05 April 2022 :
President Biden Signs Law Making Lynching a Federal Crime
After more than a century of efforts by civil rights leaders to make lynching a federal crime, President Joe Biden on March 29, 2022 signed into law historic anti-lynching legislation.
Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris in a ceremony on the White House lawn, Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, officially denominating lynching a federal hate crime. The law allows for crimes — such as kidnappings, aggravated sexual abuse, or attempts to kill — to be prosecuted as lynchings in federal court when a conspiracy to commit a hate crime results in death or serious bodily injury. Individuals convicted of lynching face punishment of up to 30 years in prison.
“Lynching was pure terror to enforce the lie that not everyone belongs in America, not everyone is created equal,” Biden said after signing the bill. Citing recent high-profile incidents of racist violence, he warned that racism remains “a persistent problem” across the United States.
The bill is named for Emmitt Till, a teenager from Chicago who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. Till, who was 14 at the time, was visiting relatives when a white woman accused him of whistling at her. He was kidnapped, beaten, and brutally killed. His assailants threw his body into a river, weighed down by a metal fan tied to his neck. Two men were charged with his murder, but were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury. At Till’s funeral, his mother, Mami Till, insisted on an open casket to publicly expose the violence inflicted on her son.
At the signing ceremony, Vice President Harris, who co-sponsored anti-lynching legislation when she was a U.S. Senator, described the passage of the law as a matter of “unfinished business.”
“Today we are gathered to do unfinished business, to acknowledge the horror and this part of our history, to state unequivocally that lynching is and has always been a hate crime and to make clear that the federal government may now prosecute these crimes as such,” Harris said. “Lynching is not a relic of the past. Racial acts of terror still occur in our nation, and when they do, we must all have the courage to name them and hold the perpetrators to account.”
Equal Justice Initiative has documented more than 6,500 racial terror lynchings in the United States between 1865 and 1950. The Death Penalty Information Center’s November 2020 report, Enduring Injustice: the Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty, tracks the historical relationship between lynchings and the U.S. death penalty.
During slavery, capital punishment was used as a tool for controlling Black populations and curbing rebellions. After emancipation, terror lynchings proliferated. To discourage lynchings, public officials promised legal executions, often after sham trials. As lynchings decreased in the early 20th century, executions began to take their place in circumstances that earlier would have drawn a lynch mob. Across the South, African-American men and boys were condemned and executed for the alleged rape or attempted rape of white women or girls. No white man was ever executed for raping a Black woman or girl.