Jasmine Richards, a Black Lives Matter activist, has just been sentenced to 90 days in prison for ‘felony lynching’. Brock Turner, a Stanford student and (less importantly) “star athlete” has just been sentenced to six months, of which he is likely to serve three, on three counts of rape. These two will likely serve the exact same jail time; one for sexually assaulting an unconscious person, one for demanding that several large police officers stop manhandling a petite woman.
Richards is being called the “first political prisoner” of the Black Lives Matter movement for this charge. ‘Felony lynching’ translates as:
taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer.
After a similar case in 2015 caused an outcry over the wording of the law, it was changed to ‘attempting to unlawfully remove a suspect from police officers’. ‘Felony lynching’ is an aged law that uses the word ‘lynching’ in a different context than as it is generally understood. It is also a very different crime to that used by racists against African Americans throughout the long years of American slavery, Jim Crow and racial oppression.
Raw video of the event shows that, in fact, several Black Lives Matter activists followed numerous police officers as they dragged a woman – accused of leaving a restaurant without paying – across the ground and handcuffed her. Those protesting asked the police repeatedly to stop being so heavy-handed and to take their witness statements.
The officers ignored them, created a human barricade, and the woman was taken into custody after what was a loud verbal altercation. None of the Black Lives Matter activists were arrested at the time; however, several days later Richards was visited by police and arrested on four charges for her role in the protest, of which only the ‘lynching’ remained by the time she came to trial.
In comparison with Brock Turner’s case, we see once again a young white man with a future that must be protected, and women – both Turner’s victim, and Richards – with a ‘past‘ that must be scrutinised.
In Richards’ case, that she is female, black, and a known activist fighting police brutality compounds the state’s victimisation of her. It’s heartening to see so many people picking up on the tired old trope of Turner-as-a-promising-athlete and using it against his supporters – as they used it on his behalf. It’s far more disheartening to see Judge Persky sympathise with Brock Turner.
Michelle Anderson, Dean of the City University of New York School of Law and a specialist on rape cases, confirmed:
sexual assault cases not infrequently result in very lenient sentences. Often the sentence and the sense of culpability that people have is heavily influenced by the assessment of both the defendant and the victim in ways that are somewhat more acute in these kinds of cases than they are in non-sexual-assault cases.
Judge Persky claims that the 20-year-old has “less moral culpability for his actions because he was intoxicated” and shouldn’t be penalised for ‘not completely acquiescing’ to the verdict. That is, Turner and his defenders refuse to recognise and accept that he did anything wrong by assaulting an unconscious woman, expressing remorse only for the ‘wrongdoing’ of ‘being drunk’. They do not appear to understand what rape, consent, or sexual assault are – or they are, at the least, feigning ignorance.
As columnist Laurel Dickman notes:
There are Black children doing longer sentences for marijuana possession, a victimless crime.
Of her sentence, Jasmine Richards’ attorney, Nana Gyamfi said:
This was a political prosecution, not a criminal prosecution […] This was a jury that could not tell the difference between a loud Black person and a violent Black person. This jury has nothing to be proud of.
Turner faced a maximum of fourteen years, Richards of four, and both are deemed in the eyes of those who handed down verdicts to be just as deserving as each other of jail time. Michelle Anderson adds:
What I’ll say is that race and class often affect these kinds of cases, both at the guilt phase and at the sentencing phase
Of course, this is only another in a long line of cases in which lawyers have managed to fight the many prejudices that work in favour of white people and men, and against women and people of colour.
Image via Victor