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Crime & Justice

How a California lynching law led to the conviction of a Black Lives Matter activist

Activist Jasmine Richards, she faces a sentence of up to 4 years
Activist Jasmine Richards, she faces a sentence of up to 4 years

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This week an African-American woman was convicted after being charged under California Penal Code statute 405a.

The law reads that the violation occurs when a person participates in the taking, by means of a riot, another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer. But until recently, that charge was known as “lynching.”

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that changed the text of the law. The woman, Jasmine Richards, could be the first African-American to ever be tried and convicted on the charges. 

We talked about the case with Jody David Armour, a law professor at USC and author of the book "Negrophobia and Reasonable Racism: The Hidden Costs of Being Black in America."

Interview Highlights: 

On the legal statute and how the term "lynching" relates to it:

Initially it was an anti-rioting statute. If you used force and violence ... acting with two people or more, that is a criminal offense ... and there was a special provision added (405a) that if you rioted and if you're trying to take someone away from officials in order to lynch them, we're not going to call that a misdemeanor, we're going to call that a felony. It was used to fight lynchings that was going on at the time.

Why the law could be used more frequently in situations where protesters are engaged in confrontations with law enforcement:

DAs have dusted off an old law and found that it's useful to go after protesters that they want to charge with and convict a felony rather than a misdemeanor ... she could have been charged with a misdemeanor ... what they're doing is taking out a portion of the law that says we want to prevent lynch mobs ... and focus on taking away someone from police custody.

(click on the blue arrow above to hear the complete interview)