AT LAST! Senate votes to make lynching a hate crime with passage of Emmett Till Act

AT LAST! Senate votes to make lynching a hate crime with passage of Emmett Till Act. six decade blockade of civil rights law

Sixty-seven years after the brutal murder of Emmett Till by White supremacists, Congress has finally passed a federal anti-lynching bill.

The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, first introduced in 2020, is named for the young man whose life was taken at just 14 years old.

His “crime”? Whistling. Whistling at a White woman. Breaking an unwritten code for what was considered “acceptable” behavior between Blacks and Whites in a segregated South.

For this, Emmett was abducted, beaten, mutilated, and shot. A teenager. A boy. All based on a lie. Tortured and murdered by two grown White men; his body discarded in a Mississippi River.

Lynching was all too common in the United States after the end of the civil war. Used as a tool of terror to keep freed Blacks “in their place.” So prevalent and alarming, that in 1916 the NAACP made anti-lynching legislation a priority.

Here’s a look at the history of anti-lynching legislation over the years:

1918 – The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill sought to make lynching a federal crime. Introduced by Leonidas C. Dyer, a White man, the bill passed the House in 1922 but failed the Senate. Supported by the NAACP, the language used in Dyer would influence all anti-lynching bills proposed after.

2009 – The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law in 2009, by then-President Barack Obama. Both Shepard and Byrd were killed in 1998 in hate crimes. Shepard, a transgender male, was beaten, tortured, and left to die tied to a fence in Laramie, WY. Byrd was tied to the back of a truck by White supremacists in Jasper, TX, and dragged behind the vehicle to his death.

Added as a rider to the National Defense Authorization Act, it expanded the 1969 hate-crime law adding gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.

2018 – Sponsored by Senators Cory Booker, Tim Scott and now Vice President Kamala Harris, The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act passed the Senate. More symbolic than punitive, the bill sought to make amends to those victims of the heinous crime. It failed to pass the GOP-controlled House.

2020 – The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act was revised and became the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, defining a lynching as when “a conspiracy to commit a hate crime results in death or serious bodily injury.” After overwhelmingly passing the House, Senator Rand Paul was the lone Senator who held the bill up and kept it from passing the Senate.

And here we are, in 2022. Over 100 years and 200 bills later. The passing of the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, while long overdue, is a step in the right direction. If there is any criticism of the passing of this bill, it’s that it is needed at all.

Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick

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Ty Ross

News journalist for Washington Press and Occupy Democrats.