Jasmine Abdullah, an activist for Black Lives Matter, was released Saturday on bail after being jailed earlier this month for attempting to “unlawfully remove a suspect from police custody,” a charge that in California used to be known as “felony lynching.” Abdullah (who at the time of her arrest went by her legal surname, Richards) was arrested last August. She was in a group of activists who were leaving a peaceful rally protesting the shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old black man by the Pasadena, Californa, police. After the rally, the group encountered police detaining a woman who had been involved in an argument with a restaurant owner. Abdullah says they tried to help the woman; officers differed. She was arrested two days later and charged with inciting a riot, child endangerment, and obstruction in addition to the lynching charge.
The term “felony lynching” has been at the heart of much discussion over Abdullah’s case. The California law was created in 1933 as a response to the actions of a vigilante mob that seized and hanged two white men who confessed to killing the 22-year-old son of a storeowner. The law was designed to make it a crime to remove someone from police custody. The term “lynching” covers any extrajudicial punishment by—in the words of the 1933 law—“means of riot,” but the term has historically referred most often to hangings of blacks by mobs of whites. Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown removed the words from the state penal code after another Black Lives Matter activist was arrested under the law, to much protest, but the heart of the law remains intact.
By the time Abdullah’s trial began a few weeks ago, she faced only the felony-lynching charge, and four years in prison. On June 7, Abdullah was sentenced to 90 days in Los Angeles County jail, three years of probation, and was ordered to attend a year of anger management classes.
According to Vox, Abdullah is the first African American to be convicted of “lynching” in the country.
Since then, the California native has been at the center of a #FreeJasmine campaign and has been hailed by some as one of the first political prisoners of the Black Lives Matter movement. Her conviction not only caused folks to take to the streets and protest the charges, but also resulted in almost 89,000 people signing a petition that tried to get Judge Elaine Lu to release Abdullah before she handed down her sentence. A new petition has been launched at Color of Change, calling for Brown to overturn Abdullah’s conviction and pardon the young activist.
Abdullah’s story doesn’t just highlight injustice around race, protest, sentencing, and Black Lives Matter, it also tells of the real sacrifices that many young black activists are making in order to stand up for causes they believe in.
I spoke to the young activist in February by phone while she was awaiting trial and dealing with the death of a friend, who had been murdered that week. She was walking around her neighborhood, an area she said she had to leave because police were threatening her family.