Bill signed into law finally making lynching a federal hate crime
Sixty-five years after Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black child was lynched in Mississippi, the U.S. has finally approved legislation designating lynching as a hate crime under federal law.
The bill, introduced by Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush and named after Till, comes 120 years after Congress first considered anti-lynching legislation and after dozens of similar efforts were defeated.
After more than a century of failed efforts in Congress to pass similar legislation, President Joe Biden Tuesday signed a bill into law last week flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Black Senators and members of Congress.
The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act is named after the Black teenager whose killing in Mississippi in the summer of 1955 became a galvanizing moment in the civil rights era. Till was abducted, tortured, and shot in the head in 1955 after a white woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, said he whistled at her and touched her in a Mississippi store. His grieving mother insisted on an open casket to show how her son had been brutalized.
In the Rose Garden during remarks from Biden, he acknowledged the long delay – stressing how the violent deaths of Black Americans were used to intimidate them and prevent them from voting simply because of their skin color. “Thank you for never giving up, never ever giving up,” the president said. Biden said during the bill signing ceremony that the antilynching law was not just about the civil rights struggle from decades ago, citing the 2020 shooting of Ahmaud Arbery and the white supremacist rally that took place in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
“From the bullets in the back of Ahmaud Arbery to countless other acts of violence, countless victims known and unknown, the same racial hatred that drove the mob to hang a noose brought that mob carrying torches out of the fields of Charlottesville just a few years ago,” said Biden. “Racial hate isn’t an old problem—it’s a persistent problem,” he added.
The Senate cleared the bill on March 7 by unanimous consent, indicating no opposition, after the House passed it on Feb. 28 in a 422-3 vote. The three votes against the measure came from GOP Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Chip Roy of Texas, and Andrew S. Clyde of Georgia.
Congress had fallen short of passing anti-lynching bills more than 200 times since 1900.
The enacted legislation will make it possible to prosecute a crime such as lynching when a conspiracy to commit a hate crime results in death or serious bodily injury, with perpetrators facing up to 30 years in prison.