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Maile Mae Hampton, a young African American woman, attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Sacramento last January to speak out against police violence against minorities -- and ended up being charged with felony lynching. Hampton is accused of pulling a fellow protestor away from police, which prosecutors felt met the definition of lynching in California: "the taking by means of a riot of any person from the lawful custody of a peace officer."
Perhaps realizing that the charge was in poor judgment -- or perhaps just poor P.R. -- Sacramento's chief deputy district attorney amended the complaint. Instead of lynching, Hampton now faces a single charge of misdemeanor interference with an officer.
The Black Lives Matter movement arose following the deaths of several young, black men at the hands of police officers in the summer of 2014; the phrase began on Twitter but soon coalesced into on-the-street protests and actions throughout the country. Some of those protests ended in clashes with police and arrests, such as Hampton's. Hampton was arrested after she attempted to pull a detained protestor away from officers, according to The Guardian.
When Sacramento prosecutors charged Hampton with lynching, many viewed the charge itself as a sensationalist tactic meant to punish activists. The charge wasn't rare either -- over the years, California's lynching laws have been used repeatedly against protestors, from animal rights activist to Occupy encampments. Many of those charges were made against people of color involved in civil rights work. In most cases, prosecutors end up dropping or changing the charge, a felony which can result in four years of prison.
Some officials are now calling for the law to be removed from the books altogether.
When California passed its lynching law, no one anticipated that it would be used against civil rights activists eighty years later. The 1933 law was adopted to help stem the vigilante murders of African Americans that were becoming increasingly common between the 1920s and '50s, and which lead to the death of almost 4,000 minority men, women and children.
In dropping the count of lynching, prosecutors noted that misdemeanor interference did not "carry with it the racially charged and inflammatory terminology" of lynching, particularly inappropriate when applied to minority civil rights activists. Hopefully other prosecutors will take note.
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