After some 200 attempts and a century of trying, the U.S. Senate has finally passed a bill to make lynching a federal crime.
CNN reports that the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, passed unanimously on Wednesday, was introduced by the Senate’s three African-American members: California’s Kamala Harris (D), New Jersey Democrat and Cory Booker and Republican Tim Scott (SC).
The proposal, which has yet to face the House, outlines and defines the act of lynching as a mob killing without legal authority. If passed, it’d add lynching to a federal list of recognized hate crimes.
Harris praised the resolution over Twitter, calling its passage “history.”
The bill, writes CNN, describes lynching as “the ultimate expression of racism in the United States.” Racially-motivated mob killings spiked during Reconstruction, with nearly 4,742 killed between 1882 and 1968—the majority of the victims, African-American.
Furthermore, the bill claims that around 200 anti-lynching bills have failed to pass Congress in the past and that an estimated 98% “of all perpetrators of lynching escaped from punishment by state or local officials.”
The moment when the United States Senate agreed unanimously to make lynching a federal crime for the first time. History. pic.twitter.com/MtoI0Or0mg
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) December 19, 2018
“Today, we have righted that wrong and taken corrective action that recognizes this stain on our country’s history,” Booker said in a statement.
“It will not reverse the irrevocable harm that lynching as a tool of oppression and suppression has caused,” he said. “But it will acknowledge the wrongs in our history. It will honor the memory of those so brutally killed.”
Not mentioned by CNN but recapped by NationalReview.com is the bill’s inclusion of other, non-racial categories.
The bill, says NationalReview.com—a conservative publication–explicitly refers to “offenses involving the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”
Republicans were purportedly uneasy with the inclusion of “gender identity” and unsuccessfully tried to strike it from the bill’s text. The tag was ‘slipped into the bill last minute,’ and was kept by harnessing conservative fears that they might be cast as pro-lynching if they resisted its inclusion.
The Washington Times writes that the vote was the first to be held upon lynching since the 1960s.
In 2005, senators did approve a resolution that apologized to victims of lynching for past government failures.
The Times and CNN both note the perceived irony in Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith being appointed presiding officer over the vote and nearly non-existent debate. Hyde-Smith, says the Times, sparked national controversy last month after joking that she’d attend a “public hanging” if she were invited to one by a supporter.
Hyde-Smith later apologized.
The bill acknowledge that race-tinged clashes such as that in Charlottesville, VA, have the potential to again aggravate widespread racial discord in the United States.
“Lynchings,” Harris said, “were needless and horrendous acts of violence that were motivated by racism. And we must acknowledge that fact, lest we repeat it.”