We must all speak out against the political prosecution of Black Lives Matter leader Jasmine Richards. As a white person on the outside and without a criminal record, I plan to lift up the voices and words of Black organizers and writers, especially those who have been through experiences like Jasmine’s (I will update once I find good pieces to share).
UPDATES (06/02/2016): Check out Richards’ amazing lawyer, Nana Gyamfi, and Black Lives Matter organizer Melina Abdullah talking about the case on Democracy Now.
(06/07/2016): Jasmine Richards has been sentenced to either 90 days (18 served) in county jail. Likely Judge Lu reasoned this as a compromise, far less than the maximum but still enough to keep the police on her side and try to terrorize young Black people into not defending themselves from police violence. But every day she spends in jail will be a disgrace to the idea of justice. More updates as they come.
But I have access to legal research engines and training so I thought I could help this conversation by explaining a little about the history of CA Penal Code § 405a. Jasmine is the first Black person to be convicted under the statute after a 2015 amendment attempted to hide the depraved irony California’s criminal law is perpetuating:
A person who participates in the taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer is
a lynchingguilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for two, three, or four years.
But this amendment was just the codification of a series of cases transforming a law of anti-discrimination into a law of white supremacy. The law came about as part of the NAACP’s renewed push for laws to crack down on lynching in the face of an increase in lynchings in 1933. But following the backlash of the US far-right in the face of Black liberation struggles like the Black Panther Party, they began to try to change, destroy, or even reshape the civil and human rights legal victories.
In 1971, an incident very similar to Jasmine’s case happened in People v. Jones. Like the alleged conduct by Black Lives Matter activist, Jones was interfering in what he perceived as an unjust arrest and call for help, summoning a crowd for the purpose of not lynching the man in police custody but of protecting him from police violence. Jones argued in Court that the statute was unconstitutionally vague since it contrasted from the dictionary definition of “lynching” and there was clear legislative intent for it to be used for anti-discrimination. Despite these arguments the 4th District Court of Appeals in California upheld Jones conviction, stating that “The statute is clear on its face, and defendant was placed on notice that the removal of a person from the lawful custody of a peace officer by means of riot was prohibited, no matter what consequences inured to the person so removed.”
Next came People v. Patino in 1979, which decided that you could get the charge just for joining in with a crowd trying to rescue a person from being arrested. That widening was nothing though compared to what happened in 1999. In the case of In re Anthony J., the Court ruled that the person being rescued from police custody could be charged with lynching for their participation. And then in 2011 California outdid itself in the case of In re Maria D. by refusing a simple riot misdemeanor charge and going for felony lynching in the case of a woman who “extended her arms such that it appeared she was going to grab a deputy and pull him away from the vehicle where [her boyfriend] Coronel was detained.”
With the 2015 amendment passed and Jasmine convicted, what was once the effort of the Black community to fight the plague of lynching in the country has been transformed into a felony crime for exhibiting vague and in some cases completely harmless resistance to police violence.