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An Open Letter to CA Governor asking for the release of Romaine ‘Chip’ Fitzgerald

By Michelle Alexander and Danny Glover


We are writing in support of Mr. Romaine Fitzgerald’s (B-27527) petition for release. He is now 70 years old and has been incarcerated for over 50 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 a teenager. As a result of important medical advances, the world knows far more today about the functioning of the teenage brain than it did fifty years ago. Numerous studies have proven that the teenage brain is not mature, is prone to unreasonable risk-taking and 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.

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 represent 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.

Michelle Alexander

Danny Glover


Sign the Petition HERE!

For More Information about Chip

Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald, California’s longest serving Black Panther, still incarcerated

Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald, California’s longest serving Black Panther, still incarcerated

A young Chip Fitzgerald. |

Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald, a former member of the Black Panther Party, has served 50 years within the California State Department of Corrections. He is the longest-incarcerated Black Panther in U.S. history. Fitzgerald entered the state prison as a young man when he was in his teens. He is now 70 years old and a great-grandfather. He suffered a stroke, is in ill health, and gets around with the use of a cane and a wheelchair, if and when he can. It is clear he is no longer a risk to society. So why is Chip Fitzgerald still in prison?

A recent photo of Chip Fitzgerald. |

Community members are asking just that. Many other prisoners have been released who had similar sentences. Yet Chip remains in prison. Why? Friends and family members have set out to free Chip Fitzgerald with the sole purpose of getting information out about his circumstances and getting to the bottom of why he is still incarcerated while others walk free. Petition signature gathering, community presentations, letters, and direct appeals to the State Board of Parole and governor have been organized. But time is running out.

In the turbulent 1960s, the Black Panther Party was being organized in cities throughout the country. Fitzgerald was one of many young Black men interested in participating in this new community organization. In this time of anti-war protest and inner-city riots, Chip, like many others, turned to the Black Panther Party for answers and looked up to its founders as role models. This decision shaped his life.

Chip grew up in the Watts and Compton areas, in the community that was known as South Central Los Angeles (now more often called South Los Angeles). Along with many Black men and women, and influenced by the civil rights movement, he became interested in the activities of the Panthers. At the time, the BPP had a community empowerment program. This is important because there is a need to understand the significance of what the party meant to the community. It provided an outlet to express anger over the mistreatment of Blacks in the past and a way to stand up to the status quo. It was an empowering movement that for the first time allowed Black men and women to have a voice.

Chip would later become involved in the Panthers’ community breakfast program. He was committed to the party. Nothing like this was ever developed in the Black community, by the community. However, it was no secret that COINTELPRO and the FBI sought to destroy the Black Panthers. Chip Fitzgerald was one of those who got caught up in the movement of the time, for which any paid a heavy price.

On a breezy, hot summer night in 1969, three young Black Panther members were driving down the streets of South Central L.A. A bright red light shined in the rearview of their car. The car was pulled over. The sweltering heat made the men sweat even more. Each one knew that the Black Panthers were not welcomed by any of the police authorities. But they were not about to give an inch to what they considered an oppressive police force.

A tense situation was about to unfold. A California Highway Patrol officer walked up to the car. The men inside complied with all the police demands. Shouting began. Something wrong happened. Within a few minutes, a struggle took over the streets. No one really knows what happened that night. There was, of course, the Highway Patrol version and the Black Panther version. But whatever happened, the situation turned violent. Within a very short time span, Chip was wounded, as was the officer in brief shootout. Chip escaped but was arrested weeks later. The two others in the car also escaped but were later captured. According to the police, the car was stopped because it had a broken taillight.

Chip Fitzgerald on the cover of the Black Panther Party’s newspaper.

Upon his arrest, Chip pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempted murder of a CHP officer. But there was something else in play against Chip. During the days before his arrest, Chip was accused of being involved in the death of a security guard. Although the evidence against him was weak, and Chip has denied any involvement, he was still convicted and sentenced to death. Chip, however, never gave up on his principles of struggle and due process.

Though Chip was sentenced to death, the California Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty in 1972. He and others on Death Row had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole, but he has been denied parole over a dozen times.

During his 50 years of confinement, he’s been housed at every major California prison. He was recently moved from R. J. Donovan Correctional Facility San Diego and returned to Lancaster State Prison.

The system in which Chip has served time is no country club. Chip has served many years in what is considered a maximum-security prison. The infamous Security/Special Housing Unit where he was once housed is known as a mental and physical torture chamber. It was meant to degrade and break inmates. In the main population, inmate on inmate violence often occurred. Prison guards also commonly inflicted violence on inmates. Conditions were so bad that the entire California prison system in 2006 was placed under federal receivership because the state failed to provide a constitutional level of medical care.

Chip Fitzgerald has survived under some very harsh conditions. No one claims that Chip is a saint, but neither is he an evil man. He has continued to say he has remorse but not in a begging way or pleading forgiveness. He only seeks due process for release and says he is not a menace to society. Chip’s parents’ dying wish was to see Romaine free, but they both passed with this wish unfulfilled. Romaine has one son, eight grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and 15 nephews and nieces whom he seeks to be united with.

