In Pasadena, California, Black Lives Matter organizer Jasmine Richards is facing four years in state prison after she was convicted of a rarely used statute in California law originally known as “felony lynching.” Under California’s penal code, “felony lynching” was defined as attempting to take a person out of police custody. Jasmine was arrested and charged with felony lynching last September, after police accused her of trying to de-arrest someone during a peace march at La Pintoresca Park in Pasadena on August 29, 2015. The arrest and jailing of a young black female activist on charges of felony lynching sparked a firestorm of controversy. Historically, the crime of lynching refers to when a white lynch mob takes a black person out of the custody of the police for the purpose of extrajudicially hanging them. In fact, the law’s name was so controversial that less than two months before Jasmine was arrested, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law legislation removing the word “lynching” from the penal code. We speak with Richards’ lawyer, Nana Gyamfi, and Black Lives Matter organizer Melina Abdullah. “Her conviction is not only about punishing Jasmine Richards, but also is the lynching,” Abdullah says. “So it’s really disgusting and ironic that she’s charged and convicted with felony lynching, when the real lynching that’s carried out is done in the same way it was carried out in the late 19th, early 20th century, where it’s supposed to punish those who’ve dared to rise up against a system.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to California. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We go now to Pasadena, California, where a Black Lives Matter organizer is facing up to four years in state prison after she was convicted of a rarely known statute in California law known up until recently as “felony lynching.” Jasmine Richards was arrested and charged with felony lynching last September after police accused her of trying to de-arrest someone during a peace march in Pasadena last August. At the time, Jasmine was one of the key organizers demanding justice for Kendrec McDade, a 19-year-old African American who was shot and killed by Pasadena police in 2012.
The arrest and jailing of a young black female activist on charges of felony lynching sparked a firestorm of controversy. In fact, the law’s name was so controversial that less than two months before Jasmine was arrested, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law legislation removing the word “lynching” from the penal code.
AMY GOODMAN: Despite the change in the law’s name, Jasmine was still convicted Wednesday of attempting to take a person out of police custody. Her sentencing is scheduled for next week. She faces up to four years in prison.
We go now to Jasmine’s lawyer, Nana Gyamfi, and we’re also joined by Melina Abdullah, an organizer with Black Lives Matter and a professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles.
Nana and Melina, welcome back to Democracy Now! Nana, explain. So, until the final conviction, this was called felony lynching. What did Jasmine do that got her convicted of, this term, “felony lynching”?
NANA GYAMFI: Thank you so very much, Amy, for having us on the show. Jasmine didn’t do anything that was felony lynching, or even attempted felony lynching, which is what the charge was when she was arrested and, as you’ve indicated, up until this year. The allegations are that when the police were attempting to arrest a person, who was not related to the demonstration and the peace march that Jasmine Richards was having, that when they were trying to arrest that person, that she made some effort to get that person out of the custody of the police.
What’s very important to note here is that there’s a requirement that there be a riot, that there basically be a lynch mob that is assisting you in the lynching of the person that you’re trying to take from the police. And in this case, there was no riot. What you had were children on scooters and a couple of adults who were speaking up about state-sanctioned violence in Pasadena, about police murdering unarmed people in Pasadena, about the community coming together to talk about investing in the community and not investing in the police. And this is clearly a political persecution cooked up by the Pasadena District Attorney’s Office, the Pasadena Police Department and the Pasadena City Attorney’s Office, in what we are referring to as the attempted lynching of Jasmine Richards.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Nana Gyamfi, can you talk about the origin of this law, or previous law, felony lynching?
NANA GYAMFI: The origin comes from the times — which continue until this day, because we’ve had lynchings, not in California, but in this country, even within the last year — when the police would take a black person into custody, and the lynch mob would appear, take that black person from the police for the purposes of lynching that person, beating that person, killing that person, hanging that person, burning that person. That’s what the origin of this law is. And therefore, to take this law, that was used allegedly to protect black people from being lynched, and to turn around and use this law against a black person who is actually speaking about the lynchings, the serial lynchings, that are going on at the hands of police, not just in Pasadena, but all over this country, is more than ironic, it’s disgusting. It is demeaning to what little integrity the criminal justice system may have. And the District Attorney’s Office of Los Angeles and Jackie Lacey, the black woman at the head of the District Attorney’s Office, has nothing to be proud of. She ought to be ashamed, as well as the deputy district attorney that pursued this case, Christine Kee.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Jasmine Richards in her own words, in this video posted online last year.
