After more than 120 years since the first lynching bill was introduced in Congress, the terroristic act will finally be regarded as a federal hate crime.
On March 7, the U.S. Senate voted to approve the Emmett Till Antilynching Act of 2022. The bill is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden later this week.
“Lynching is a longstanding and uniquely American weapon of racial terror that has for decades been used to maintain the white hierarchy,” Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois, a lead sponsor of the bill, wrote in a March 7 statement. “Unanimous Senate passage of the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act sends a clear and emphatic message that our nation will no longer ignore this shameful chapter of our history and that the full force of the U.S. federal government will always be brought to bear against those who commit this heinous act."
White supremacists used the violent act through much of American history to intimidate Blacks through the south, as well as in the north. Many images of Black men and women hung from trees are evoked when the topic is brought up, but it often included mutilation and torture of people in the process. According to the NAACP, 4,743 lynchings were recorded between 1882 and 1968, although some historians believe that number is higher.
Attempts at outlawing lynching in Congress have been attempted, but failed for generations. January 20, 1900 was when the first lynching bill was introduced in Congress. But nearly a quarter of the way through the 21st century, legislators finally criminalized it.
"After more than 200 failed attempts to outlaw lynching, Congress is finally succeeding in taking the long overdue action by passing the Emmett Till Antilynching Act.,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor after the bill passed. “Hallelujah! It's long overdue.”
Every U.S. Senator, including 50 Republican members, voted to approve the bill. It was passed overwhelmingly in the House with a 422-3 vote, according to CNN.
The new legislation makes it possible to prosecute a crime as a lynching when a conspiracy to commit a hate crime results in death or serious bodily injury. The maximum sentence for those found guilty of breaking it is 30 years in federal prison.
The bill is named after Emmett Till, a 14-year-old who was falsely accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in August of 1955. Till was kidnapped from his uncle’s home, tortured, mutilated and thrown into the Tallahatchie River. His naked body was weighed down with a fan blade. His killers were acquitted.