This morning, Jasmine [Abdullah] Richards, a 28-year-old Black Lives Matter organizer and founder of the Pasadena, California chapter was sentenced after being convicted on a charge of “federal lynching.” She is the first African American person to ever be convicted of this crime in the United States.
Fortunately, Richards will only serve 90 days for the charge, 18 of them having already been served compared to the six months that the prosecution requested.
Richards, a black woman, didn’t do anything resembling hanging someone or even injuring another person. What the head of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter is being punished for is trying to prevent another activist from being arrested following a peaceful rally in Pasadena, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Richards could’ve faced up to four years in prison depending on the sentencing after being found guilty by a non-black jury in a city with a 13.4 percent black population, according to Vox. This disservice wasn’t lost on Richard’s attorney, Nana Gyamfi.
“Clearly this is a political prosecution,” she told Vox. “Its intention is to stop people from organizing, and from speaking out and challenging the system. There’s a political message that’s been sent by both the prosecutor and the police and, by conviction, the jury.”
California’s federal lynching law was actually put in place in 1933 and meant to be progressive and help prevent the lynching of residents. It was originally meant to prevent people from being taken from police custody and hanged – just as Thomas Thurmond and John Holmes, two white men, were by thousands of people that same year. However, the interpretation of the law has evolved to prevent anyone from interfering with someone else’s arrest or attempting to take them out of police custody at all, even with no intention of bodily harm.
It appears that this law is now being used to stamp out the internal flames in the hearts of activists that look to prevent their allies and friends from being arrested when they feel it’s being done for the wrong reasons.
The timing of this conviction and sentencing seems even worse when one considers the (perceived) crime. Just recently, Brock Turner, an ex-swimmer at Stanford was sentenced to only six months after being convicted of rape and various media outlets have chosen to sugar coat his actions. Meanwhile, Richards could have faced up to four years for attempting to stop an arrest and without causing anyone harm. There is a clear issue here.
It’s completely fair to say Richards shouldn’t have gotten physically involved with the arrest, but that’s not the real problem here. And, to be fair, the number of black people dying while in police custody is rising and adding a completely new level of fear to the idea of being arrested.
With a country that appears to constantly be working harder to offer less protection to activists of color and more to already secured police officers, hopefully Richards’ case doesn’t set a precedent moving forward. While it is a relief Richards won’t be serving four years, it is still disappointing she is being used to make a political point at all.