From the July-August 2016 issue of News & Letters
by Gerry Emmett
Jasmine “Abdullah” Richards, 29, is a Black Lives Matter activist in Pasadena, Calif. In an obscene travesty of justice, she was convicted on June 1 of attempted “lynching,” over her non-violent complaint to police in defense of another woman she believed was being unlawfully detained at a demonstration. There was no physical contact, no injuries, no violence, and yet prosecutors called the demonstration a “riot” in order to obtain a conviction. It wasn’t a first for her—last year Pasadena police had tried to charge Jasmine with “terrorism” for taking part in a peaceful “die-in.”
There could be no greater perversion of language or historical facts. What are laws against lynching really against: A racist armed mob surrounding a jailhouse and demanding police turn over the person in custody. The victim would be tortured, perhaps raped or castrated, hanged from a tree or lamppost. Their suffering would be mocked by a crowd, some set to picnic or taking photographs for posterity or to sell.
Women were not spared this. There are 150 documented cases of women being lynched. There are picture postcards. This is the unfathomable, inhuman cruelty of lynching. The California law under which Richards was charged was directed against this then-common practice. Her verdict, the first time a Black person has been convicted of “lynching,” is political. Even more, it is a negation of the very idea of history or truth.
NEW REVOLUTIONARY GENERATION
Richards is representative of a new generation of revolutionaries. She grew up with personal tragedy, losing a brother and sister. She experienced police harassment and gave up on school. Like other young activists she was galvanized into action by the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and so many others, Black youth who were murdered again by racist courts. These young activists have been informed by decades of thinking and organizing against a racist criminal injustice system. Their critique of current reality is so deep as to have become a critique of all U.S. history.
Hear Richards: “I went to Ferguson and it was life-changing. I experienced Black love for the first time. I was able to cry for the first time. Before I was part of Black Lives Matter, I was just sitting in the park, hanging out. I had no self-respect. Now I’m trying to give back what Black Lives Matter has given me. I’m determined to not lose any more friends, not lose any more young men or women of my community. My goal is to save lives by any means necessary, even if that means putting mine on the line.
“I just want to say that Black Lives Matter has changed my life. And for all those who think that this is just a moment, they have another think coming, because this is a movement and it’s motivating the masses.”
Richards is openly Lesbian. Many young revolutionaries are open as LGBTQI people. In this respect, Black Lives Matter goes beyond most previous freedom movements.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN
The incalculable loss of Sandra Bland and MarShawn McCarrel tell us something about this generation of young warriors. They pay a price in rising above a society so steeped in corruption, brutality, and nihilism that simply to keep one’s own humanity is a struggle. Everything is designed to reward things, objects of power, informers, instead. As Richards said,
“When I was out here causing trouble, I never got in trouble by the law. Once I picked up a bullhorn I became a target. That just showed me how powerful a Black woman’s voice is. I’ve gotten fired from my job and kicked out of my home, and I’m still here organizing.”
As we must defend Richards against the outrageous “lynching” charge, so we must defend all of these young revolutionaries. They are the opposite to the mystification of the Tea Party, fundamentalist fanatics, or racist Donald Trump legions.
Demands for Black and other ethnic and gender studies in schools were never demands for what the Right likes to call “special rights.” They were of benefit to all, and especially workers and the poor, illustrating the continuing nature of a capitalist system that returns to its origins in “primitive accumulation”—dispossession, slavery and genocide—each time it falls into inevitable crisis.
No movement has challenged the fundamental racism of U.S. society more sharply than Black Lives Matter. To see the rulers’ reaction is to learn the hypocrisy, cynicism, and brutality that underlie every aspect of the capitalist system.