In a bizarre twist, two Occupy California activists have been busted for ... lynching. Under California law the crime involves “taking by means of a riot any person from the lawful custody of any peace officer." Of course the 1933 law was intended to save people from vigilantes, particularly blacks from racists—not activists pulled away from police to protect them from the slammer. Occupy activist Sergio Ballesteros, 30, is being charged with the felony because investigators say he interfered with the arrest of a drummer who stepped off a curb to join an LA protest last week. Ballesteros told MSNBC that he was "startled" by the rough treatment of the drummer, and joined the crowd surrounding police. Suddenly, Ballesteros was on the ground being handcuffed. If convicted of lynching, Ballesteros faces up to four years in prison.
Oakland activist Tiffany Tran, 23, was also charged last month with lynching, though prosecutors opted, for the time being, not to press the charges, the San Francisco Bay Guardian reports. So far, lynching charges in similar cases have been dropped. But "felonies really heighten the stakes for the protesters," warned the director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. "One always has to be on the lookout for exaggerated interpretations of legal rules that attempt to punish or squelch protesters." (Read more Sergio Ballesteros stories.)