It looks as if the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act has finally passed on a near-unanimous basis to close out Black History Month.
On Monday, Feb. 28, the bill now designates lynching as an “extrajudicial killing typically committed against Black Americans,” and is a federal hate crime. The measure was not without pushback as three House Republicans—Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Chip Roy of Texas, and Andrew Clyde of Georgia—voted against it.
Congress has never before codified lynching as a hate crime.
Till, whose name and legacy has been brought back into the public eye, was a 14-year-old Black teenager who was kidnapped and brutally murdered by two white men in Mississippi in 1955. From discussions about critical race theory in schools to Black Live Matter protests to films and television shows in development, Till, and his mother Mamie, have sparked action intended to atone for this country’s past deeds.
“I was eight years old when my mother put the photograph of Emmett Till’s brutalized body that ran in Jet magazine on our living room coffee table, pointed to it, and said, ‘This is why I brought my boys out of Albany, Georgia,’” said Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, the lead sponsor of the bill, in a statement.
He added, “That photograph shaped my consciousness as a Black man in America, changed the course of my life, and changed our nation. But modern-day lynchings like the murder of Ahmaud Arbery make abundantly clear that the racist hatred and terror that fueled the lynching of Emmett Till are far too prevalent in America to this day.”
Last week, the Arbery family were told that the three white Georgia men responsible were convicted on federal hate crime charges.
“[This bill would] endanger other liberties such as freedom of speech,” Rep. Massie said, explaining his vote against the bill in a tweet thread after the results came out. “[The bill] doesn’t have anything to do with lynching [and instead promotes] a woke agenda,” Rep. Roy offered in an issued statement.
“[The bill] simply raises the punishment for things that are already federal crimes, including those that are unrelated to lynching — such as gender identity — in an effort to advance a woke agenda under the guise of correcting racial injustice,” said Roy. “As much as I favor harsher penalties for violent offenders, this is a matter for the states and I will not vote for legislative deception.”
The House passed a similar bill in 2020, which was blocked in the Senate by Rep. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. He argued that lynching prosecutions should be limited to “crimes resulting in substantial risk of death and extreme physical pain,” which led to him issuing a statement on Monday saying he was now “glad to cosponsor this bipartisan effort” and is not expected to block the bill again.