Jasmine Richards, the first black person to ever be convicted for “felony lynching,” will spend the next three months in a California prison, with 18 days already served. During a hearing on Wednesday, Judge Elaine Lu also sentenced Richards to three years of probation.
Richards, the founder of Black Lives Matter’s Pasadena was one of several activists at a city park who allegedly saw a black woman being attacked by a restaurant owner for eating without paying. The protesters had just finished a peaceful rally against police killings, and ran to help the unnamed woman. When police arrived, the woman was reportedly surrounded by the protesters. Only when she was far away from the group did the officers move to arrest her. Video of the incident shows members of the group trying to grab the detainee, but neither Jasmine nor her fellow activists were arrested at the scene.
Two days later, Richards was arrested for what was, until recently, known as felony lynching, defined as “the taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer.” Police used the protesters who’d finished their peaceful demonstration earlier in the day against Richards, saying they were part of a riot led by the 29-year-old. The activist was subsequently charged with starting a riot and obstruction. She also received child endangerment charges because some of the protesters at the scene were young kids.
Watch the video of the police encounter:
A month before the incident, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) removed “lynching” from California’s penal code, after a similar charge was brought against another protester. But Richards’ charges still sparked national outrage, with critics pointing to the differences between Richards’ actions and the hate crimes committed by vigilante mobs that hunted down and murdered African Americans.
Richards is considered a political prisoner of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The community is vulnerable and eager for social, economic, and political empowerment. Jasmine, alongside local youth, uses her experiences to advocate for the basic rights for Black residents,” Black Lives Matter wrote in a statement, following Richards’ conviction last week. “Jasmine’s deep community connections along with her tremendous ability as an organizer make her a threat to the existing system and make her a prime target.”
Nana Gyamfi, Richards’ defense attorney, also believes the conviction was politically motivated.
“Its intention is to stop people from organizing, and from speaking out and challenging the system,” she told Vox. “There’s a political message that’s been sent by both the prosecutor and the police and, by conviction, the jury.”
Gyamfi also told Mic, “A law that was enacted for the purposes of defending black people against hangings and torture is now being used against black people who are fighting for the lives of black people who are killed by the police.”
Black Lives Matter circulated a petition via colorofchange.org asking Lu to forgo sentencing. At the time of publication, over 79,700 supporters had signed the petition.