Black Lives Matter Activist Sentenced to 90 Days for ‘Lynching’

“We’re living in Orwellian times when a Black woman in a peaceful protest is sentenced to jail time for attempted lynching," Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change, said in an emailed statement after the sentencing.

Jasmine “Abdullah” Richards, 28, had been arrested and charged after trying to intervene in another woman's arrest following a Black Lives Matter march last August. Democracy Now! / YouTube

A California Black Lives Matter activist who faced up to four years of jail time for “lynching” was sentenced Tuesday morning to 90 days in county jail, a sentence activists denounced as a “mockery of our justice system.”

“We’re living in Orwellian times when a Black woman in a peaceful protest is sentenced to jail time for attempted lynching,” Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change, said in an emailed statement after the sentencing.

Jasmine “Abdullah” Richards, 28, was convicted last week under a California statute known until recently as “felony lynching.” The law criminalizes “taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer,” defining two or more people as a “riot.” Richards had been arrested and charged after trying to intervene in a woman’s arrest following a Black Lives Matter march last August.

“It is clear that they messed up. It is clear that they know they just messed up,” Richards’ attorney, Nana Gyamfi, said on the Pasadena, California, courthouse steps after the sentencing, referring to the prosecution. “I got calls from people all over the country and all over the world.”

Richards addressed the crowd via her attorney’s speakerphone after the sentencing, saying “Thank you guys,” and “I love everybody.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elaine Lu had recommended a sentence of probation only, according to activists outside the courthouse Tuesday. Prosecutors countered by calling for six months of jail time. The final sentence was 90 days in jail, with 18 days of credit for time served; three years of probation; and a year of anger management.

Called the first political prisoner of the Black Lives Matter movement, Richards is also the “first African-American ever to be convicted of the charge” of lynching in the United States, according to Pasadena Now.

Those at the scene reported that more than 200 activists rallied outside the Pasadena courthouse before the sentencing, clapping and chanting “Free Jasmine.” Online, the hashtag #FreeJasmine trended on Twitter Tuesday morning.

In an online petition urging Lu not to sentence Richards to jail time, activists had called Richards’ arrest a “perverse” application of a law “intended to stop lynch mobs from forcibly removing detainees from police custody and engaging in public murders of Black people.” The petition had gathered more than 80,000 signatures by press time.

“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,” Gyamfi told Democracy Now! prior to the sentencing. “It is demeaning to what little integrity the criminal justice system may have.”

The charges stem from an incident at a peace march in a Pasadena park last August, when authorities said Richards tried to intervene as police officers apprehended a young Black woman in the park. Richards, founder of Black Lives Matter Pasadena, was a key organizer of a march that day demanding justice for Kendrec McDade, an unarmed 19-year-old Black teenager who was shot and killed by Pasadena police in 2012.

Video shows Richards and other activists trying to intercede with police; voices can be heard saying “she’s only 130 pounds” and “she’s a petite girl,” regarding the woman police were detaining.

Pasadena police Lt. Tracey Ibarra told Pasadena Now last September, “When the officers attempted to detain her [the suspect] then part of the Black Lives Matter protest group attempted to intercede.”

Richards was arrested two days after the march.

Richards was initially charged with inciting a riot, delaying and obstructing peace officers, child endangerment, and felony lynching; all but the lynching charges were dropped before last week’s trial.

Gyamfi said her client was convicted by a jury that was about half white. There were no Black jurors, she said, despite Black people making up 13 percent of the population in Pasadena and 8 percent in Los Angeles County.

“It was very clear that it was not a jury anywhere near of Jasmine’s peers,” Gyamfi said.