Gov. Brown signs measure striking ‘lynching’ charge from California law

Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles)

State Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) speaks during debate over the state budget in June. Mitchell’s bill to strike references to lynching in the Callifornia penal code was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday.

(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

A bill to strike a controversial reference to lynching from California’s criminal code was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday.

Since 1933, California law characterized the act of taking a person from lawful police custody as “lynching.” But, as Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), the measure’s author, noted, for most people the term “lynching” has a more violent connotation: when a mob seizes and kills a person, typically by hanging, without a trial.

Lynchings are particularly associated with the killings of black people in the Jim Crow-era South.

“The term ‘lynching’ carries with it cultural significance and its current usage in California code is contrary to what the vast majority of people understand the term of lynching to entail,” Mitchell said on the Senate floor in May.


The Associated Press reported that a Sacramento activist was charged with felony lynching after she allegedly tried to incite another person to resist arrest during a Black Lives Matter protest earlier this year.

The charge was later reduced, but the arrest caught the attention of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who sponsored the bill to strike the reference to lynching from California law.

The bill, SB 629, does not alter the penalties for the action, Mitchell said, but simply “removes the inflammatory and misused term from our penal code.”

Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.


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