Mar 1, 2022 - Politics & Policy

House clears "long-overdue" anti-lynching legislation

Photo of a black and white mural of Emmett Till wearing a hat and looking upward mournfully
A mural featuring a portrait of civil rights icon Emmett Till in Chicago, Illinois, on Jan. 19. Photo: Scott Olson via Getty Images

The House voted 422–3 on Monday to pass the Emmett Till Antilynching Act.

The big picture: The legislation would designate lynching as a federal hate crime for the first time in U.S. history.

Details: If the legislation is written into law, a crime would be prosecuted as a lynching when death or serious bodily injury results from a conspiracy to commit a hate crime.

  • The maximum sentence for a convicted perpetrator would be 30 years.
  • House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) applauded the bill's passage, calling it "long overdue."

Worth noting: The bill is named after Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy who was brutally murdered by two white men in 1955 in Mississippi after he was accused of harassing a white woman.

  • Though an all-white jury cleared the two men in 1955, they later admitted to killing Till.
  • Till's lynching would play a key role in galvanizing the civil rights movement.

What they're saying: "By passing my Emmett Till Antilynching Act, the House has sent a resounding message that our nation is finally reckoning with one of the darkest and most horrific periods of our history, and that we are morally and legally committed to changing course," bill sponsor Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said in a statement.

  • He noted that Congress has failed to codify federal anti-lynching legislation despite over 200 attempts since 1900, allowing the vast majority of perpetrators to go unpunished.
  • "I was 8 years old when my mother put the photograph of Emmett Till’s brutalized body that ran in Jet magazine on our living room coffee table, pointed to it, and said, 'this is why I brought my boys out of Albany, Georgia,'" Rush said.
  • "That photograph shaped my consciousness as a Black man in America, changed the course of my life, and changed our nation," he added. "But modern-day lynchings like the murder of Ahmaud Arbery make abundantly clear that the racist hatred and terror that fueled the lynching of Emmett Till lynching are far too prevalent in America to this day."
  • "Today, we take a meaningful step toward correcting this historical injustice."

What to watch: The bill now goes to the Senate, where a similar measure stalled in 2020 after Sen. Rand Paul (R- Ky.) blocked its passage, according to CNN.

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