At last, lynching might be a federal hate crime

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act is headed to President Biden’s desk after unanimous Senate approval.

A young Emmett Till.
Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

After decades of failed attempts, the United States may finally have federal anti-lynching legislation. On Monday, the Senate unanimously passed an anti-lynching bill that would make lynching a federal hate crime. Now, the bill is heading to President Biden’s desk, where it’s expected to be signed and made into an official law.

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act, led by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), is named after the 14-year-old Black child who was tortured and murdered in 1955. At his funeral, Till’s mother, Mamie, had an open casket, stating, “I think everybody needed to know what had happened to Emmett Till.” Images of her son’s mutilated body ran in Jet magazine and focused nationwide attention on the horrors of lynching.

There have been over 200 attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation since 1918. From the floor, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer invoked this history, stating, “After more than 200 failed attempts to outlaw lynching, Congress is finally succeeding in taking a long overdue action by passing the Emmett Till Anti-Lyching Act. Hallelujah, it is long overdue.”

Rush first introduced the bill in January 2019, and it passed the House in 2020. However, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) prevented it from passing the Senate with unanimous consent. Last week, Paul announced his support of the bill’s newest iteration and signed on as a co-sponsor.

When the legislation appeared in the House again in February 2022, three Republicans voted against it: Reps. Andrew Clyde (Ga.), Thomas Massie (Ky.), and Chip Roy (Texas).

To most people, lynching invokes a very specific manner of death, like hanging. Axios reported that under the bill, though, “a crime would be prosecuted as a lynching when death or serious bodily injury results from a conspiracy to commit a hate crime.”

While federal hate crime legislation has its limitations, the bill’s passing is still significant. In a statement, Rush said, “Lynching is a longstanding and uniquely American weapon of racial terror that has for decades been used to maintain the white hierarchy.”

"Unanimous Senate passage of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act sends a clear and emphatic message that our nation will no longer ignore this shameful chapter of our history and that the full force of the U.S. federal government will always be brought to bear against those who commit this heinous act,” he continued.