In Strange Twist of History, Black Activist Charged With “Lynching”

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/29998-in-strange-twist-of-history-black-activist-charged-with-lynching

Sunday, 05 April 2015

Activists and observers are paying close attention to the pending case of
20-year old Maile Hampton in Sacramento, California, and what it may mean
for future protests against police abuse. Hampton, an African-American
activist with the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition,
is scheduled to appear in court on April 9 on a charge of “lynching” –
removing a person from police custody – stemming from a Jan. 18, 2015,
protest at the California State Capitol.

Hampton and others were involved in one of the many ongoing protests over
the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice at the
Capitol at the same time a pro-police rally was occurring. Video of the
protest shows ANSWER activists and others walking and then confronting
police, who have an individual on the ground; as protesters get closer,
multiple officers converge and tell the protesters to stay back and then
begin grabbing individuals in the crowd. Some of the individuals pull
away, and others are pulled away by members of the crowd.

Sections 405a and 405b of California’s penal code state, “The taking by
means of a riot of any person from the lawful custody of any peace officer
is a lynching,” and, “Every person who participates in any lynching is
punishable by imprisonment . . . for two, three or four years.”

Hampton was identified by police as one of the people in the crowd
attempting to pull people away from the police and was arrested later at
her home. She was initially held on $100,000 bail, but has since been
released.

Linda Parisi, Hampton’s lawyer, was quoted in The UK-based Guardian as
saying, “It’s an irony that a woman of color, who was at a public rally to
shine a light on police brutality, is arrested for lynching.”

“Cruel irony” might be a more descriptive and apt term.

“The current ‘lynching’ definition in [California’s penal] code is an
affront to the estimated 3,500 African Americans and 1,300 whites who were
lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1962 as a means to threaten
and intimidate African Americans from exercising their freedoms and their
right to vote,” said California State Senator Holly Mitchell. Mitchell
(D-Los Angeles), who spoke to the Sacramento Bee regarding the
controversy, was reportedly asked by former NBA standout and current
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to lead the effort to have the language of
the law changed. Johnson said he was “shocked” to learn of the penal
code’s use of the term.

A Barbaric Crime

Lynching of African Americans was virtually nonexistent until after the
end of the Civil War. The act is popularly known as the taking of a Black
person (usually male) from their home or a jail by a mob; the person is
beaten/tortured, sometimes burned, sometimes drowned, and/or hung from a
tree, lamp post, train trestle, or tied to a place where their body would
be easily seen by the public. The charge of rape of a white woman was most
often the reason used by lynchers, however, a variety of affronts to white
supremacy perceived as “crimes” were often used as justification for
lynching. According to historian Arthur Draper in his 1933 book The
Tragedy of Lynching, law enforcement officers were often known as active
participants who would “either condone or wink at the mob action.”
Additionally, the US Supreme Court conducted the only criminal trial in
its history when it charged Chattanooga, Tennessee, Sheriff Joseph Shipp,
a deputy sheriff and four other individuals with criminal contempt. The
charges came after a mob lynched an innocent Black man, wrongfully
convicted for the rape of a white woman in 1906, whose execution had been
stayed by the Supreme Court.

Black women were also victims of lynchings, as well as some whites
throughout the US South, and there were also numerous cases of people of
Mexican descent being lynched throughout the Southwestern United States.

The actual number of African Americans lynched in the United States may
never be known. A Feb. 10, 2015, article in The New York Times focuses on
a report released by the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) that
documents just over 3,900 victims of lynching. The report covers the years
1877 to 1950 and 12 Southern states. Prior to the EJI report, historians
relied on documentation provided by Tuskegee Institute in Southeastern
Alabama, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP) and the Chicago Tribune.

The NAACP, officially founded in 1909, began publishing its list of lynch
victims in 1919. A bill sponsored by Leonidas Dyer (R-Missouri) in 1922
was the organization’s first attempt to use mass public pressure to pass
federal legislation that would criminalize lynching. The bill fell victim
to Southern Democrat filibustering and was never passed. Close to 200
anti-lynching bills were brought before Congress between 1882 and 1935,
all meeting the same fate. In 2005, the Associated Press reported that the
US Senate, led by Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) and George Allen
(R-Virginia), “acknowledged its own failure to stand against the lynching
of thousands of black people,” and apologized “for blocking antilynching
legislation at a time when mob violence against blacks was commonplace.”

One Woman’s Fight

Approximately 30 years before the NAACP published its first list,
journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a founder of both that organization and
its predecessor, known as the Niagara Movement, had single-handedly taken
on the scourge of lynching in numerous editorials, books, pamphlets and
public addresses. Wells-Barnett even took her crusade against lynching to
London, England, where she was successful in inspiring the creation of an
antilynching society in 1894 to pressure the US to do something about the
crime.

It was in 1909 that Wells-Barnett testified to block the reappointment of
Frank Davis as sheriff in Cairo, Illinois, for violating that state’s
Anti-Mob Violence Statute of 1905. Illinois had enacted the statute that
allowed for the dismissal of “any sheriff who permitted a prisoner to be
taken from him and lynched” after a riot had occurred in the city of
Springfield. A mob took “Frog” James from Davis’ custody and brutally
murdered James for allegedly killing a white woman. According to
Wells-Barnett in her autobiography, the antilynching statute was upheld;
the governor of the state refused to reinstate Davis; and Illinois saw no
more lynchings from that point on.

Implications for Dissent and Protest

“I think the charges against Maile Hampton are an attack on the
#BlackLivesMatter movement as well as on Ms. Hampton,” Patrisse
Cullors-Brignac, a cofounder of Black Lives Matter told Truthout.

Aside from being a cruel irony, there may be some ominous implications of
Hampton’s alleged offense. While not charged with “lynching,” six
activists in New York currently face charges of assault, resisting arrest,
obstructing governmental administration and rioting for a similar event.
The charges stem from their alleged role in freeing a man from police
custody during the Millions March for Eric Garner in December of last
year.

Police allege that Eric Linsker, a professor at the City University of New
York, attempted to throw a garbage can from the Brooklyn Bridge onto the
roadway beneath the bridge. Two officers attempted to arrest Linsker when,
according to the police, they were “swarmed” by protestors who allegedly
kicked and punched them and helped Linsker to get away.

Subsequently, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton appeared before the New
York State Legislature asking that the penalty of “resisting arrest” be
upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony. That label could cause future
problems for prospective protesters down the line. “The felony designation
would carry a penalty of more than one year in jail,” according to Robert
Boyle, a New York-based criminal defense attorney. “A felony conviction
has consequences that stay with you the rest of your life: no vote, no to
certain jobs,” Boyle told Truthout.

Cullors-Brignac agreed. “These [kinds of] charges are a form of state
violence. Many Black folks end up in the courts with little support and
are forced to take plea bargains that steal years off of their lives,”
said Cullors-Brignac.

Regardless of the outcome of Hampton’s case, activists say they will not
be deterred from shining a light on the issue of police violence.

“This collision of forces – police abuse, unnecessary incarceration and
felony disenfranchisement – that’s part and parcel of the
prison-industrial complex; we have to continue to protest it. We have to
organize against it. We have to fight to end that system as we currently
know it,” Cullors-Brignac said.

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