Senate approves Mitchell call for state law to end misuse of the L word: Lynching

May 19, 2015

Sacramento — SB 629, a measure to correct an obsolete reference to the term “lynching” in California’s penal code by deleting it has been approved without dissent by California’s Senate.

“To most people ‘lynching’ is what a mob does when it seizes and kills a person without a trial, usually by hanging – and it has been especially heinous in the history of African Americans,” said Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), who introduced the bill. “But California law defines lynching as illegally removing someone from police custody during a disturbance.  Whether obsolete, perverse or just wrong, it’s time for that law to change.”

Historically and in most legal jurisdictions lynching is the term used for the infliction of violent, often fatal punishment by self-appointed commissions, mobs, or vigilantes on persons for presumed criminal offenses, without due process of law. It’s estimated that 3,500 African Americans and 1,300 whites were lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968.

California’s Penal Code §405 (a) and (b) currently defines lynching as the taking by means of a riot of any person from the lawful custody of a peace officer. Senator Mitchell’s bill leaves the substance of the law intact, but deletes from it any reference to “lynching.” Nor would penalties be eliminated or reduced for illegally interfering with or improperly preventing an officer from detaining a suspect in the course of his or her lawful duties. The practice of killing a person by mob action will remain a felony.