The news that lynching has been made a crime in America in 2018 got many people by surprise as they wondered why it took so long for this to be achieved.
The bill was introduced by three black senators: Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Tim Scott, R-S.C.
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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
The bill, which was introduced earlier in the year, indicates that at least 4,742 people were reported lynched between 1882 and 1968. It also added that most of the perpetrators were not punished.
All members voted in favour of the bill in a session presided over by Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith who was caught on camera on November saying she’d attend a public hanging in 2018.
“This is a historic piece of legislation that would criminalize lynching, attempts to lynch and conspiracy to lynch for the first time in America’s history,” said Senator Harris, “We finally have a chance to speak the truth about our past and make clear that these hateful acts should never happen again without serious, severe and swift consequence and accountability.”
This makes the law the first anti-lynching legislation in a country where the practice has been used to target black people and white people who supported black people.
Despite these high numbers, attempts to have a Federal anti-lynching law were met with obstacle after obstacle. The first attempts to establish such a law was in the 1930s, according to the Washington Post. However, many senators of the time claimed that such laws would interfere with the rights of the states and others claimed that lynching was a way of controlling threats against white women and to promote segregation of the races.
In the 1960s, many Southern states opted to prevent lynching and prosecuted perpetrators when it occurred thanks largely to a threat of such a law, according to University of New Hampshire’s Harvard Sitkoff.
In 2005, the Senate passed a resolution for failing to enact an anti-lynching law but did not enact any legislation.
Under the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act 2018, if two or more people kill someone because of that person’s race or religion, they face life in prison if convicted. Causing bodily harm to an individual because of their race or religion will result to more than 10 years in prison and a fine.
Many have welcomed the move by the Senate to pass this necessary yet overdue legislation.