The nation’s three Black senators got a victory this month when the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to advance the bipartisan Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018, historic legislation that would criminalize lynching, attempts to lynch and conspiracy to lynch for the first time in American history.
The legislation was originally introduced in June by Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.).
“Lynching is a dark and despicable part of our country’s history,” said Harris, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “These were acts of violence, needless and horrendous acts of violence that were motivated by racism. And we must acknowledge that, lest we repeat it.
“These were crimes that were committed against innocent people,” she said. “These are crimes that should have been prosecuted. There are victims and their families that should have received justice and did not. With this bill, we have a chance to speak the truth about our past make clear that these hateful acts should never happen again.”
Booker, a fellow member of the judiciary committee, concurred.
“After more than a hundred years of failed efforts, we are now one step closer to finally making lynching a federal crime and putting an end to a long period of Congressional inaction and indifference,” he said. “This bipartisan legislation is a painful — but necessary — acknowledgement of our nation’s horrific past, stained with the terror of racialized violence committed with near impunity. It sends a very clear signal that we as a nation will not tolerate bias-motivated violence in any form.”
From 1882 to 1986, Congress failed to pass anti-lynching legislation 200 times. Lynching was used as an instrument of terror and intimidation 4,084 times during the late 19th and 20th centuries, according to data from the Equal Justice Initiative.
The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act is supported by the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Equal Justice Initiative, and has companion legislation in the House led by Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.).
“This is an important, long overdue bill that sends a strong message that we will not allow those who spew hate to divide us as a nation,” Scott said. “I want to thank [Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles] Grassley and the Judiciary Committee for passing this legislation and helping underscore the severity of this crime.”