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July 02, 2015

California moves to strike 'lynching' language from state law

California Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday was considering whether to sign a bill that would remove the word "lynching" from a 1933 law that used the term to describe the crime of trying to wrest a person from police custody.

The bill, which unanimously passed in the California Legislature last week, followed furor over the arrest of black activist Maile Hampton on a charge of felony lynching during a "Black Lives Matter" demonstration in Sacramento in January.

Hampton's attorney, lawmakers and other supporters rallied behind her at court and on social media, saying it was ironic she had been charged under a decades-old law that was originally enacted to protect black detainees from white lynch mobs.

Hampton's supporters also called for the removal of the word lynching from the penal code, saying its application was not appropriate. 

Thousands of African-Americans were victims of lynchings, or extrajudicial public execution by hanging, in Southern states in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“Whether obsolete, perverse or just wrong, it’s time for that law to change,” Sen. Holly Mitchell, a California legislator representing a district including historically African-American communities in Los Angeles, said in a statement on her website.

Hampton was detained for allegedly trying to pull a friend from police custody during a January protest over the killings of unarmed black men by white police officers, the Sacramento Bee reported.  

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has since reduced Hampton's charges to resisting arrest, a misdemeanor. 

Schubert did not respond to a request for comment about the case.

Mitchell, who introduced the bill to change the language of the law, said penalties would not be eliminated or reduced under the bill, and killing a person by mob action would remain a felony.  

The crime of trying to remove someone from police custody is punishable by between two and four years in state prison.