Politics | March 23rd, 2022

Civic Analysts View Anti-Lynching Bill as a Signal of Progress

By: Kelsey Gilmore
Civic Analysts View Anti-Lynching Bill as a Signal of Progress

On the last day of Black History Month, Feb. 28, 2022, the United States House of Representatives passed the Emmitt Till Anti-Lynching Bill. Weeks later, after over 100 years of failed attempts, the bill passed through the Senate.

This act will amend section 249 of title 18, United States Code, to specify lynching as a hate crime act. The bill’s namesake pays homage to Emmett Till, a 14-year old victim of a lynching in Mississippi in 1955.

Lynching is an extrajudicial killing by a group for an alleged offense with or without a legal trial. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, about 4,400 Black people were lynched in the U.S. from 1877 to 1950. Under the stipulations of the new bill, a crime can be prosecuted as a lynching when a conspiracy to commit a hate crime results in death or serious bodily injury.

​In 2019, the bill was introduced in the 115 Congress by U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush. However, the bill did not pass through the House of Representatives successfully until the 116th Congress in 2020. The bill had overwhelming support in the House before getting blocked in the Senate. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, notoriously known for slowing down bills in the Senate, almost single-handedly stopped the bill from passing.

​Sen. Paul claimed that lynching was already a crime and that passing a law of this magnitude would lead to further injustice and other unforeseen consequences. Paul issued a statement to AP News reporters just days after his blockage of the bill.

​“Rather than consider a good-intentioned but symbolic bill, the Senate could immediately consider addressing qualified immunity and ending police militarization,” Paul said.

Although lynching is a crime, it is not a federal crime. The difference between a state crime and a federal crime is that federal crimes are prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorneys and investigated by federal officers, such as FBI, DEA, or ICE agents.

While many politicians believe that this bill is a byproduct of the “woke agenda,” Joshua Atkins, a civics and history teacher, disagrees with that take.

“What does that even mean?” Atkins said. “When people started saying that things were woke, it’s just like saying wake up and notice things are happening. That is supposed to be a good thing.”

Many politicians are changing their tune about the bill after reviewing the revisions made upon it after its denial in 2020. The 2020 version of the bill still would have maintained lynching as a federal hate crime but also included certain crimes such as defacing religious property or preventing someone from practicing their religious freedom. In the revised bill, the guidelines of what counts for lynching have become more defined and leave little room for misinterpretation. This year, Sen. Paul pledged his full support of the bill as it reached the Senate.

After the events of the past two years regarding George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement, political and historical analysts are highly anticipating the outcome of this bill. The question that has been raised is if the U.S. is finally ready to take the steps forward in the fight against racial injustice and inequality.

Tiffany Packer, an assistant professor of history at Florida A&M University, holds hope that the U.S. is finally ready to acknowledge the racial injustice against Black people and other minorities.

“I, by no means, think that it is a sign that we’ve arrived,” Packer said. “I think it’s a signal of moving forward in the right direction and America being conscious of taking some sort of accountability.”

The Emmitt Till Anti-Lynching Bill trended on social media outputs like Twitter and Facebook on the day of February 28, 2022, when the bill passed through the House. The bill seems to not only have the support of politicians like Vice President Kamala Harris and Sen. Cory Booker but of the citizens.

Civics instructor Shawn Ackerman believes that the future of Black people and other minorities will be significantly impacted when officially signed into law.

“This bill will show that our lives, our past, and our future matter,” Ackerman said.