In September 1969, Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald was locked up for allegedly assaulting police officers and killing a security guard. Later convicted, he was sentenced to death at the age of 20. But in 1972, Fitzgerald’s sentence was commuted after the Supreme Court ruled that the use of the death penalty, in this case, was racist. He is now 70 years old and has been imprisoned longer than any other former member of the Black Panther Party.
The Black Panther Alumni Breakfast has been raising funds for Fitzgerald’s release, as well as to “put money on his books”—that is, to put money in his account so he can buy necessities in prison.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Party, the Student National Coordinating Committee and many others organized Black people in the United States to challenge the racism of the capitalist, imperialist state. They denounced the police in their neighborhoods as a brutal occupying force that represents capitalism.
They were armed and defiant when police forces such as the Los Angeles Police Department harassed, murdered and tortured people—as they had for decades—almost unchallenged. In Los Angeles, the Black Panther Party organized community and mobile clinics and provided free breakfast and food programs.
They forced the government to investigate sickle cell anemia, a disease that disproportionately affects Black people.
They forced the government to provide free breakfast and lunch programs, which have been under attack in recent decades. They also fought the LAPD in a four-hour shootout at their LA headquarters on 41st and Central. The Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team was first formed in Los Angeles to attack the Panthers.
For their defiance, organization and revolutionary socialist politics, Black Panther militants such as Fitzgerald were locked away, separated from their community and detached from Black youth who were looking for answers. Government agents working for programs such as the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) sowed seeds of dissent within political organizations such as the Panthers while also assassinating several radical Black leaders. All this was done in coordination with local police departments that were determined to take down the Black Panthers, Black Liberation Army (BLA) and other left, socialist groups.
This systematic, government-coordinated attack led younger generations within the Black community to be more susceptible to apolitical ideology, drug use, and self-destructive gang violence.
After destroying those organizations, the sale of drugs and the creation of gangs were supported and encouraged by the police. The documentary “Jackson: Not Just a Name” made by Harold Welton chair of the Black Panther Alumni Breakfast and edited by Vietnamese community organizer David Dang the film discusses the organizers of the Jonathan Jackson Educational Cadre (JJEC) in the Avalon Gardens Housing Projects (referred to as the “PROUDjects”).
The movie also reveals how the LAPD worked with the newly formed Crips gang to attack left political organizing. This would continue through to the present day, as the LAPD attempts to thwart truces between gangs and repress political organizations that challenge them. Police magazine (written for law enforcement) argues against gang truces because police become targets. That is, they would rather have strife within Black, immigrant communities in the form of bloody gang wars than community organization with gangs challenging the brutality and violence that the police inflicts on the working class and oppressed communities.
Recently, gangs like the Bloods and Crips have formed truces in Los Angeles after Nipsey Hussle’s murder in April, Baltimore in 2015 after the murder of Freddie Gray by police and before these the historic truces of the early 1990s as a reaction to the beating of Rodney King and the subsequent uprising. Publicly, police have claimed to support gangs coming together, but in both these instances law enforcement has worked to undermine the truces.
While online debates rage between millennials and boomers over the cause of both groups’ financial hardships (with the obvious answer being the system of capitalism), we can benefit from the experiences of revolutionaries like Fitzgerald even as we share the experiences of younger generations. The working class includes people of all ages. It is important, then, to develop intergenerational relationships between revolutionaries such as the Black Panther alumni and younger oppressed people to challenge capitalism, imperialism and bigotry.
Black Panther elders (all of whom continue to organize in Los Angeles, Oakland and New York) went to the Nipsey Hussle memorial in Los Angeles where over 120 people signed the petition www.freedom4chip.org. They spoke with young Black and Brown youth explaining Chip’s case as well as their political motivations for organizing as well as encouraged the youth to organize against capitalism and police brutality.
As we walked to the Afiba Center on Crenshaw Boulevard, one of the Black Panther elders received a call from Fitzgerald in prison. He said he doesn’t regret joining the movement and declared, “The struggle continues!” He added, “Even by the laws of the Constitution he should be free.”
We salute to Chip Fitzgerald and all political prisoners and elder revolutionaries!
Free ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS!!!
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To learn more, please visit www.freedom4chip.org. If you live in or are visiting Los Angeles, please attend the Black Panther Alumni Breakfast, which occurs on the second Sunday of each month at 10 a.m. at the Simply Wholesome restaurant 4508 W. Slauson Ave in Los Angeles.
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