Senate Passes Bill Making Lynching a Federal Crime

After 200 failed legislative attempts, the Senate has passed a bill to make lynching a federal crime. The legislation, led by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), passed via a voice vote. The bill cites a history of lynching and inadequate congressional action to combat the violence.

The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2019 amends existing hate crime statutes to make committing or conspiring to commit lynching a federal crime.

The bill justifies the naming of lynching as federal crime on the basis that it is a “pernicious and pervasive tool that was used to interfere with multiple aspects of life—including the exercise of federally protected rights... housing rights... and the free exercise of religion.”

In a speech on the Senate floor Senator Booker explained, “Lynching is not a relic of a painful past — it is a present and pernicious evil that we still have yet to confront. Today’s Senate passage of the [bill] is a historic step towards acknowledging a long and painful history and codifying into law our commitment to confronting bias-motivated acts of terror in all of its forms.”

The bill’s findings note that lynchings have been documented in all but four U.S. states and at least 4,742 people have fallen victim to this crime. The bill also notes that 99 percent of all perpetrators of lynching evaded state or local punishment.

Senator Scott expressed optimism in a press statement that the legislation will pass the House. Scott explained, “Today the Senate sent a strong signal that this nation will not stand for the hate and violence spread by those with evil in their hearts. I look forward to this important legislation ending up on the President’s desk for signature.”

In 2005, the Senate passed a resolution apologizing to the victims of lynching for a lack of congressional action on the topic; however, the recently passed legislation is the first federal statutory change to increase penalties for the crime.

The bill had 47 bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate and is awaiting introduction in the House.

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