20 March 2015

Sacramento, California

Cops Charge Black Activist with “Lynching”

Defend Maile Hampton!

On January 18, Maile Hampton, a young black woman and member of the ANSWER Coalition, was leading chants at a Sacramento, California, protest against a pro-cop rally. An online video shows the cops violently attacking several protesters, slamming a woman against a cop car and repeatedly throwing a man to the ground. While both were being handcuffed, the crowd chanted to let them go. Five weeks later, Hampton was arrested at her home. She now faces up to four years in jail on charges of felony “lynching”! As the Partisan Defense Committee wrote in a March 14 letter protesting these outrageous charges: “A law supposedly intended to criminalize the extra-legal murder of black people, Mexicans and others by the racist terrorists of the KKK and their ilk, is now wielded by the police against those who actively protest the modern-day legal lynchings carried out by the racist cops.”

Under the provisions of California’s so-called “anti-lynching” law, “the taking by means of a riot of any person from the lawful custody of any peace officer is a lynching,” a felony punishable by up to four years in prison. The law was enacted in 1933, a year in which 28 lynchings, 24 of black people, were officially reported in the U.S.—no doubt a small fraction of the actual number. In November that year, a howling mob of thousands stormed the San Jose jail, seizing, torturing and then stringing up two unemployed white men who were suspected of kidnapping and murdering the son of a wealthy local department store owner. Republican governor Jim Rolph praised the lynching as “the best lesson California has ever given the country” and pledged to pardon anybody convicted. Only one of the lynchers was ever charged under the “anti-lynching” law, a charge that was soon dropped.

Indeed, the law has never seriously been used against lynch terror. Instead, it came to be wielded by the courts and cops to expand and defend police powers. In a 1971 case, a California state judge argued that the word “lynching” did not mean seizing people in police custody in order to kill them. Instead, he ruled that a lynching was any protest against police arrest by “means of riot,” that being defined as an unauthorized gathering of two or more people that “disturbs the peace.”

In 1999, this ruling was taken to its Kafkaesque extreme in a court judgment that declared: “A person who takes part in a riot leading to his escape from custody can be convicted of his own lynching”! Among those who have been arrested on the charge of “self lynching” was Tiffany Tran, a diminutive Asian American, who was charged with lynching herself for yelling “help” as she and other activists were being hauled away by cops during a 2011 Occupy Oakland protest.

One of the more chilling applications of this “anti-lynching” law occurred last July in Murrieta, a small town in Southern California. In a throwback to the Klan terror and lynchings of Mexican immigrants in nearby San Diego during the 1930s, armed white racists mobilized to turn back busloads of Latino immigrants being shipped to a local detention facility. The only arrests that day were of five people who had courageously come out to protest the anti-immigrant frenzy, only to be charged with “lynching.”

Here is an object lesson in not just the futility but the deadly danger of looking to the capitalist state to outlaw racist terror, whether that of Klan nightriders or the state’s own marauding police thugs. As we have always argued, the government, its cops and courts will turn around and use such laws against the working class, the oppressed and any perceived challenge to the vicious exploitation and racism that defines the rule of American capitalism. The whole history of California’s anti-lynching law is a graphic example.

We call on defenders of democratic rights and opponents of racist oppression to demand that all the charges against Maile Hampton be dropped now. Contact Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert by mail at 901 G Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, or by e-mail daoffice@sacda.org. Send copies to sac@ANSWERcoalition.org.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1064, 20 March 2015)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.