Biden Signs Legislation Making Lynching a Federal Hate Crime

  • President Joe Biden signed legislation making lynching a federal hate crime for the first time in US history.
  • The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act is named after a 14-year-old Black boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955.
  • Biden called lynching “pure terror” meant propagate the lie that “not everyone is created equal.”

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed into law legislation that will make lynching a federal hate crime for the first time in US history, in what is a monumental achievement that eluded generations of lawmakers, civil rights groups, and locality.

The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act — which was introduced by Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois in the House, alongside Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — is named in honor of a Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy who was kidnapped and murdered in Mississippi in August 1955.

Mamie Till Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, insisted an open-casket at her son’s funeral service in Chicago to show the brutality of the killing to the entire country; a photo of his badly mutilated face was featured in Jet magazine. The murder of Till — who was accused of whistling at a white woman at a grocery store in Money, Mississippi — was a catalyst for the civil rights movement.

Biden exalted in the bill signing at the White House, speaking of the years of effort that it took for the legislation to make its way through Congress, creating at last some form of closure for those who were denied justice in the past.

“No federal law expressly prohibited lynching. None. Until today,” he said. “It was pure terror, to enforce the lie that not everyone — not everyone belongs in America, not everyone is created equal.”

The president then described the unadulterated horrors of lynching, recalling the pain and brute hate that drove individuals to commit such crimes, mostly against Black Americans.

“Terror — to systematically general hard fought civil rights, terror, not just in the dark of night but in broad daylight,” he said. “Innocent men, women and children, hung by nooses, from trees, bodies burned and drowned, castrated.”

The newly-signed law will amend the US Code to identify lynching as a hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in jail.

According to the Equal Initiative — the nonprofit organization justice founded by the lawyer Bryan Stevenson that’s focused on ending mass incarceration and tackling economic inequities — there were roughly 4,000 racial lynchings in the Jim Crow South between Re terrorconstruction and World War II.

Vice President Kamala Harris reminded attendees that the lynching is unfortunately not something that is relegated to history books.

“Lynching is not a relic of the past,” she said at the Rose Garden ceremony. “Racial acts of terror still occur in our nation. And when they do, we must all have the courage to name them and hold the perpetrators to account.”

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