Lynching declared a federal hate crime

Nic Sloan, Co-Editor

In 1955, 14 year old Emmett Till was brutally kidnapped, beaten, and murdered in a hate crime involving false accusations. Now 65 years later in 2020, America has given acknowledgement to it’s shameful past. On February 26th, the House passed a historic bill declaring lynching a federal hate crime. The Emmett Till Antilynching Act, passed with bipartisan support, 410-4. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi described the act as “an opportunity to acknowledge its [Congress’s] responsibility for its historic failure to confront and end the horror of lynching in America.”

Lynching is defined by Oxford as “(of a mob) kill (someone), especially by hanging, for an alleged offense with or without a legal trial.” In the US during the reconstruction era, the lynching of African Americans was rampant.

A hate crime is different from a regular crime, in the sense that a hate crime is committed with mal-intent towards an individual or group of individuals on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Statistically nine out of ten hate crimes involve violence. In general, hate crimes have enhanced punishments. Statistics of hate crimes are generally reported each year by the FBI. 

As a Bosnian and Herzegovinian handbook outlines, Hate crimes are important to differentiate between other crimes because they follow a strong trend to increase, escalate, and spiral, much more so than other crimes. Lyching in the US is an example of a severe type of hate crime.

The bill came as a result of the House’s version, and the Senate’s Justice for Victims of Lyching Act. It was amended to retain the House’s title to honor Till, while using the language of the Senate’s bill. The writing of the bill emphasizes the racist, violent history of America, referencing several failed attempts to enact anti-lynching legislation as well.

The bill was first introduced by Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush, who represents the same district Till himself lived in. Rush first proposed the bill in an attempt to bring justice to Till, and the more than 4000 other lynching victims of America’s past.

The four votes against the bill came from Independent Representative Justin Amash and Republican Representatives Louie Gohmert, Thomas Massie and Ted Yoho. Amash voted against the law using reason that significant law already exists to prevent this measure. He feared it just will create “federalization of criminal law”. 

The three Republican opponents cited similar reasons stating the bill to be an “overreach of federal government”, and an encroachment on state rights. Massie claims “A crime is a crime, and all victims deserve equal justice. Adding enhanced penalties for ‘hate’ tends to endanger other liberties, such as freedom of speech.”

Apart from the four opponents to the bill, Congressional members in both parties can agree with the purpose, message, and motive, of the long overdue justice ensured in the bill.