Congress has been considering anti-lynching legislation for more than 100 years, and the House finally passed a version of the bill last year.
But the “Emmett Till Antilynching Act” is stalled in the senate. Senator Rand Paul thinks the bill is poorly drawn and could be used to incarcerate innocent people. He is offering an amendment to tighten up the language.
There was outrage from Senators Kamala Harris and Corey Booker who accused Paul of being against passing a federal law banning lynching.
Paul said he seeks the changes “not because I take lynching lightly but because I take it seriously. And this legislation does not.” Harris was incredulous: “That we would not be taking the issue of lynching seriously is an insult, an insult to Sen. Booker, an insult to Sen. Scott and myself.”
The unusual confrontation played out as George Floyd’s funeral service was conducted in Minneapolis after police killed him. The ongoing failure of Congress to pass anti-lynching legislation comes as members in both parties discuss reforming police tactics — and it highlights how difficult it is for Congress to tackle issues of race.
Murder is already a crime. Murdering a black person because of their race is a hate crime. The bill is symbolic, not substantive. Hence, Rand Paul is absolutely right when he claims the bill does not take lynching seriously.
Paul, who has a history of rankling colleagues by slowing down bills, said the legislation was drafted too broadly and could define minor assaults as lynching. He also noted that murdering someone because of their race is already a hate crime. He said the Senate should make other reforms, such as easing “qualified immunity” rules that shield police officers from being sued.
“Rather than consider a good-intentioned but symbolic bill, the Senate could immediately consider addressing qualified immunity and ending police militarization,” Paul said. He sought to offer an amendment to weaken the measure, and Booker blocked it.
Liberals hate it when you point stuff like this out to them. They know they look unserious when demanding symbolism instead of substance.
This is an emotional issue and to bring it to the floor at this point in history is inadvisable. The founders created the Senate to put a brake on the passions unleashed in the House. To consider, and to deliberate, is Paul doing his job. The scenario he posits may not be realistic, but how many times have we seen the law twisted in recent years to serve a political end?
Paul presented a scenario in which, under the bill being considered, someone could be shoved to the floor in a bar and suffer minor injuries and be accused of lynching. He said that could lead to unfair incarcerations.
Harris and Booker rejected Paul’s request to modify the bill. For one, they said it gets them no closer to a law since the House would have to take up the legislation again. But they also said Paul was trying to weaken the legislation with implausible scenarios of abusing new anti-lynching charges.
“I object to this amendment. I object, I object,” Booker said. “I object on substance, I object on the law. And for my heart and spirit and every fiber of my being, I object for my ancestors.”
A federal anti-lynching bill isn’t necessary. Some are already comparing the death of George Floyd to a lynching, bearing out Paul’s concern that the law could be used for purposes not intended by the Senate. Congress will pass some kind of bill. But Paul was courageous to object.