President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed into law legislation making lynching a federal hate crime, a historic move after more than a century of attempts to recognize lynching as a “uniquely American weapon of racial terror.”
The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act is named after the black teenager who was brutally killed while visiting family in Mississippi in 1955. His death became a flashpoint of the rights era civics after his mother demanded an open funeral and allowed photos of his body. be published. The shocking images demonstrated the horror and prevalence of hate crime in America.
The new law allows for the prosecution of a crime such as lynching when death or grievous bodily harm results from a conspiracy to commit a hate crime. Those convicted under the law can face up to 30 years in prison.
“The law is not just about the past. It’s about the present and our future as well,” Biden said. “From bullets in the back of Ahmaud Arbery to countless other acts of violence, countless victims known and unknown. The same racial hatred that caused the crowd to hang a noose brought that crowd carrying torches out of the Charlottesville fields just a few years ago.
“Racial hatred is not an old problem. This is a persistent problem,” he added. “Hate never goes away, it only hides under the rocks. If it gets a little oxygen, it comes out roaring, screaming. What’s stopping it? All of us. “
Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr., cousin and best friend of Till, attended the signing at the White House. Parker was with Till in Mississippi when the white men murdered the teenager.
In addition to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, attendees also heard from Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of black investigative journalist Ida B. Wells. Duster explained how Wells documented and exposed the truth – that lynching was used as an excuse to bully black communities into maintaining a social hierarchy based on race. The journalist presented the idea of an anti-lynching bill to the White House in 1898.
Lawmakers have attempted to pass nearly 200 anti-lynching bills since 1918, most recently in 2020. The measure was overwhelmingly supported by the House, but stalled in the Senate over objections from Sen. Rand Paul (R -Ky.).
This time, however, Paul joined Sens. Cory Booker (DN.J.) and Tim Scott (RS.C.) to co-sponsor the Emmett Till act, which passed by unanimous consent.
“I feel relief. I feel our ancestors exhaling, ” Booker told ABC’s “The View.” He said many Americans don’t realize that neither local police nor state police hold most perpetrators accountable.
“And so you had these vicious acts of murder, but it was more than that. These were acts of terrorism intended to intimidate entire communities,” the senator said. “So it’s a day to rejoice that the arc of the moral universe is indeed very, very long, but it finally bends toward justice. And it’s a day when justice prevails finally.
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), a longtime champion of the bill, said after the Senate voted March 7 that the bill sends a “clear and emphatic message that our nation will no longer ignore. this shameful chapter in our history. ”
“Lynching is a long-standing, uniquely American weapon of racial terror that has been used for decades to maintain the white hierarchy,” said Rush, who plans to retire from Congress after three decades. “Lynchers have committed murder time and time again – in most cases they have never even been brought to justice.”
“Legislation to make lynching a federal crime and prevent racist killers from escaping justice has been introduced more than 200 times, but has never been enacted once,” he added. “Today, we are correcting this historic and aberrant injustice.”