On Thursday, the Senate unanimously passed historic legislation to make lynching a federal crime.
The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act was first introduced by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who was also joined by Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.). The bipartisan bill is the first piece of legislation to make lynching punishable as a hate crime.
In December 2018, the bill previously passed the Senate; however, when it was introduced to the then-GOP controlled House, it was not cleared.
“According to data from the Equal Justice Initiative, lynching was used as an instrument of terror and intimidation 4,084 times during the late 19th and 20th centuries. From 1882 to 1986, Congress failed to pass anti-lynching legislation 200 times,” read an official press release from the office of Kamala Harris.
During her address on the Senate floor, the 2020 presidential candidate led a call to make the horrendous act of lynching a federal crime.
“Lynchings were acts of violence—they were horrendous acts of violence, and they were motivated by racism,” said Harris. “With this bill, we finally have a chance to speak the truth about our past and make clear that these hateful acts should never happen again. We can finally offer some long overdue justice and recognition to the victims of lynching and their families.”
Booker also explained how "lynching is not a relic past," which was made abundantly clear during the recent homophobic and racist attack on Empire actor Jussie Smollett in Chicago.
“Today’s Senate passage of the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act is a historic step towards acknowledging a long and painful history and codifying into law our commitment to confronting bias-motivated acts of terror in all of its forms. I urge the House of Representatives to take up this bill so that after over 100 years and 200 attempts, we can finally make lynching a federal crime,” Booker said.
Republican Senator Tim Scott, who is the only other Black Senator, also spoke on the monumental bill.
“Today the Senate sent a strong signal that this nation will not stand for the hate and violence spread by those with evil in their hearts,” said Scott. “I look forward to this important legislation ending up on the President’s desk for signature.”
The measure will now go to the House, where it is expected to be passed by the Democratic majority.
You can watch the stream of the vote above or on Facebook here.
(Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)