It took over 200 attempts and well over 100 years, but the Senate partially passed a bill today to make lynching—lynching—a federal crime under U.S. law.
The bill, known as the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018, was introduced by Sens. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Tim Scott—three of the just 10 black United States senators in history—and unanimously passed by the Senate today.
It is wild to me, personally, that this was not already a law. The Washington Post reported when the bill was introduced that there were 4,745 lynchings in America between the years of 1882 and 1968. That is an enormous amount of people to fall victim to what has almost always been a crime of bigotry and hate, largely aimed at black Americans.
Federal anti-lynching bills have been introduced in Congress before; three introduced between 1922 and 1940 even passed in the House. But each time, the Senate’s unshakably racist Southern Democratic bloc stifled any legislation making its way to the president.
“It’s a travesty that despite repeated attempts to do so, Congress still hasn’t put anti-lynching legislation on the books,” Sen. Booker said in a press release upon introducing the bill in June. “This bill will right historical wrongs by acknowledging our country’s stained past and codifying into law our commitment to abolishing this shameful practice.”
“Lynching is a dark, despicable part of our history, and we must acknowledge that, lest we repeat it,” Sen. Harris said in the same release. “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.”
Unfortunately, due to the time constraints of the current session of Congress, the bill will most likely have to be reintroduced and passed in the Senate and House in Congress’s next session; a companion bill, H.R. 6086, is still sitting in committee over in the House. With a unanimous vote, it seems unlikely that the bill will fail to pass for a second time. But after well over a century, it really cannot come soon enough.