We couldn’t make up that headline. Black Lives Matter Pasadena founder Jasmine Richards was found guilty of a felony on Wednesday (June 1). As Mic reports that Richards was charged under a California law that—until last summer when legislators amended it to omit the racially-charged word—defined lynching as "the taking by means of a riot of any person from the lawful custody of any peace officer."
The charges stem from an August 2015 incident when Richards led a march highlighting Pasadena police officers’ 2012 killing of Kendrec McDade. When Richards and other activists saw police arresting a Black woman at a nearby restaurant, they surrounded her and tried to remove her from their custody. Activist and New York Daily News journalist Shaun King shared a video of that incident in his own article about Richards’ charges.
This isn’t the first time the law has been used to prosecute an activist. In January, Maile Hampton was charged under the same statute for attempting to free a fellow protestor from police custody. The Sacramento Bee reports that prosecutors dropped the charge in April.
"A law that was enacted for the purposes of defending Black people against hangings and torture is now being used against Black people who are fighting for the lives of Black people who are killed by the police," Richards’ attorney, Nana Gyamfi, told Mic. Gyamfi also said that no Black people served on the jury that convicted Richards.
Many activists shared similar criticism and bewilderment after Wednesday’s decision.
"California’s lynching law was put on the books in 1933, to prevent mobs from forcibly taking people from police custody for vigilante justice," reads a statement on Black Lives Matter’s website. "The perverse nature of this case is stark both because of the law’s tragic name but more importantly because police, who have long exercised poor and deadly judgment in cases impacting Black communities, cannot be trusted to make lawful arrests or to guarantee arrestees will make it home alive. Given that, removing a Black person from police custody can be a life-saving action."
"Jasmine Richards, in effect, is the first political prisoner of the Black Lives Matter Movement," King wrote in his article. "Everything about her needless prosecution is about proving who is in control and who runs the system. It is about power and privilege. It is about shaming and stopping her work."
Others took to social media, using the hashtags #JasmineRichards and #FreeJasmine, to protest the conviction:
— deray mckesson (@deray) June 2, 2016
— ColorOfChange.org (@ColorOfChange) June 3, 2016
— jesseWilliams. (@iJesseWilliams) June 3, 2016
— shanelle matthews (@TheShanelleM) June 2, 2016
The police are deliberately targeting a blacktivist perceived to be a threat: this is contemporary operation of COINTELPRO #JasmineRichards
— Zoé S. (@ztsamudzi) June 2, 2016
Richards will be sentenced on June 7 and could face up to four years in county jail.
(H/t The Sacramento Bee)