One of many appeals written on behalf of Chip Fitzgerald to the governor states: “Scores of other prisoners convicted of the same offenses as Romaine at around the same time (1969) have since been paroled. There is no logical reason, justifiable or legal reason to continue to incarcerate Romaine….”

So why is Romaine Chip Fitzgerald still in prison? Many believe that he is still in prison due to his past political beliefs and activism as a member of the Black Panther Party some 50 years ago.

To learn more, go to:




Prisoners, mass incarceration and freedom

by Valerie Haynes

Who are prisoners?

A prisoner can be someone’s father, grandfather, mother, brother, sister or child. It could be you – though you’re more likely to be a prisoner if you’re Black, another person of color, or poor. Under the 13th Amendment, if you’re a prisoner in the U.S., you’re a slave – which is against international law because slavery has long been outlawed worldwide.

Why are so many Blacks and others of color in U.S. prisons?

There were very few Blacks in prison when we were slaves. That’s because the majority of Black men, women and children were already imprisoned on plantations at the time as slaves for life.

Now that we’re supposedly free, Blacks have become the majority of the U.S. prison population. And that is because the free labor of Black slaves built this country into a profitable, prosperous enterprise for whites who are trying to keep it that way.

The Civil War ended slavery and replaced it with segregation, but slavery’s racist, imperialist core still drives U.S. ambitions today. Thus, at slavery’s end we see white slave patrols morph into a white police force, and segregation’s laws, Black Codes, white judges, juries and police force morph into a rudimentary criminal in-justice system.

Blacks began to be arrested for everything, from refusing to sign slave-like work contracts to looking the wrong way at some white man. Black prison rates shot up from 0 to 33 percent. Most arrests were due to sundry attempts to force Blacks to work for free (slavery) or for nearly free (servitude) and always at cheaper wages than whites, who were the main beneficiaries of cheaper Black labor.

This meant higher white profits. So, the reason so many Blacks are in prison is ultimately due to their resistance, in one way or another, to being re-enslaved – at which point the real criminal is brought into the dispute and the innocent Black is shipped off to prison.

Segregation and civil rights       

The Civil Rights Movement (CRM), along with the NAACP and Thurgood Marshall, defeated legal (de jure) segregation when the 1954 Supreme Court outlawed school segregation. Though the actual practice of (de facto) segregation continued, the ruling did open the door to attacks on segregation in general.

Enter Rosa Parks, MLK Jr., SCLC and the Montgomery Bus Boycott into the CRM, which ran strong, broke much ground, won many victories, suffered its share of setbacks and was eventually eclipsed by the Black Liberation Movement (BLM) in the latter half of the 1960s.

Now that we’re supposedly free, Blacks have become the majority of the U.S. prison population. And that is because the free labor of Black slaves built this country into a profitable, prosperous enterprise for whites who are trying to keep it that way.

The BLM and ‘serving the people’

The Black Liberation Movement: Black Panthers Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, Lumumba Shakur, Sekou Odinga; Assata, Afeni, Mutulu (RNA) and Zayd Shakur; Sundiata Acoli. Plus the various contributing movements: Puerto Rican (FLN), American Indian Movement (AIM), Weather Underground Organization (WUO, a white anti-imperialist group), Chicano Liberation Front, and I WOR KUEN, an Asian group.

The Panthers were about “Serving the People: Free Breakfast for School Children,” helping people solve their day to day problems and fighting for control of the institutions in their communities, like schools, hospitals and medical clinics. The Panthers had very good community support, particularly among the youth, other people of color, other liberation movements, progressives, the poor and other oppressed who wanted liberation.

COINTELPRO defeats the BLM

In response to the BLM’s growing support in the community and solidarity with other liberation movements, the U.S. government launched a Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) against the Panthers and defeated them. The Nation of Islam was attacked by COINTELPRO and survived. Other domestic liberation groups were attacked; some survived, some didn’t. Others just melted away. Some of today’s aged prisoners are among those who fell during COINTELPRO’s attack on the BLM in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Crack and the mass prison-building spree     

The defeat of the BLM was followed immediately by the flooding of communities of color with more drugs: heroin, cocaine and the new drug of the Reagan era – crack. While inundating urban Black and Brown centers with crack, the government was quietly conducting mass prison-building sprees in white rural mountainous and other remote areas to provide jobs for local citizens and cells for the coming prisoners of the “crack scourge.”

War on Blacks and mass incarceration

Then came the “War on Blacks,” others of color and the poor disguised as the “War on Drugs,” or “War on Crime.” Strategies included the 100-to-1 “crack” cocaine (associated mostly with Blacks) vs. “powder” cocaine (associated mostly with whites) sentencing disparity; no more parole (one had to complete 85 percent of a sentence); Bill Clinton’s 50 new “Tough on Crime” death penalty offenses; “three strikes” life sentence for stealing a candy bar; life without parole (LWOP) sentence for “acquitted conduct,” where the jury acquits the defendant but the judge overrules and sentences “acquitted” defendant to LWOP anyway.

