Hero of the movement Romaine ‘Chip’ Fitzgerald bids farewell

“Free All Political Prisoners” must not be an empty threat. Let all who call themselves freedom fighters fight harder for the release of the last few heroes known as political prisoners who remain caged merely because they were members or close associates of the Black Panther Party. Memories of the BPP will inspire us to succeed. It’s about time!

written on behalf of the Family and Committee to Free Chip

On Sunday, March 28, 2021, at 3:04 p.m., our brother, uncle, cousin, comrade and friend, Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald, joined the ancestors. For a week, he lay barely conscious in a Los Angeles hospital as he struggled to extend his life after suffering a massive stroke in California’s gulag known as Lancaster. 

Chip’s strength and dedication to life remained intact as he defied those doctors who said he would not make it through the night in the hours after his initial arrival at the hospital. A stalwart soldier, he fought until his very last breath. Chip died as he had lived: fighting.

Democracy Now! announced Chip’s passing with this photo and these words: “Romaine ‘Chip’ Fitzgerald has died in prison after being locked up for over 51 years in California. He was the longest-imprisoned member of the Black Panther Party. For decades, authorities in California refused to grant him parole, even after he had a stroke and was forced to use a wheelchair or walker. Fitzgerald was 71 years old.”

Among the government’s many victims, Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald was a member of the Black Panther Party in Los Angeles. Incarcerated since 1969, he grew old in prison and was disabled many years ago by an earlier, less lethal stroke. Like millions of Black youth during the ‘60s, Chip, at the age of 17, joined the freedom struggle as the social justice movement rapidly expanded to include massive numbers of urban youth. 

The government’s conduct towards Chip proves that important elements of our society are guided by an irrational tradition that values vengeance over justice or reconciliation. This failure demonstrates the nation’s unwillingness to fully acknowledge historic wrongs perpetrated against Black Americans.

For us, the living, Chip’s passing is a lesson to keep fighting the good fight.

Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald was a social justice activist, and it is inhumane to imprison activists for 50 years or more, particularly while others convicted of comparable crimes have served significantly less time. A closer look reveals the only differences between those serving shorter sentences and those serving longer ones are the political beliefs and affiliations some had with social justice groups like the Black Panther Party.

Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), Romain “Chip” Fitzgerald and Warren Wells enjoy a sunny day on the San Quentin yard. All have now joined the Ancestors. 

Chip never compromised, though he continued to the end to seek redress for this egregious wrong by working with his lawyer, family and defense committees to end his half century nightmare of a slow death behind bars. 

This is the most recent portrait of Chip.

For us, the living, Chip’s passing is a lesson to keep fighting the good fight. To give when perhaps it’s hard to give. And to live when perhaps life seems so empty. Chip’s life did not leave us without a clear message. During his final days in the hospital, the authorities felt the need to chain and shackle Chip to his bed. Despite the fact that he was hardly conscious, they saw this demeaning action as necessary. 

What they failed to understand is that you can neither jail nor shackle the spirit of liberation. May we all aspire to leave this same impression of daring to struggle until our last breath. And may Chip’s stalwart example give us the courage to dare to win.

All Power to the People!

Free All Political Prisoners!

A service is being planned which may be in a month or so due to COVID, followed by a memorial. We want to also thank the many thousands who put their voices together to free Brother Chip.

Upon my release

by Romaine ‘Chip’ Fitzgerald

Here, Chip left us his dream of the life he would live as a free man.

I will welcome the warmth and laughter of my grandchildren. I look forward to their hugs and smiles. I will be the Grandpa present to soothe them through occasional scrapes after they show me their somersaults and expert bike riding maneuvers.

Chip in 1996

I will have the chance to witness numerous bird species and listen to their songs. I’ll hope for a rain to nourish the vegetables and flowers I planted days before, just as my mother used to do, and reach for the rainbow stretching across the sky after the rain. I will feel the mist on my face and rejoice.

I will experience the waves of the ocean reflecting the moon filled sky and the cozy breeze and graceful winds upon my skin. I will be outside in nature’s healing environment as it soothes and comforts my body, allowing my age filled bones to heal and rejuvenate in ways lost for most of my life. 

