Disclaimer: There is strong language and subject material in this article.
After more than 200 failed attempts of the U.S. government to pass one of the most important legislations toward righteousness, the Senate finally passed a bill March 7, that criminalizes lynching and makes the act punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
The bill is named the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, after a 14-year-old African American boy, was brutally murdered while visiting his family in Mississippi in 1955. He was accused of allegedly flirting with a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, four days before his death, while at the counter in a store. It was clear in his brutal murder that it was an extreme act of racism and hate. However, in his murder trial, the all-white jury deliberated for less than an hour before issuing a verdict of “not guilty,” making the argument that the state could not prove the identity of the body. This caused national outrage, as it should have, largely being cited as showing the brutality of Jim Crow Era segregation in the South and became an early push toward the Civil Rights Movement.
“Lynching is a long standing and uniquely American weapon of racial terror that has for decades been used to maintain the white hierarchy,” Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., long time sponsor of the legislation, said. “Unanimous Senate passage of the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act sends a clear and emphatic message that our nation will no longer ignore this shameful chapter of our history and that the full force of the U.S. federal government will always be brought to bear against those who commit this heinous act.”
The legislation has been sent to President Joe Biden to sign, after passing through both Chambers of Congress. This time, there was virtually no opposition after 100 years of trying to pass the legislation.
Introduced in 1900 by Rep. George Henry White of North Carolina, the body’s only Black lawmaker at that time, was the first anti-lynching legislation. His bill failed to advance out of committee, and in 2005, the Senate publicly expressed remorse for failing to pass anti-lynching legislation.
However, under the new bill, the crime can only be prosecuted as lynching when a hate crime results in death or injury; when even the act of trying to lynch someone, which historically has been extremely aimed at Black people over hundreds of years, is morally and sickeningly wrong. The amount of time in prison one may get as a consequence is not enough. This a small step, in a sea of wrongs that still occur every day in a white-supremacy based government system.
We are all entitled to our political and moral standings because of the First Amendment, freedom of speech, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
However, the act of targeting a specific marginalized, oppressed group of individuals is not free speech — it simply is discrimination, racism, bigotry and hate. Not recognizing that we live in a system based in white supremacy is exercising ignorance and implementing legislation like this is needed. But even this legislation isn’t enough. The U.S. Senate needs to continue to implement more to protect those who haven’t felt safe in a long time.
As there have been several efforts made by the government to enact legislation to protect those who are targeted by hate and discrimination, it will never be enough. Unless we continue to move forward, continue to examine the rooted bigotry in the institutions around us, examine policing and fight against police brutality, and continue educating ourselves of the horrific history of how marginalized groups were and continue to be treated, nothing will ever change enough to make oppressed groups feel safe — being able to just live in their own skin without fear of their life being taken.