WASHINGTON — The three African-American senators introduced legislation Friday to make lynching a federal crime.
The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 notes that “the crime of lynching succeeded slavery as the ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction” and “was a widely acknowledged practice in the United States until the middle of the 20th century” with documented incidents in all but four states.
“At least 4,742 people, predominantly African Americans, were reported lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968. 99 percent of all perpetrators of lynching escaped from punishment by State or local officials,” the text of the bill continues, stressing that “only by coming to terms with history can the United States effectively champion human rights.”
“It is wholly necessary and appropriate for the Congress to enact legislation, after 100 years of unsuccessful legislative efforts, finally to make lynching a Federal hate crime.”
The bill from Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) amends U.S. Code to ensure enhanced penalties under federal hate crime statutes for lynching.
“This measure is certainly well past due and I am glad to be able to join in efforts that will underscore the severity of this crime,” Scott said in a statement. “This piece of legislation sends a message that together, as a nation, we condemn the actions of those that try to divide us with violence and hate.”
“Lynching is a dark, despicable part of our history, and we must acknowledge that, lest we repeat it,” Harris said. “From 1882 to 1986 there have been 200 attempts that have failed to get Congress to pass federal anti-lynching legislation; it’s time for that to change.”
Booker called it “a travesty that despite repeated attempts to do so, Congress still hasn’t put anti-lynching legislation on the books.”
“This bill will right historical wrongs by acknowledging our country’s stained past and codifying into law our commitment to abolishing this shameful practice,” he added.
Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and 36 members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Angus King (I-Maine), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently said of the move to make lynching a federal crime, “I thought that was done back during LBJ or some period like that. But if we need one at the federal level, I certainly would support it.”