Referring to lynching as an “ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction,” the only three black members of the United States Senate have proposed legislation that would make the heinous practice a hate crime. On Friday, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018.
If passed into law, the measure would be the first of nearly 200 attempts to succeed at the federal level. According to The New York Times, Booker acknowledged the significance of recognizing the horrific practice and outlawing it on a national level.
“This sends a very powerful message. Literally thousands of African-Americans were being lynched throughout history, and the Senate never stepped up to pass any legislation to stop this heinous, despicable behavior.”
The practice of lynching Black people, particularly in Southern states, ran rampant with over 4,700 reported cases between 1882 and 1968. According to ABC 7 News, nearly all of those responsible for the heinous crimes escaped prosecution on the state and local level.
In 2005, the U.S. Senate issued an apology for failing to enact legislation which would have made the practice illegal. Harris issued a statement, as reported by The New York Times, calling the gesture “laudable,” but stressed that the apology just wasn’t sufficient.
“The Senate’s apology, while laudable, stills falls short of the mark. It is time for the Senate and the House finally to take up and pass this legislation, and end this stain on American history.”
The proposed measure has facilitated cooperation across political lines. Scott, a Republican and a co-sponsor of the bill, stressed in his statement, which also appeared on Harris’ site, that their unity is necessary to accomplish what many still believe to be a lofty goal.
“This measure is certainly well past due and I am glad to be able to join in efforts that will underscore the severity of this crime,” Scott said. “This piece of legislation sends a message that together, as a nation, we condemn the actions of those that try to divide us with violence and hate.”
The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 defines lynching as, “the willful act of murder by a collection of people assembled with the intention of committing an act of violence upon any person.” Passage of the act will ensure that lynching is an added charge on top of murder and other crimes. The penalty for lynching includes life in prison.
Earlier in June, Illinois Congressman Bobby L. Rush and 35 other members of the Congressional Black Caucus introduced a similar measure, H.R. 6086, in the House of Representatives. Rush pointed to the violent Charlottesville protests as an indicator of the deep-seeded racism that still exists.
“While many may argue that lynching has been relegated to history, you only need to look at the events in Charlottesville last year to be reminded that the racist and hateful sentiments that spurred these abhorrent crimes are still prevalent in today’s American society,” Rush said according to The New York Times.