At the end of the evening, I will look forward to a soft bed and sinking my head into fluffy pillows as I curl up in soft covers and dream sweet dreams knowing I will awake to a new day of freedom.

I will have my eyes dazzled by the spectrum of radiant colors that only a city can sparkle. I look forward to enjoying the sights from a car window, recognizing the aroma of the city’s possessions all converging together.

Dominique DiPrima holds a poster of Chip as she advocates for his freedom during a gathering of his supporters at Kaos Network in Los Angeles on June 28, 2008. Dominique, the daughter of poet Diane DiPrima, has hosted the morning show, called The Front Page, on Stevie Wonder’s Radio Free 102.3 KJLH since 2005.

I hope to share love and laughter, the joys and hardships of life with a special woman. We will lift each other’s hearts as equals to face a brighter tomorrow.

I will continue to appreciate the love and challenges of family. I imagine our dialogue will include our sense of community, our country, the world, our contributions and help to our neighborhoods and, of course, sharing my personal sorrows and hope. 

In this recent photo, Chip is flanked by two men who, as suggested by one source, may be his brothers.

I will lead by example with spontaneous acts of love, compassion and kindness, thereby demonstrating my belief in the transformation of others. I will enjoy volunteering in preschools and/or visiting the elderly in convalescent hospitals.

I will always give special devotion to finding peace and moving full speed to overcome the damaging impact associated with the daily screams of terror and absence of dignity that have engulfed my prison environment.

Photos of prisoners are rare and precious. This one, undated, shows that even years ago, Chip had been caged far too long.

Most of all, I will be dedicated to the journey and opportunity of spending my remaining life giving. Giving of myself to achieve the many treasures of what it means to be a valued human being: embracing freedom.

Bruce Richard is Chairman of the Committee to Free Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald. Feel free to email him at brucer@1199.org. Questions and comments may be sent to info@freedomarchives.org.

Michelle Alexander, Danny Glover and 70 more urge Gov. Newsom to release Chip Fitzgerald

Chip was long ago recognized as a political prisoner by the Jericho Movement.

To: Gov. Gavin Newsom, 1303 10th St., Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: Romaine Fitzgerald (B-27527)

Dear Gov. Newsom:

We are writing in support of Mr. Romaine Fitzgerald’s (B-27527) petition for release. He is now 71 years old and has been incarcerated for over 51 years. He has demonstrated deep remorse for his actions and is no longer the person that he was a half a century ago. In the interest of justice, I entreat you to grant his release.

I am fully aware of the serious nature of Romaine’s offenses, committed in 1969 when he was still an adolescent. As a result of important medical advances, the world knows far more today about the functioning of the adolescent brain than it did 50 years ago. Numerous studies have proven that young people between the ages of 10 and 26 possess immature brains that make them prone to unreasonable risk-taking. Research also shows that the adolescent brain lacks the ability to engage in substantive forethought. These facts are borne out by the disproportionate number of young people who comprise the bulk of the world’s jail and prison populations.

This photo of Chip was taken in around 2018.

It is also important to acknowledge the reality of our nation’s history. The 1960s represent one of the most tumultuous eras of our national development. Most observers would agree that the racial progress that resulted from that decade’s upheavals represents welcome additions to our vibrant democracy. It is unfortunate, indeed lamentable, that some young people who sought to contribute to positive social change engaged in activities that we all agree were both unwise and harmful. While Romaine can be counted among these well-meaning but misguided youths, nothing is gained by keeping him locked in a cage as an elderly man.

Scores of other prisoners convicted of the same offense as Romaine during the same period (circa 1969) have since been paroled. There is no logical, justifiable or legal reason to continue to incarcerate Romaine, an elderly stroke victim who often requires the use of a wheelchair. I implore you to do justice in this case by granting Romaine’s release.

Sincerely, 

Michelle Alexander

Danny Glover

Seventy leading academics, attorneys, educators, activists and organizers added their names to this letter. See the list and learn more about Chip at https://www.freedom4chip.org/open-letter-to-governor-newsom