Friday, December 09, 2022

EXPLANATORY: What’s behind the new federal law against lynching?

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed the first bill specifying lynching as a federal hate crime. The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, passed by Congress on March 7, enables the prosecution of crimes as lynchings if done during a hate crime in which the victim is injured or killed.

The new law carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and fines for anyone who conspires to commit an act of lynching that causes death or injury.

The House passed the bill 422-3 with eight members abstaining. The Senate passed the bill unanimously. Illinois Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush introduced this version in January 2021. He also tabled a bill in January 2019 and the House approved the bill 410-4, but that one got stuck in the Senate.

“Today I think of Emmett Till and the many other victims of this cruel crime whose names we do not know. “Emmett Till would have been 80 years old today,” Rush said in a statement. “His lynching has ignited the civil rights movement and a generation of civil rights activists. It had a ripple effect that we still feel today; it has started a movement to take into account freedom, justice and equality around the world. “

Here’s a deeper look at the law.



Lynch is typically understood as illegal mob actions that result in the killing of a person on the basis of race without proper process for the victim. It became common in the United States, especially in the nation’s south, after the Civil War and expanded through the late 1800s and into the 1900s.

Most of the victims were black, but people of Mexican and Asian descent were also victimized because of their skin color and ethnicity. For Black Americans, lynching was meant to instill fear and terror – and was used to deter them from voting, protesting, and pursuing education.



In 2015, the Equal Justice Initiative released a report which set out more than 4,400 documented racial-terror lynchings of Black people in America between 1877 and 1950.

The Montgomery, Alabama-based non-profit organization later reported that during the 12-year period from Reconstruction to the American Civil War, at least 2,000 Black women, men, and children were victims of lynchings.

The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act is “clearly symbolic”, in addition to having teeth, said Damon T. Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“No doubt about it, especially given the long road it takes to have any federal anti-lynching legislation,” Hewitt said in an interview earlier this month. He added that the 30-year sentence was valuable because state charges and convictions were not guaranteed to stand. “Even if they can appeal the underlying sentence in some way, you still have the federal charge.”



Rush, the bill’s sponsor, says: “Lynching was just covered in another camouflage. The rope was replaced with a shotgun and semi-automatic weapons. “

Some examples of what may fall under that definition:

The murder of Ahmaud Arbery in 2020 in Glynn County, Georgia, in which the 25-year-old ran when he was followed by three white men in pickups and killed. A federal jury recently ruled that incident was motivated by racial hatred.

The 2015 fatal shooting of the Black Pastor and eight other Black congregation members at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, by Dylann Roof.

—In 1998, James Byrd, Jr., a black man, was dragged by white men behind a pickup truck near Jasper, Texas, after his death. A well-known racist was executed in 2019 for Byrd’s murder. John William King had a tattoo on his body of a Black man with a noose around his neck hanging from a tree, according to authorities.



Congress first considered anti-lynching legislation more than 120 years ago. It has failed nearly 200 times to pass anti-lynching legislation, beginning with a bill passed in 1900 by North Carolina Rep. George Henry White, the only Black member of Congress at that time, was introduced.

In the early 1920s, the NAACP began its efforts to pass a lynching bill. Federal hate crime legislation was finally passed in the 1990s – decades after the civil rights movement.

“What the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act is doing is recognizing nationally what Black people have always known, and that is that racial violence is endemic to America’s way of life,” said Ersula Ore, associate professor of African and African American Studies. and rhetoric at Arizona State University and author of “Lynching: Violence, Rhetoric, & American Identity.”



Till, 14, was visiting family in Mississippi from his home in Chicago in 1955 when it was alleged he had whistled at a white woman.. He was abducted, beaten and shot in the head. A large metal fan was also tied to his neck with barbed wire. Till’s body was then thrown into a river. His mother insisted on an open funeral coffin to show the world what had been done to her child.

Two white men, Roy Bryant and his half-brother JW Milam, have been charged but acquitted by a jury consists entirely of white men. Bryant and Milam later told a reporter that they kidnapped and killed Till.

Matthew Countryman, chairman of African-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan, called Till’s mother’s actions an “extraordinary campaign of shame for the nation.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: The Associated Press initially published a version of this statement on anti-lynching legislation on March 15, 2022.


Williams is based in Detroit and a member of Associated Press’s Race & Ethnicity team.

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