JASMINE RICHARDS: Jasmine Richards. I’m with Black Lives Matter Pasadena. I’m an organizer. I’m the founder of Black Lives Matter Pasadena. Black Lives Matter Pasadena is actually located 15 minutes away from Los Angeles. We’re right up the hill, northwest. I started Black Lives Matter Pasadena in January of 2015. The reason for this is because I felt like we didn’t have any community programs or anything happening in my community. And there’s been a lot of youth that have been killed by the Pasadena police. Kendrec McDade is currently the youth that I am specifically doing all these actions around. Leroy Barnes, he was killed by the Pasadena police. Big homie named Big BA also killed by the Pasadena police. Our police have been notorious for bullying. Since I was a child, these police have scared me. They’ve harassed me, they’ve scared me. I know their first and last names. I felt like we needed a group out here that stood up to that injustice. Instead all of us being scared and just doing — wasting our time and not organizing and sitting at the park without any programs to help us, I felt like I should do something.
AMY GOODMAN: Jasmine Richards, who started Black Lives Matter in Pasadena. Melina Abdullah, you’re an organizer with Black Lives Matter there. Do you feel that Jasmine was targeted for her political activity? And if you can talk about the significance of this conviction and what Jasmine now faces?
MELINA ABDULLAH: Sure. Thank you for having us. Yes, Jasmine was absolutely targeted in this arrest and many other arrests. So, Pasadena is a relatively small suburb of Los Angeles. Jasmine’s activism is hugely significant, because she comes out of an area of northwest Pasadena where it’s deprived of resources. And what her activism really means and really signals is that people who are deprived of resources have the capacity to look up and recognize that it’s the system that creates these conditions. And that system, the system that creates state-sanctioned violence, also deprives communities of resources. So, when Jasmine was awakened, she did a phenomenal job of also awakening all of the folks in her community. So, as Nana Gyamfi described, you know, she had children who were working with her. She had young people who were working with her. She had folks who had maybe been on the corner a week ago working with her and recognizing that the system needs to be transformed. And so that poses a threat to the existing social order that wants to keep black poor people, especially, oppressed. And so, Jasmine is our Bunchy Carter. Jasmine is a political prisoner and represents probably the hugest threat to the state, in that the folks at the bottom can recognize their own oppression and rise up against it.
Now, her conviction is hugely significant, because her conviction is not only about punishing Jasmine Richards, but also is the lynching. So it’s really disgusting and ironic that she’s charged and convicted with felony lynching, when the real lynching that’s carried out is done in the same way it was carried out in the late 19th, early 20th century, where it’s supposed to punish those who dare to rise up against the system. But also, you leave the body hanging from a tree to send a signal to the rest of those black folks who might want to get out of line, and remind them that the state has more power than they do. But I think that in the end, what we see — we had a packed courtroom for the entire trial. What we see is we are not going for this anymore. We are not going to let our folks be lynched. We’re not going to let our folks be murdered by the state. We are working continuously for justice for Kendrec McDade, for Ezell Ford, for Wakiesha Wilson, Jamar Clark and all of those that the state has murdered, but also for the freedom and the right to protest and really vision a new system that gets us free. And that’s what we are going to do. We’re going to struggle for justice for Jasmine Abdullah. She has chosen the name Jasmine Abdullah, but the state knows her as Jasmine Richards. We are going to continue to struggle for her freedom, because our freedom is bound up with her freedom.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Nana Gyamfi, very quickly before we conclude, could you talk about the makeup of the jury in Jasmine Richards’ trial?
NANA GYAMFI: In Jasmine’s trial, there were no black people on the jury that decided her case. And out of 55 jurors, there were only two black jurors, which is very much below the representative percentage both of Pasadena, which is 13 percent, and of LA County, which is 8 percent. And we, in fact, asked for the jury to be dissolved at the very beginning, based upon the panel that we received. We ended up with a panel that was about half-white; the rest of the folks on the panel were between the Chicanx-Latinx community and the Asian Pacific Islander community. But it was very clear that it was not a jury anywhere near of Jasmine’s peers, let alone the peers of the people who had come to support. And again, going back to those images once again, it is the jury without black people that then decides that the lynching of Jasmine Abdullah is appropriate. And it can’t be said enough times that this is a perfect example of what the criminal sanction system does to black people who dare to speak up, who dare to win, who dare to challenge the system and state-sanctioned violence.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Nana Gyamfi, attorney for Jasmine Richards, and Melina Abdullah, organizer with Black Lives Matter and a professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the death of a Western Sahara leader and what’s happening in Western Sahara today. Stay with us.