the tragedy would be to exploit it, to lie about it, and to use it as cheap boilerplate propaganda for political gain.
But who would be so cynical and depraved to use the death of a tiny baby to further its agenda?
It seems that MOVE would.
The official MOVE version of what happened on March 28, 1976, from its publication “25 Years on the MOVE” is as follows:
"On March 28, 1976, seven jailed MOVE members were released late in the evening and arrived home after midnight. Officers in at least ten police cars and wagons pulled up in front of the 33rd Street house and said MOVE was creating a disturbance. When Chuck Africa told police to leave MOVE alone, officer Daniel Palermo grabbed him and began to beat him as other cops pulled out night sticks and set upon MOVE members. Six MOVE men were arrested and beaten so viciously they suffered fractured skulls, concussions and chipped bones. Robert Africa was struck over the head with a nightstick that broke in two from the force of the blow. Janine Africa was trying to protect her husband Phil Africa, when she was grabbed by a cop, thrown to the ground with 3-week-old Life Africa in arms, and stomped until she was nearly unconscious. The baby's skull was crushed.
The next morning, MOVE notified the media that the police had brutally attacked them and that a baby had been murdered. An officer's hat and the broken nightstick were displayed outside MOVE headquarters. Police denied that any beatings took place or that a baby was killed and claimed that the baby probably never existed because there was no birth certificate. They then arrested the member who had shown the hat and nightstick to the press, on charges of receiving stolen property. To prove the death to a skeptical media, MOVE invited the press and local politicians to dinner at their headquarters. Those accepting the invitation included city councilmen Joseph Coleman and Lucien Blackwell, and Blackwell's wife, Jannie. After the meal, the guests were shown the baby's body.”
One could find plenty of problems within the above narrative. The problem that I have is the one that came about when I took the time to actually investigate it.
According to a former MOVE member, the child did not die at the hands of cruel cops on a mission to kill MOVE babies. The child’s skull was not crushed by jack booted thugs. According to a former MOVE member, the child died of natural causes.
Former MOVE member, Valerie Brown, speaking through her attorney, had this to say about the incident:
“The child died of natural causes that might not have occurred had MOVE believed in modern medicine, and they used it for political purposes against the police. Propaganda."
Brown made the comments about the death of Life Africa just after the May 13th catastrophe on Osage Avenue. That is not all that she had to say. She also claimed that John Africa had threatened to kill all of the children in MOVE headquarters if the police had stormed the house back in 1976.
So much for John Africa’s dedication to protecting life.
Brown also remarked about the “meetings” that MOVE members would have on one another as a mechanism of control. Echoing the sentiments of numerous other former MOVE adherents (myself included), Brown summarized that the MOVE interventions were:
"good at demoralizing you and they stripped your defenses, then they hugged you and tried to build you back up."
In early 1981, Brown decided that the life of MOVE was not the life that she wanted for herself and her two young daughters. So early one morning, she slipped away from the MOVE house on Osage Avenue, never to return.
She spoke out after the May 13th tragedy because she wanted people to know that she had moved on from the group that had sparked the chaos on Osage Avenue and because she wanted people to know the truth about the group that she had so long been a part of. It is clear that she wanted to purge her conscience of the deception surrounding the death of “Life Africa,” to let people know how ruthless and indifferent to the lives of their own children that MOVE could be.
Now I am guessing that someone reading this might question my motives in dredging up the death of an infant that occurred nearly three decades ago. To them, I would point out that the death of this child was the catalyst for MOVE’s more militant stance against authorities. This position that MOVE took led directly to the 1978 incident, which led directly to the 1985 confrontation, which leads us to the MOVE Organization of today. To understand any hermetic and dangerous cult, you must understand the lies that drive them and the mythology that propels their divorce from reality.
There needs to be a balance of information readily available to people whose interest is peeked by MOVE. When I came around the group, the most updated details about the history and mythology of MOVE from authors independent of police sources was scarce, if not non-existent. Had such relevant information been available, my decision to get involved with such a group would, quite possibly have been averted.
The sad, but true, fact about those who are interested in MOVE is that they do not research further their causes and interest much more then what is a free mouse click away. Now, they can have this access that has come at an expense of time, finances, and security to me, without having to pay this price themselves. It is my gift to the unknowing.