Listen to the whole conversation with Mike Africa Jr. about his campaign to free Mumia Abu-Jamal in the first episode of Avaşîn Podcast, hosted by journalist and author Fréderike Geerdink.
Mike Africa Jr. is the Lead Strategic Organiser of the campaign to free Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia Abu-Jamal is a journalist and activist who has been incarcerated in the US since 1982 for a murder he did not commit. Mumia’s publications about the prison system in the US have made him a respected political thinker. Mike Africa Jr.’s campaign for his release literally goes back to the day Mike was born, in 1978. During last year of the huge Black Lives Matter demonstrations, he would always carry a Free Mumia flag.
How did you become involved in the campaign to free Mumia Abu-Jamal?
‘The reason I support this campaign is simple. When my family was targeted by the Philadelphia corrupt government, police, and racist mayor, Mumia Abu-Jamal was a journalist that was speaking out, that was covering the story of my family. And he told the truth. So I think that it’s only right, it’s only fair, that in his time of need, I support him the way he supported my family.’
Can you tell us more about what happened to your family?
‘My family was taking a stand against injustice in the 1970s. My great uncle John Africa founded the MOVE organisation whose mission is to protect life, so people, animals and the environment, and to encourage other people to protect life too. So when John Africa would be talking to people about injustice in the system, how the air is polluted, the water is polluted, life has been abused and animals are used as slaves in circuses and zoos. Our family was under attack because these institutions that house these animals and that steal these animals from Africa and bring them over to Philadelphia to a zoo and make money doing this, so these institutions and circuses and the police, they attacked MOVE. My parents were among two of those people they attacked on August 8 1978. Hundreds of police officers came to our house, the fire department, they raided the house, they shot at the people, and in the shooting, a cop was killed. And of course the police blamed the murder of the cop on MOVE, and on my parents. During the time that MOVE was on trial, Mumia covered the trial, he reported on the trial and what was happening with the MOVE members. The city, the authorities didn’t want Mumia to report that way. So he became a target too.’
In the documentary “40 Years A Prisoner” you are the lead character. Can you tell us what happened after all these events in 1978?
‘People should definitely check out the award-winning film “40 Years A Prisoner”. It’s on HBO Max right now, produced and directed by the amazing Tommy Oliver. It’s about the history of MOVE and my quest to free my parents.
When my family was arrested in 1978, my mother was almost eight months pregnant with me. I was born in a jail cell shortly after. Obviously, you’re not born knowing what’s going on in the world, but I was taught by MOVE members and my family the story and the history of my family, and the struggle that they endured. As I got older, I mean 13, 14 years old, I decided to get involved in trying to help. It took a long time to finally get there, but my work to bring the MOVE Nine [his parents and seven other convicted members of the group] home was a long, long haul where we had to meet with a lot of people, talk to people, travel the world. We tried to bring awareness of the MOVE organisation itself but also we definitely talked about those members in prison and their struggle for freedom. They were put in prison unjustly. We fought for them to get home. Eventually, my mother was freed in 2018, and my father four months later. It wasn’t an easy struggle. I was born in jail, I grew up without my parents, and fortunately for me I had a good community around me. I had my grandmother, I had MOVE members, a lot of good people that supported me, helped me, nurtured me to become the person that I am. I also had my parents, even though they were in prison they were a huge influence on me to be a good person, and they nurtured the goodness that I have in me. For forty years we struggled.’
Has Mumia Abu-Jamal always been a part of that struggle?
‘I have never said ‘Free the MOVE Nine’ without saying ‘Free Mumia’ too. When I started learning… you know, just because you are born into the family, doesn’t mean you know all the information. I travelled the country with one of the MOVE members, and while she would be talking to these audiences, these college students in lecture halls and community activists about the history of MOVE, and while they would be learning about the history, I was learning about it too.’
‘America makes a lot of money by keeping people in prison. As John Africa was saying, prisons are modern day slavery. That needs to change. A lot of things need to change. The police kill a lot of people and they have to stop doing that. There is a whole lot of racism. And instead of talking about war and instead of spreading this idea that war is to be glorified, I think we need to be talking more about peace and love. So, the fight is never ending.”
So, if Mumia is released, the struggle isn’t over, right?
“No, it just means the struggle for Mumia is over.”
Mike Africa Jr. has a podcast too.