Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act Passes, 120 Years After First Bill Proposed

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Lynching Designated Federal Hate Crime – What About Other Crimes Against Blacks?


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By By D. Kevin McNeir @dkevinmcneir
Executive Editor/Columnist  

By an overwhelming margin in the House of Representatives, America has finally designated lynching as a federal hate crime. shows just how sluggish the pace of change can be in America. On Feb. 26, the House voted 410-4 in favor of the legislation, significant if for no other than the fact that the vote occurred 120 years after the first time that Congress proposed anti-lynching legislation.

Known as the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, the bill bears the name of the 14-year-old boy murdered in Mississippi in 1955 by white supremacists. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who sponsored the bill, compared lynching to the “French use of the guillotine, the Roman use of crucifixion and the British use of drawing and quartering as a tool of terrorism” in his comments prior to the vote.

“For too long, federal law against lynching has remained conspicuously silent,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said it’s irresponsible to “deny that racism, bigotry and hate still exist in America,” referencing recent racial violence in Pittsburgh, Charlottesville and El Paso.

“This legislation will not erase the stain of lynching and racial violence but it will help shine the light of truth on the injustices of the past so that we can heal our past and build a better, safer future for all of our children,” she said prior to the vote.

Congress’s purpose, some suggest, may have been to publicly acknowledge and correct historical mistakes made in the past even though racial violence has changed in form from lynchings to hate crimes.

"This legislation is enormously important in terms of finally, if belatedly, putting Congress on record against lynching and making it a federal crime,” Pelosi added. “Much better late than never.”

For the record, it’s taken 120 years, 200 failed bills and more than 4,742 deaths, between 1882 and 1968, before the House of Representatives finally passed the historic legislation.

However, while the bill may provide symbolic significance – even allowing white America to somehow feel better about how it has dehumanized, tortured and murdered African Americans in the name of its own social, economic and political dominance – it would be futile to believe that the stroke of a pen could erase centuries of state-sanctioned forms of violence.

Do Blacks Deserve More Than an Apology? 

Even with the passage of the bill many Blacks assert that it continues to hide a more significant truth. While lynching served as one specific form of murder, murder remains essential within America’s systemic continuum of racial oppression.

So while Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) voted for the bill, he added that with the president’s signature on the proposed bill and making it federal law, it would “close one of the ugliest chapters in America’s history once and for all.”

However, Bacon seems to have overlooked the complete picture as multiple forms of violence against Blacks cannot be relegated to deeds committed in the past. Lynching has evolved, replaced with new forms of violence including the disproportionate number of police-involved shootings and deaths of Blacks.

Consider that data collected by The Equal Justice Institute estimates that some 4,400 Blacks were lynched and killed between 1877 and 1950. The NAACP estimates that 3,446 Black lynching victims died between 1882 and 1968.

Compare those numbers to totals compiled by The Washington Post which shows that since January 1, 2015, 1,206 Black were shot and killed by police. Meanwhile, the prison industrial complex, today’s version of chattel slavery, continues to house Blacks at rates clearly disproportionate to the percentage of Blacks who live in the U.S.

If the intention is to honor the dead from the past, perhaps the most effective means would be to derail newer forms of murder which targets Black bodies. 

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