Approximately 120 years too late, US House passes law to make lynching a federal crime

“Today, we send a strong message that violence—and race-based violence, in particular—has no place in America.”

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SOURCECommon Dreams

The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a historic bill making lynching a federal hate crime—a vote that historians, progressives, and anti-racist activists said was more than a century overdue.

“Lynching is an American evil,” tweeted Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), the bill’s lead sponsor. “Today, we send a strong message that violence—and race-based violence, in particular—has no place in America.”

H.R. 35, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, passed the House overwhelmingly on a 410-4 vote, with Reps. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), Louis Gohmert (R-Texas), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), and Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) voting “no.” Sixteen representatives, from both sides of the aisle, did not vote on the bill. 

It’s been a long time coming, as the Washington Post reported:

The measure’s passage comes after lawmakers tried, and failed, to pass anti-lynching bills nearly 200 times.

The earliest such attempt came in 1900, when Rep. George Henry White (R-N.C.), then the country’s only black member of Congress, stood on the floor of the House and read the text of his unprecedented measure, which would have prosecuted lynchings at the federal level. The bill later died in committee.

Rush’s fellow lawmakers congratulated him on passing the bill through the House while noting that it shouldn’t have taken so long. 

“For far too long, the House of Representatives has lacked the moral courage to designate lynching as federal crime,” Rep. Jerrod Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “While we cannot undo the abhorrent damage caused by decades of unjust lynching, today’s passage of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act marks a meaningful step towards correcting our nation’s history with this racist act of violence.”

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a statement that it was a “travesty that it has taken 120 years since antilynching legislation was first introduced in 1900, for the United States government to address this issue.”

“Lynching is an act of terrorism and was common for the 256 years during the period of enslavement of Africans in this country and for the 100 years after that period,” said Bass.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, welcomed the passage of the legislation and pointed out that it comes as hate crimes are on the rise nationally. 

“Given increased hate crimes, it is imperative that we remember the racial terror inflicted on thousands of Black Americans and acknowledge our history of racial violence,” said Clarke.

The Senate unanimously passed anti-lynching legislation on February 14, 2019. 

According to the New York Times, while the two bills will have to be reconciled, that’s a formality and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it.

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