President Joe Biden is expected to sign into law the first bill that specifies lynching as a federal hate crime. The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, which Congress passed on March 7, allows crimes to be prosecuted as lynchings if they are committed during a hate crime in which the victim is injured or killed.
A 2020 version of the bill sets the maximum sentence at 10 years. The one Biden will sign comes with 30 years in prison and fines for anyone who conspires to commit an act of lynching causing death or injury.
The House approved Bill 422-3 with eight members not voting. The Senate passed the bill unanimously. Illinois Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush introduced this version in January 2021. He had also introduced a bill in January 2019 and the House passed Bill 410-4, but it was blocked. in the Senate.
“Lynching has always been a terrorist weapon in the hands of racists in the history of our nation,” Rush said in an interview earlier this year. terror.”
Here is a more in-depth look at the bill.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
In 2015, the Equal Justice Initiative released a report detailing over 4,400 documented racial terrorist lynchings of black people in America between 1877 and 1950.
The Montgomery, Alabama-based nonprofit later reported that during the 12-year period of reconstruction following the American Civil War, at least 2,000 black women, men and children were lynched. .
The Emmett Till anti-lynching law is “clearly symbolic” in addition to having teeth, said Damon T. Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“There’s no doubt about it, especially given how far we’ve come to have federal anti-lynching legislation,” Hewitt said, adding that the 30-year sentence is valuable because state charges and convictions are not guarantees. “Even if they are able to appeal the underlying sentence, you still have the federal charge.”
Acts of violence, including those where the race of the victim is a factor, are covered by state law, according to Matthew Countryman, chair of African-American and African studies at the University of Michigan. .
“States, especially in the South, have been unwilling to enforce these laws,” Countryman said. In the 1960s, he said, the Justice Department began charging people with civil rights abuses. “The anti-lynching law is another tool,” he said. said the compatriot. “But you need a Justice Department that’s ready to prosecute.”
WHAT IS LYNCHING, PRECISELY?
Lynching is generally understood to mean unlawful mob action that results in the murder of a person because of their race without due process for the victim. It became prevalent in the United States, especially in the South, during Reconstruction and continued through the late 1800s and into the 1900s.
Most often the victims were black, but people of Mexican and Asian descent were also victims due to their skin color and ethnicity. For black people, lynching was intended to sow fear and terror – and was used to prevent them from voting, protesting and pursuing education.
The public lynchings were warning signs for the black community, said Ersula Ore, associate professor of African and African-American studies and rhetoric at Arizona State University and author of “Lynching: Violence, Rhetoric, & American Identity.”
“It was during Reconstruction that the modern American definition of lynching as an act of white solidarity and a racialized form of social control was forged,” she said.
ARE THERE ANY RECENT EXAMPLES OF LYNCHING?
Says Rush, the bill’s sponsor: “Lynching is just covered in a different camouflage. Rope has been replaced with a shotgun and semi-automatic weapons.”
Some examples of what could fall under this definition:
-The 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia, during which the 25-year-old was jogging when he was followed by three white men in pickup trucks and killed. A federal jury recently determined the incident was motivated by racial hatred.
— The 2015 fatal shooting of the black pastor and eight other black worshipers at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, by Dylann Roof.
-In 1998, James Byrd, Jr., a black man, was dragged to death behind a pickup truck near Jasper, Texas by white men. An outspoken racist was executed in 2019 for the murder of Byrd. John William King had a tattoo on his body of a black man with a noose around his neck hanging from a tree, authorities said.
WHY PASS A FEDERAL ANTI-LYNCHING LAW NOW?
Congress first considered anti-lynching legislation more than 120 years ago. He had failed to pass anti-lynching legislation nearly 200 times, beginning with a bill introduced in 1900 by North Carolina Representative George Henry White, the only black member of Congress at the time.
In the early 1920s, the NAACP began efforts to pass an anti-lynching bill. Federal hate crimes legislation was finally passed in the 1990s – decades after the civil rights movement.
“What the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act does is nationally recognize what black people have always known, which is that racialized violence is endemic to the American way of life,” Ore said.
WHO WAS EMMETT TILL?
Till, 14, was visiting relatives in Mississippi from his Chicago home in 1955 when it was alleged he had smacked at a white woman. He was kidnapped, beaten and shot in the head. A large metal fan was also tied around his neck with barbed wire. Till’s body was then thrown into a river. His mother insisted that a funeral casket be opened to show the world what had been done to her child.
Two white men, Roy Bryant and his half-brother JW Milam, were charged, but acquitted by an all-white jury. Bryant and Milam later told a reporter that they kidnapped and killed Till.
Countryman called Till’s mother’s actions “an extraordinary campaign of shame on the nation.”