For Immediate Release
Committee to Free Chip Fitzgerald
Contact: Emani Bey or Jenn Laskin
Former Black Panther Faces Parole Hearing After 38 Years!
(Imperial, California, June 12, 2008)
On July 2, 2008, the possibility of freedom awaits Romaine "Chip" Fitzgerald, who has been in prison over 38 years. This is the date of his upcoming parole hearing. Chip's case epitomizes the culmination of the dirty tricks and tactics the U.S. government employed in its effort to destroy the Black Panther Party, of which he was a member when he was arrested.
It is well-documented that, in the late 1960s, the FBI and other policing agencies of the government developed and carried out a concerted plan to neutralize or wipe out the Black Panther Party, after FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover issued his infamous declaration that the Party was the "greatest threat" to the nation's security. As a result of the FBI's brutal campaign, many Party leaders were assassinated, falsely imprisoned, imprisoned under extraordinary sentences, slandered and demonized, as Party offices were assaulted and Party programs were undermined. On January 17, 1969, the Party's Southern California Chapter, of which Chip was a member, suffered the loss of its main leaders, Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter and John Huggins, at the hands of FBI-sponsored assassins. Prior to that, in August of 1968, Los Angeles police gunned down Panthers Tommy Lewis, Steve Bartholomew and Robert Lawrence in a single incident.
In September 1969, Chip himself was involved in a shootout with Los Angeles police, and sustained a gunshot wound to the head. He survived this attack, only to be arrested later and charged with assault on police and the murder of a security guard. He was convicted and sentenced to death, which was commuted to life. That year, 1969, ended with the Chicago police assassinations of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark and a nearly six-hour raid by the LAPD's newly-formed SWAT Team on the Party's Los Angeles offices.
Today, Chip is the longest held Black Panther Party political prisoner in the United States, now housed at Centinela State Prison, near the California-Mexico border. His upcoming parole hearing is one of the most anticipated dates for many community leaders, students, and supporters around the world, all waiting to see if the California Board of Parole Hearings will employ justice in this hearing, particularly in consideration of the era and climate of Chip's arrest, conviction and sentencing in late 1969.
The Committee to Free Chip Fitzgerald has been formed to advocate to the Board for Chip's parole, encouraging people to sign its online petition at www.freechip.org to urge the Board to release Chip back into his community as he has served more time than his sentence prescribed, and the State has no further interest in his continued incarceration. A public tribute to Chip is slated for June 28, 2008, in Los Angeles, at noon at filmmaker Ben Caldwell's Kaos Network, 4343 Leimert Boulevard, where support messages from elected officials like Rep. Maxine Waters will be read, and labor leaders like Tryone Freeman, SEIU Local 6434 president, will speak, along with former Black Panthers, including Elaine Brown and David Hilliard, in a program hosted by Dominique DiPrima of Stevie Wonder's radio station KJLH.