On Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would make lynching a federal crime.
The bill, which was introduced in June by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), had previously passed in the Senate in December, but did not pass in the GOP-majority House before the end of the 115th Congress. The Hill reports that the bill passed Thursday with a voice vote.
While discussing the bill, Booker cited the recent reported attack in Chicago against actor Jussie Smollett of Empire fame and said that “lynching is not a relic of the past.”
“Justice for the victims of lynching has been too long denied, and as we look forward we must collectively in this body make a strong, unequivocal statement,” he added.
Harris called lynching a part of the country’s “uncomfortable history” that she said has never been “truly acknowledged” or “reconciled.”
“We must confront hate in our country. ... We are now making clear there will be serious, swift and severe consequences,” Harris said.
According to the text of the bill (pdf), “the crime of lynching succeeded slavery as the ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction.” Lynching was a “widely acknowledged practice in the United States until the middle of the 20th century” that “occurred throughout the United States, with documented incidents in all but 4 States.”
Between 1882 and 1968, at least 4,742 primarily black people were lynched, and 99 percent of all perpetrators went unpunished.
The bill also notes that there have been roughly 200 attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation in Congress since 1918, and between 1890 and 1952, seven U.S. presidents petitioned Congress to end lynching.
“Protection against lynching was the minimum and most basic of federal responsibilities, and the Senate considered but failed to enact anti-lynching legislation despite repeated requests by civil rights groups, Presidents, and the House of Representatives to do so,” the bill reads.
On June 13, 2005, the Senate passed a resolution to apologize to victims of lynching and their descendants “for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation.”
The bill deems “it is wholly necessary and appropriate for the Congress to enact legislation, after 100 years of unsuccessful legislative efforts, finally to make lynching a Federal crime.”
The bill will now move to the House for approval.