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US Congress passes anti-lynching bill

By MINLU ZHANG in New York | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2022-03-09 11:28

US Capitol Police Officers walk on the East Front Plaza of the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on Feb 23, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

After more than 100 years, 200 failed attempts and executions of more than 4,400 African Americans, the US Senate has finally passed a bill making lynching a federal hate crime.

The bill will make lynching a hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Without any senators showing up to object, the bill cleared the Senate without a formal vote. It now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The legislation was approved by the House of Representatives last week by a vote of 422-3. Three Republicans voted no.

The legislation, known as the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, is named in honor of the 14-year-old who was tortured and murdered in a racist attack in Mississippi in August 1955. Two white men were tried but acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury, and then confessed.

The event drew national attention to the atrocities and violence that African Americans faced in the United States and helped spark the civil rights movement.

"Lynching is a longstanding and uniquely American weapon of racial terror that has for decades been used to maintain the white hierarchy," Bobby Rush, the Illinois Democrat and black man who introduced the measure in the House, said in a statement Monday evening.

The measure "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 US federal government will always be brought to bear against those who commit this heinous act", Rush said.

More than 4,400 African Americans were lynched in the US between the end of Reconstruction in the 1870s and the years of World War II, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. Some killings were watched by crowds. Postcards and souvenirs were sometimes sold.

"Although no legislation will reverse the pain and fear felt by those victims, their loved ones and black communities, this legislation is a necessary step America must take to heal from the racialized violence that has permeated its history," New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker, who is black and was a sponsor of the legislation, said Monday.

Lynchings and public acts of torture traumatized black people throughout the US and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials, according to a report from the Equal Justice Initiative. In 2020, amid racial justice protests that swept the nation after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, the chamber passed an earlier version of the bill with a similar bipartisan vote.

Then, the measure was blocked in the Senate. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, who is one of the co-sponsors of Monday's Senate bill, said he did so in 2020 because the measure was too broad.

By Monday night, he said that he was satisfied with the bill's language, "which will ensure that federal law will define lynching as the absolutely heinous crime that it is", he said.

Congress failed to pass legislation for more than a century. Representative George Henry White of North Carolina first introduced legislation to make lynching a hate crime in 1900. He was the only black lawmaker in Congress at the time.

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