It’s time to Break It Down!
Yesterday, President Biden did a thing. CNN’s Kate Sullivan and Maegan Vazquez wrote that he signed a bill into law making lynching a federal hate crime. Upon doing so, he acknowledged how racial violence has left a lasting scar on the nation and asserted that these crimes are not a relic of a bygone era. For context, see George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, The Charleston Nine, Philando Castile, and Eric Garner, just to name a few.
The law, entitled the Emmett Till Antilynching Act of 2022, is named after a 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago who was brutally murdered by a group of White men in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a White woman in 1955. His murder sparked national outrage and was a catalyst for the emerging civil rights movement. But, as the names noted in the previous paragraph clearly denote, the practice is not re4legated to 1955, or even to Y2K. It continues to this day. That the country filled with people that consider America superior to all other nations, had not resolved to at least make such a heinous act a hate crime, is disappointing, if not surprising.
Biden characterized it thusly: “Lynching was pure terror to enforce the lie that not everyone … belongs in America, not everyone is created equal. Terror, to systematically undermine hard-fought civil rights. Terror, not just in the dark of the night but in broad daylight. Innocent men, women and children hung by nooses in trees, bodies burned and drowned and castrated.
Their crimes? Trying to vote. Trying to go to school. Trying to own a business or preach the gospel. False accusations or murder, arson, and robbery. Simply being Black.”
Historically, lynching was frequently a tactic aimed at Black American, especially in strictly racially segregated southern states. According to Tuskegee University, which collects records on lynchings, 4,743 people were lynched from 1882 to 1968 and 3,446 of them were Black. The President referenced the unwritten rules that Black mothers, like Mrs. Till, passed on to their children – the same kind of admonitions contemporary Black parents must pass along to their children.
He emphasized the new law is not just about the past, and elevated as examples, the murder of a 25-year-old Black man who was on a jog and a 2017 Virginia rally of White supremacists and White nationalists where a counter protester was killed and scores were injured.
“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 — racial hate isn’t an old problem. It’s a persistent problem.”
The interest in passing such a law in not newly found. Advocates have been trying to pass federal anti-lynching legislation for more than one hundred-twenty years.
On Tuesday, Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, who introduced the bill signed into law. He also introduced a similar version of his current bill in 2019. The following year, the House passed that bill but Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, held it up over concerns that it was overly broad. Paul announced his support for the latest version of the bill earlier this month.
Vice President Kamala Harris, as a California senator, along with New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker and South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott introduced a bill that would make lynching a federal hate crime. The Senate approved the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act in late 2018, but the legislation didn’t make it through the House of Representatives.
Harris noted, during the signing ceremony, that since anti-lynching legislation was first introduced in Congress in 1900, “anti-lynching legislation has been introduced to the United States Congress more than 200 times.”
She went on to add, “Lynching is not a relic of the past. Racial acts of terror still occur in our nation. And when they do, we must all have the courage to name them and hold the perpetrators to account.”
The President, standing next to Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, pointed out that Wells-Barnett came to the White House in 1898 “in order to make a case for the anti-lynching law.”
Only three House Republicans — Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and Chip Roy of Texas — voted against the bill. (When they show you who they are…) The legislation then passed the Senate by unanimous consent. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at the time that Congress had tried and failed more than 200 times to outlaw lynching and that the new legislation was “long overdue.”
Rush, who attended the White House ceremony, said in a statement that he was “elated” to see the bill signed into law, adding, “I am so proud that we have come together — in a bipartisan fashion — to enact a law that will ensure lynchings are always punished as the barbaric crimes they are.”
Till’s cousin, the Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., said in a statement: “My cousin was a bright, promising 14-year-old from Chicago. My family was devastated that no one was held responsible for the abduction, torture, and murder of Emmett. But we are heartened by this new law, which shows that Emmett still speaks in powerful ways to make sure that no one can get away with a racist crime like this ever again.” “Lynching Is Finally A Federal Hate Crime in the U.S.: It’s About D… Time!”
CNN’s Nicole Chavez contributed to this report.
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