Workers Vanguard No. 1092
1 July 2016
Pasadena Black Activist Railroaded
Black Lives Matter Pasadena founder Jasmine Abdullah (Richards) was released on June 18 after spending a month behind bars for speaking out against police violence. In August last year, following a protest against the 2012 police killing of black youth Kendrec McDade, Abdullah was among a group who objected to the arrest of a black woman accused of not paying for a meal at a restaurant. For supposedly interfering in the arrest of a police suspect, Abdullah was charged under California penal code 405, which outlaws “the taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer,” which the law formerly called “lynching.”
As news sources report, Abdullah has now become the first black person to be tried and convicted for “lynching.” Convicted by a jury with no black people, Abdullah, who faced a maximum term of four years in prison, was sentenced to 90 days as well as three years of probation and mandatory attendance at 52 “anger-management” courses! She is the first Black Lives Matter (BLM) activist to receive such a serious sentence for political protest. As her lawyer Nana Gyamfi pointed out, “She was persecuted and jailed because of her political beliefs.”
Abdullah was followed by cops throughout her ordeal and was fired from her job. Her apartment was ransacked and her lawyer has received death threats. Some 88,000 people signed a ColorofChange.org petition asking the judge that Abdullah not get any jail time. The morning she was sentenced, WV supporters joined hundreds of others gathered outside the Pasadena Courthouse to demonstrate against this racist railroading. Now Abdullah, who is planning to appeal the conviction, has a felony branding her for life and faces charges from other protests as well. We demand: Overturn the conviction! Drop all the charges!
In a grotesque demonstration of the twisted, capitalist “justice” system, the state law that Abdullah was convicted under was enacted as an “anti-lynching” statute in 1933, a year in which 24 black people in the U.S. were officially reported lynched. Between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and the dismantling of Jim Crow in the 1960s, at least 3,000 black people were lynched. Many times, working hand in hand with local sheriffs, racist mobs removed the victims from police custody to murder them with guns, ropes or fire. Far from being used to go after racist vigilante terror, the California law was basically a dead letter until 1971, when a state court expanded the definition of lynching to include any protest against police arrest “by means of a riot,” comprising two or more people, that disturbs the peace. It has been used repeatedly to target a range of political protesters, including Occupy activists.
Less than two months before Abdullah’s arrest, the word “lynching” was excised from the law, but the substance of the statute was kept intact. The change in wording resulted from widespread outrage when the same charge was used against black activist Maile Hampton in Sacramento last year. (The charges against her were later dropped.) As the Partisan Defense Committee noted in a March 2015 letter protesting the “lynching” charges against Maile Hampton: “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” (see “Cops Charge Black Activist with ‘Lynching’,” WV No. 1064, 20 March 2015).
The history of California’s “anti-lynching” law provides a warning to activists who support “hate crimes” laws and other measures that strengthen the repressive powers of the capitalist state under the pretext of prosecuting racism. Such laws are inevitably used against the left and labor and black militants, as the rulers seek to put down any challenge to capitalist exploitation and black oppression that is woven into the fabric of American society.
Black Lives Matter activists in the Los Angeles area have recently been subjected to a barrage of harassment, surveillance and judicial persecution. While those in and around this milieu courageously stand up to cop brutality, leaders of the BLM movement have repeatedly promoted the false notion that the police can be reformed to be less abusive and violent toward black people. A case in point is their appeals to “prosecute killer cops,” or the recent call by L.A. BLM leader Melina Abdullah on U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch for federal investigation and intervention into the LAPD over its long, bloody record of brutality.
Marxists understand that the police are the guard dogs of the capitalist profit system, and it is the federal government that oversees the entire rotten system that the cops “serve and protect.” The cops form the core of the repressive state machinery, along with the courts, prisons and military. On June 23, another one of the Baltimore cops who killed Freddie Gray last year walked free—yet another message that for the cops, killing black people is just part of the job. The capitalist state cannot be reformed to serve the interests of the workers and oppressed—it must be swept away through workers revolution.
No matter which capitalist party is in office, the function of the police is the same. The current mayor of Pasadena, Terry Tornek, is a Democrat, as was the previous mayor, Bill Bogaard, who presided during the state-sanctioned cop killing of Kendrec McDade four years ago. When BLM activist DeRay Mckesson sought the Democratic nomination for mayor of Baltimore this year, he was running to be the one in charge of the very same police force that killed Freddie Gray.
Jasmine Abdullah’s conviction and sentencing is part of the capitalist rulers’ attempt to stifle dissent and intimidate leftist and anti-racist activists and militant workers. Only the overthrow of this violent and exploitative system by the multiracial working class can pave the way for black freedom. What’s needed is to build a revolutionary workers party that stands at the head of all the oppressed, imbuing the working class with the need to fight in its own class interests and inscribing on its banner: Black liberation through socialist revolution!
Abdullah’s supporters are calling on people to contact the office of the Pasadena city attorney, Michele Beal Bagneris, to demand that the remaining charges be dropped: City Hall, 100 N. Garfield Ave., Room N-210, Pasadena, CA 91109 or via cityofpasadena.net/CityAttorney/Contact_Director.