Congress by the end of the week will send President Donald Trump a bill to make lynching a federal crime for the first time, a long overdue recognition of the country’s history of the hateful acts, the sponsors of the legislation said Wednesday.
The House on Wednesday passed, 410-4, a version of the anti-lynching legislation introduced by Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California and passed on a voice vote in the Senate a year ago. The House bill is identical except the title: “Emmett Till Antilynching Act.”
Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy from Chicago, was brutally murdered during a trip to Mississippi to visit family in 1955. Rush said Till's killing was a catalyst that brought the issue to the consciousness of the nation.
At a press conference, Rush recalled when his mother showed him the photo of Till in Jet Magazine and told him and his siblings that it was the sort of danger that led her to move to Chicago from the South.
But keeping Till’s name in the bill title means the Senate has to pass the bill again before it can go to Trump. Rush said key senators assured that would be done this week, before the end of Black History Month.
When asked if Trump would sign it, as House sponsors said he would, Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, replied: “How could he not?”
Bass added that a marker to honor Till is constantly vandalized to this day, to the point that authorities finally put up cameras to protect it.
Congress had more than 200 opportunities to pass anti-lynching legislation but never did, and finally this week lawmakers can send a message against the “American evil” of lynching, Rush said.
“We regrettably cannot guarantee it will never occur again, especially in the climate we’re in,” Rush said.
The bill establishes a criminal civil rights violation for lynching, which the Senate bill states “succeeded slavery as the ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction.”
Harris called lynchings “horrendous, racist acts of violence” in a press release last week. “For far too long Congress has failed to take a moral stand and pass a bill to finally make lynching a federal crime,” Harris said.
Before the Senate’s voice vote last February, Harris on the floor said that lynching was “used as an instrument of terror and intimidation” more than 4,000 times in the 19th and 20th centuries — but that it is “not a relic of the past.
“In 2011, three men in [Brandon, Mississippi, murdered an African-American man, James Craig Anderson,” Harris said on the Senate floor. “They robbed him, beat him, and ran him over with a truck. That is modern-day lynching.”
And Harris said that the legislation finally gives Congress “a chance to speak the truth about our past and make clear that these hateful acts should never happen again and, God forbid, they do, we are making clear there will be swift, serious and severe consequences.”