The Black community was targeted for constant patrols, higher arrest quotas, zero-tolerance crime enforcement, disproportionate stop and frisk and shoot and kill, harsher charges filed, higher bonds set, longer sentences given out, more paroles denied or revoked – more prison for Blacks than whites.

Equalizing crack and powder cocaine sentences

Colleagues of Congressional Black Congresswoman (CBC) Maxine Waters admitted to her that the current drug laws were often excessively unfair when applied to Blacks, others of color, poor and oppressed. Other CBC colleagues pled with the organization to bear with them until they could pass adequate sentence reduction laws. Congress passed laws that reduced sentences and freed large-scale marijuana growers and methamphetamine manufacturers (crimes usually associated with whites) as people of color patiently waited year after year for the 100-to-1 crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity to be equalized.

Finally came the day! C-Span televised the congressional debate for equalizing crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences. It never happened! Crack was only reduced to an 18-to-1 ratio to powder, though cocaine is the only active drug in either crack or powder cocaine. Even the 18-to-1 sentencing disparity was not made retroactive to those with prior convictions.

People of color felt betrayed by Congress. Prisons erupted in riots. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) instantly shut down C-Span and locked down the prisons that flared up. Today the 18-to-1 disparity remains, as does the racist overkill tactics of the Criminal Injustice System against Black and Brown communities in particular and the poor in general.

Where do we go from here?

Our Black families, communities of color and poor people have been torn asunder by one racist scheme after another to keep Blacks and other oppressed in subservient roles for the benefit of an imperialistic white supremacist system.

Sundiata Acoli, Kevin Jones-Bey (16)

Sundiata Acoli

Quite simply: We want our imprisoned parents, grandparents, teachers, leaders, brothers, sisters, political prisoners, exiles, students and children freed and exonerated to help rebuild our families, communities, lives and Black Nation now, not at some vague future date that will allow most of our loved ones to slowly die off in prison – as is the case with 82-year-old Black Panther political prisoner Sundiata Acoli, held at FCI Cumberland, Maryland. (His full address is Sundiata Acoli (Squire), 39794-066, FCI Cumberland, P.O. Box 1000, Cumberland MD 20501; please write. – ed.)

Kevin Jones-Bey

Or: the case of Kevin Jones-Bey, who’s doing LWOP for an “acquitted conduct” sentence. Along with Sundiata Acoli, Kevin Jones-Bey is a brilliant co-teacher of the Critical Thinking course that is tasked, inter alia, with teaching younger prisoners to control their emotions in critical situations so that they think and act rationally to avoid the revolving door recidivism (like parole violations) that return so many young parolees to prison. (Kevin’s address is the same as Sundiata’s, except his number is 32567-037.)

Tony Lewis Sr.

Or: the case of Tony Lewis Sr., former kingpin, doing LWOP, who deliberately steered his son, Tony Lewis Jr., nicknamed “Slugg,” away from drugs and crime and toward the best schools and love of self, family, community and people – but taught him never to forget where he came from. Tony Lewis Jr. did not disappoint, going on to write an inspiring double biography of father and son, “Slugg: A Boy’s Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration.”

He heeded his father’s caution not to glamorize drugs or street life but to save Black lives and inspire Black men to be better than they are – and he did indeed! Tony Lewis Jr. is now a member of the Washington, D.C., City Council, serving and representing his people well and moving on up the ladder.

We want freedom

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” – Assata Shakur

Valerie Haynes, who can be reached at, describes herself as a “Black woman, mother, community organizer, activist from Brooklyn, New York. I’ve been organizing with and advocating for u.s. held Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War since 2010.

“I joined the Sekou Odinga Defense Committee (SODC) in 2013 and when Sekou came home, he co-founded, with other former PPs/POWs, activists, organizations, the North East Political Prisoner Coalition (NEPPC). I’ve been with NEPPC since 2015. We educate the masses on the existence of u.s. held PPs and POWs, particularly focusing on the forgotten ones from the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army movement of the 1960s. We share their stories so we can change and correct the narrative on our history of Black Resistance while the powers that be continue to criminalize Black Resistance. FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS! FREE ’EM ALL!

Our 11 Black Panther or BLA PPs/POWs are:

  • Sundiata Acoli, 82
  • Russell Maroon Shoatz, 75
  • Imam Jamil Al Amin, 75
  • Ed Poindexter, 74
  • Veronza Bowers, 73
  • Ruchell Magee, 72
  • Romaine Chip Fitzgerald, 70
  • Dr. Mutulu Shakur, 68
  • Jalil Muntaqim, 67
  • Kamau Sadiki, 67
  • Mumia Abu-Jamal, 65

Learn more at