Original Black Panther Party soldier Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald died March 29 in a California prison after being locked up for more than 51 years since his teens. Fitzgerald, 71, was the longest-incarcerated member of the Panthers.
He was serving two life sentences for the murder of a security guard and attempted murder of a California Highway Patrol officer. Although frail and ill, Fitzgerald was denied parole several times. While in prison, he suffered a stroke and had to use a wheelchair or walker, according to Democracy Now. Fitzgerald was a great grandfather.
Fitzgerald was a former member of the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party.
On Sept. 7, 1969, a California Highway Patrol officer pulled over a Volkswagen with Fitzgerald and two other members of the Black Panther Party (Robert Williams and Luxey Irvin).
The police report claimed the men were stopped for a faulty tail light. However, many activists in the community thought it was due to their Panthers affiliation, according to an online bio written by fellow imprisoned Black Panther Party member Mumia Abu-Jamal.
During the traffic stop, shooting broke out, leaving Fitzgerald and one officer wounded.
No cause of death for Fitzgerald has been released.
He is remembered on Twitter.
“Salute to the elder soldier now ancestor!!,” wrote one user.
Born on April 11, 1949, Fitzgerald grew up in the South Central California neighborhoods of Watts and Compton. As a teen, he joined the Black Panther Party, participating in the Panthers’ community empowerment and breakfast programs.
Upon his arrest following the traffic stop shootout, Fitzgerald pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempted murder of the California Highway Patrol 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,” Peoples World reported.
The California Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty in 1972 and Fitzgerald and others on Death Row had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. Fitzgerald was denied parole more than a dozen times.
“He was first eligible for parole in 1976 and has served more than three times the average sentence for his offense,” California residents wrote on a petition to free Fitzgerald on Change.org.
“Honor him with action,” theOccupyingCaptive tweeted.
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